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Level 5

Liberation Maiden sequel photo
Liberation Maiden sequel

Report: Liberation Maiden to get sequel on PlayStation 3


We fight for our people!
Apr 17
// Kyle MacGregor
Liberation Maiden is getting a sequel! Well, sort of. It seems like Grasshopper Manufacture has decided to eschew Shoko's roots, following up last year's 3DS shooter with a visual novel for PlayStation 3. According to Si...
Professor Layton photo
Professor Layton

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy to hit 3DS in 2014


Prostitute D is a dog
Apr 17
// Kyle MacGregor
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is set to arrive on North American shores in 2014. After arriving in Japan back in late February, the sixth entry in Level-5's series of puzzlers is slated to arrive in Europe someti...
Guild02 photo
Guild02

Nintendo Direct: All three Guild02 games coming to US


Yes, even Attack of the Friday Monsters!
Apr 17
// Tony Ponce
It was previously announced that two of the three games in Level-5's Guild02 compilation, Bugs vs. Tanks! and The Starship Damrey, would be localized for the US eShop. Missing from that news was any indication that ...
Level-5 photo
Level-5

Level-5 discounting Guild01 titles starting this week


And the mysterious black box returns
Apr 15
// Jordan Devore
Three distinct games released under the Guild01 banner on the 3DS eShop are going on sale soon. From Thursday, April 18 through May 30, shmup Liberation Maiden ($4.99), airport sim Aero Porter ($2.99), and role-play...
Ni No Kuni DS photo
Ni No Kuni DS

There may be hope yet for a Ni No Kuni DS localization


A Namco Bandai executive reportedly isn't opposed to the idea on 3DS
Apr 11
// Chris Carter
For months now, fans, or prospective fans who don't own a PS3, have been clamoring for a localization of the DS version of Ni No Kuni, which Namco Bandai shut down to due "translation issues and costs regarding the Wizard's C...
Level-5 PS4 photo
Level-5 PS4

Ni no Kuni developer Level-5 working on PS4 game


Hopefully it's Dragon Quest VIII-2
Apr 09
// Kyle MacGregor
What's next for the team behind Ni no Kuni? A mysterious new PlayStation 4 project, apparently. Level-5 boss Akihiro Hino confirmed as much in a recent interview with Nikkei Trendy. Currently in the planning stages, Hino...
Ni no Kuni photo
Ni no Kuni

Amazon and Target have Ni no Kuni for $40


Do it for Mr. Drippy
Apr 08
// Jordan Devore
This is the day I've been waiting for. Level 5's Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch started the year off right all the way back in January and some of us who missed out on the well-received role-playing game have been ...
Fantasy Life photo
Fantasy Life

Fantasy Life may be coming to the US


One can hope, due to a US trademark
Apr 03
// Chris Carter
Following news of the game being sold out in Japan, it seems as if 3DS hit Fantasy Life has been trademarked in the States (and previously, Europe), according to Siliconera. If Level-5's history is anything to go by, trademar...
White Knight Chronicles photo
White Knight Chronicles

White Knight Chronicles servers to go offline this June


The Georama system to be no more
Mar 25
// Harry Monogenis
Some sad news for fans of Level 5's White Knight Chronicles has come from Sony Computer Entertainment America: the game's online servers will cease operation on June 18, 2013. White Knight Chronicles' online mode, known ...
Guild02 photo
Guild02

Feast on vids for Guild02's Monsters Come Out on Friday


It's like a Studio Ghibli take on kaiju movies
Mar 17
// Tony Ponce
Of the three games announced as part of Level-5's Guild02 lineup, Kaiju ga Deru Kinyoubi ("Monsters Come Out on Friday) sounded the most fascinating. A game in which you play as a boy in a small town turned upside-down by a ...
Guild02 photo
Guild02

Level-5 files trademark for Guild02 3DS games in USA


North American release for Bugs vs. Tanks! and The Starship Damrey looks likely
Mar 08
// Kyle MacGregor
It looks like Level-5's Guild02 compilation might be headed for western shores. Siliconera has reportedly uncovered US trademarks for Bugs vs. Tanks! and The Starship Damrey, indicating a po...
Liberation Maiden photo
Liberation Maiden

Suda 51's Liberation Maiden soaring to iOS (Update)


