Level-5's Akihiro Hino tells all about the breathtaking Ni no Kuni

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A collaboration between the legendary Studio Ghibli, responsible for animated films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, and Level-5, makers of the White Knight Chronicles and the Professor Layton series of games, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is shaping up to be a rich and vibrant J-RPG that could be a real hit with Western gamers.

We spoke to Level-5′s CEO Akihiro Hino to find out what’s in store for us when the game hits Europe and North American markets sometime in Q1 next year:

Will you be releasing the same downloadable content for Ni no Kuni that Japanese gamers have enjoyed?

Akihiro Hino: In terms of the DLC, regardless of it being paid or free, we will definitely be bringing it over to the States. In terms of new additional content we are still in the midst of planning it out with Namco Bandai, and within Level-5. In addition to that we are looking at enhancements to the game, so what we can say right now is that it will be more than we provided in the Japanese version.

We were big fans of the massive magic book that came with the Nintendo DS version, are there any plans to bring this to European audiences?

AH: Currently there are no plans for replicating this in the overseas bundle, but with regards to the PS3 version, we really tried to realise a true form of the magic book in a sense – you’ll see the artwork coming to life and moving around and so it adds a whole new element to the physical book that we saw with the DS version. In terms of it being bundled, we don’t have any plans for that.

Can you talk about any of the other changes you are making other than the localisation?

AH: We can’t really announce anything as of now, but we are currently in the midst of planning for additional enhancements that would be available in the overseas version so you can look forward to that. In terms of what could be probable? Additional characters may appear in the overseas version, for example.

Will the partnership between Namco Bandai and Level-5 expand beyond Ni no Kuni to possibly bring over other games like Guild01 for example?

AH: We do have a pretty deep relationship with Namco Bandai, not only with games but in other realms as well, so in terms of publishing software in the future, or just collaborations with Namco Bandai in the future, it is probable but we can’t really reveal much right now.

What was it like working with Studio Ghibli? Did they bring any fresh ideas to the table?

AH: It’s not really so much new ideas from Studio Ghibli per se, but they did have a lot of input with regards to the storytelling elements as well as maybe some of the other elements in the game itself – they had a lot of feedback with regards to directions, so the particular cutscenes or whatnot, but in terms of the game system and the more technical side of things they’re obviously not a games developer so they didn’t input as much on that side of things.

Can you give examples of how they helped with the storytelling aspect of the game?

AH: So this is just an example, but towards the end of the game there is a section where Oliver (the lead character) comes across his mother. The team debated whether Oliver would hug or embrace his mother, or not, and Ghibli had their own ideas and input with regards to that particular scene and how it was created in the end, so there’s a lot of small details that Ghibli provided us with, as you’ll see in the game.

When a game or movie is translated to another country there’s something lost in translation – not just the language but thematically. Are you happy with how these ideas and themes are communicated in the game and do you feel it will resonate as well with European and American audiences as well as it does with a Japanese gamer base?

AH: In terms of the content, graphics and so on, we received very high marks from Japanese magazines – and obviously we don’t think there’ll be much of an issue in terms of the game itself, but with regards to text translation and localisation we’re really putting a lot of effort into recreating the Japanese thematic elements as well as the universe itself – for example with the regional accents, Drippy (Oliver’s toy companion) has an Osaka accent in the original version, but he has a Welsh accent for the overseas version, as you can see in the trailer.

We were trying recreate the kind of differences that exist in the Japanese version so that western audiences can experience this. Other than that, with some of the names of some of the kingdoms and characters, and the rules we are using to create the character or place names, we’re really putting a lot of effort in to ensure it stays close to the original spirit of the game, and what we’re trying to accomplish in that particular area. In terms of the quality of the translation, we’re pretty sure that it will end up being really satisfying for overseas as well.

Lastly, just touching further on this question, a lot of overseas J-RPG fans are purists, and they would prefer that it’s all in Japanese with English subtitles. Was there any hesitation on your part to include localisation?

AH: The game will be available with both Japanese and English voiceovers, so if gamers want that experience they will be able to play with the original voiceovers with English subtitles, yes.

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