The worlds of gaming and movies rarely join together with any kind of success. Rushed tie-ins, lacklustre big-screen conversions, that not-so super Mario Bros. movie. No, the spheres of gaming and film should be kept apart. Except, that is, when something truly magical happens, like the genius of the world's greatest 2D animation studio meeting the brains behind a much-loved gaming series. Like when Studio Ghibli met Level-5 and Ni no Kuni was born.
Last week, we had a chance to try out the Western version Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a collaboration between premier Japanese games studio Level-5 (Professor Layton, recent Dragon Quests) and celebrated anime outfit Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and dozens more classic animated films). We played the game shortly after the release of the eye-watering trailer that lays out the story of Oliver, the young boy whose stuffed toy - crafted by his deceased mother - is brought to life by his tears before the creature whisks him off on a grand adventure. It's true trauma escapism, in the style of Where the Wild Things Are or The Neverending Story.
The demo of this emotionally-charged adventure - a PS3 exclusive - was light but alluring, and showed off two different areas of the game, each restricted to a 10-minute taster. The first of these demos, appropriately titled Big Wide World, provided the opportunity to wander with Oliver and friends through a beautifully imagined 3D world: an otherwise typical Japanese RPG fairway made unique by its watercolour shading and free-flowing animations.
Strolling through the deep valley basin - not unlike wandering through the Welsh countryside - brings us to the village of Ding Dong Dell. In voicing the colourful characters that populate the town, the localisation team has drawn on its experience with Dragon Quest 8 to provide similarly charming regional accents. Outside of the village, further exploration takes place on a player-controlled boat, where enemies encountered on the rolling sea come aboard in order to do battle on the decks.
Games have been attempting to make us feel like we're exploring a living cartoon for a large part of the medium's history, and some have achieved spectacular results. The Wind Waker-style Zeldas seem more suited to their expressive, beguilingly childish look with every instalment. Level-5's colourful, lively worlds are often bursting with animated verve, whether in Dragon Quest and Rogue Galaxy's animé cel-shading or Professor Layton's more laid-back but equally distinctive style.