Shooter now available on App Store in New Zealand
Mar 06
// Kyle MacGregor
[Update: Liberation Maiden is now available worldwide via the App Store for $4.99 / €4.49 / ₤2.99.] Well, this is unexpected. Liberation Maiden has arrived on the iTunes App Store in New Zealand. One...
Last Layton game photo
Last Layton game

Send off Professor Layton in Azran Legacies


Watch the full trailer
Feb 25
// Chris Carter
The newest full trailer for Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies, the last game to star Professor Layton has dropped, and it's definitely worth watching -- whether you're fan or not. I have to admit, I got a little nostal...
Guild02 photo
Guild02

These are the three games in Level-5's Guild02


Will be broken apart as eShop releases throughout March
Feb 21
// Tony Ponce
Three of the four titles from Level-5's 3DS game jam Guild01 made it to the eShop out West. Liberation Maiden, Aero Porter, and Crimson Shroud were all bizarre but solid experiences, and I'm extremely grateful that they were...
Ni No Kuni free DLC photo
Ni No Kuni free DLC

Ni No Kuni is offering a free Draggle familiar DLC today


Free party member
Feb 12
// Chris Carter
It's a free DLC-fest for the PlayStation Network today, as Draggle, the adorable guy pictured above, is dropping for free on the PSN. If you aren't familiar with how Ni No Kuni works, it's basically like Pokémon. Aroun...
Professor Layton photo
Professor Layton

Professor Layton's final journey gets translated trailers


Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies arrives February 28 in Japan
Feb 11
// Tony Ponce
We haven't been doing a good job of keeping you cool cats abreast of the final chapter in the Layton series, Professor Layton and the Azran Legeacies. That is a shame, considering the 3DS puzzle-venture is set ready to take ...

Ni No Kuni guide: 20+ essential tips to get you started

Feb 06 // Chris Carter
Tame non-story spoilers incoming. I’d recommend saving this article if you get stuck, and need a quick reference: General: While you're wandering the world map, press X in peculiar spots (like patches of forest) to look for hidden items. If you need to locate the areas you've already found secret items in, go to the "Regions of the World" section of your Wizard's Companion. Specifically in regards to forests, if you see a patch of them, always explore it to find a potential hidden hamlet. Speaking of items on the world map, always grab the twinkling stars whenever you can. The sparkles are items, and like pots in towns, they'll reappear every 10-60 minutes. Do not be afraid to grind. Grind near a town and fight enemies as much as you can. Try to pick up health and mana orbs in combat, and if you need it, head into town to use the inn to restore all of your stats, then go back to grinding. You shouldn't need to grind in the first 15 hours or so, but it's an option. Speaking of Inns, always stay at least once to gain extra story in your Wizard's Companion book. When enemies start to run away from you on sight, you'll know you've saturated all the EXP you can from an area. If you die in combat, you'll lose 10% of your total cash after continuing. Although you can lower this rate to 5% later in the game, don't be afraid to spend some of your money before you go into a dungeon -- in case you die. Of course, you could just reload a recent save to avoid any loss of money. Like any JRPG, you should save a lot. Save before entering an area you haven't been before. Save near a town on the world map. When a story character asks you to "prepare yourself" before entering an area, save it. Always, always do errands and bounty hunts as soon as they become available in every town. Doing them as soon as they become available rewards tenfold with items that will be relevant as soon as they're acquired, rather than waiting to finish them and getting inadequate gear. The stamp rewards from finishing errands are invaluable, and hoarding stamp cards early is a great way to get amazing perks like extra experience later in the game. It's important to note that errands are often incredibly easy, and you'll almost always happen upon a bounty location while roaming to your next story location anyway. If you're put off by all the walking, you'll gain the ability to fast travel around 20 hours in, and flight capabilities on the world map after that. For the first 20 hours, focus on completing errands in local areas so you don't have to do much backtracking. You can always do errands at a later date if you really need to, and always view their status on the journal portion of the main menu. About four hours into the game, the game teaches you how to "take pieces of heart" from NPCs who show up with a green dot on your map, which help you solve errands and story quests. In every town, always press R1 to open the map, and survey the area for flashing green and blue dots. Familiars: Once Oliver gains a familiar, he should never engage in direct combat with his wand. Ever. Always use your creatures in combat whenever possible or Oliver's spells. You can't beat every fight with just one familiar, however, as there is a limited amount of time that it can fight at once. A common strategy is to switch back to Oliver when your pet's stamina is in the red zone, and run around the outside of the map, circle strafing until they can fight again. But this doesn't mean Oliver is useless -- quite the opposite in fact. Oliver can heal your party with Healing Touch, and use powerful magic while circle strafing and avoiding damage. Against boss characters, try spamming his ice and fire spell when you have some free mana -- just keep some available in case you need to use Healing Touch. The first familiar you get, Mitey, is not only incredibly cute, but he's also the clear-cut best familiar for quite a while. If you feed him his favorite food consistently (chocolate), he'll have enough power to take down pretty much everyone in the first 10 hours almost single-handedly. Use him to level up the first few story related familiars you get. You'll earn Mitey almost immediately after you leave Motorville, your next one in the first few hours in the first town, and you'll net another two (and your first human party member) in the first ten hours or so. Speaking of food, keep those familiars full. Every fight will drop their fullness rating by one, which is almost a grind in a grind, when you level them up and lower their fullness to boost their stats. Always wait to metamorph familiars if you can. If you morph them into their next form immediately, they'll lose a lot of their potential. For instance, a level 20 Mitey will carry over less stats than a level 40 Mitey when he morphs into his next form at level 1. Combat: Take a look at your familiars on the status screen, and notice their symbols -- the red and orange colored sun, the yellow and blue moon, and the white and blue star. In terms of combat, sun beats moon, moon beats star, and star beats sun. You'll do extra damage to enemies who are weak to your symbol. Use this to your advantage by surveying your enemy before you send your familiars out to battle. In most fights on the world map in the first 10 hours of the game or so, this doesn't really matter that much. Use L2 and R2 to switch between menus -- don't bother with the d-pad initially. It's much easier and more accurate to switch between combat abilities this way. Resist the urge to run around in combat, early in the game. Although it may seem cool, taking a more direct approach to combat and just mashing the X button to attack is often the best strategy before you start gaining party members. If you run around too much enemies will just beat on you. However, like an MMO, free-running does play a critical role in pretty much every fight in the game past a certain point. You can use it to avoid dangerous hazards (like a pit of poison), and attacks that enemies make from the front (like a flame breath). In boss fights, always remain aware of your surroundings and keep moving. The circle button cancels commands in combat. This is crucial when the game requires you to make a split second defensive stance to avoid a powerful boss attack. If you're in the middle of doing something, press circle, press L2 or R2 to switch to defend, and press X. You can cancel enemy tricks (abilities) and counter their attacks with the correct timing. When an enemy is using a trick, try pummeling them to stun and stop the trick -- just keep in mind this isn't a guaranteed stop. Alternatively, you can quickly cancel and defend to stay on the safe side. To counter, choose an enemy, target them, choose attack, and wait until a bubble appears near your character to press the X button and initiate the counter.
Tips for Ni No Kuni photo
A beginner guide for the first 10-20 hours
The world of Ni No Kuni is whimsical, beautiful, and sometimes scary. The mere fact that the game features a number of old school JRPG tropes is enough to frighten even some of the hardiest of gamers, who are used to modern c...

Review: Aero Porter

Feb 04 // Jonathan Holmes
Aero Porter (3DS eShop)Developer: VivariumPublisher: Level-5Release: November 29, 2012MSRP: $4.99 Yoot Saito is most famous for creating the Dreamcast classic Seaman, arguably the strangest game ever made. It is a game where you take care of a fish man. That's it. Do a marginally good job, and you may have a few interesting conversations with it about existentialism and the possibility that The Beatles weren't real. Then he'll leave. Game Over.  Knowing this about Yoot Saito, I went into Aero Porter expecting something surreal. Shame on me for thinking I know what to expect from Yoot Saito. While Aero Porter does delve into a few playfully strange moments, it's a fairly straightforward game about sorting luggage. What's strange about the game is that it's compelling. Sorting luggage sounds boring as hell. You'd have to pay me to do it in real life. In videogame form, it's something that I'm paying Yoot Saito and Level-5 for the permission to do.  [embed]243771:46669[/embed] Part of that comes from how the game starts off so deceptively simple, and how Yoot (or as he's known in the game, Bob) treats you as an employee. He makes is all sound so easy, and is so disappointed with you when you screw up. That kind of management makes you really want to do better, which leads you to keep playing even when things get tough.  Make no mistake about it, this game gets really tough. You start with three conveyor belts and three different types of colored bags. The bags continually spin on the conveyor belts until you flip a switch to send the bags onto their corresponding flights. By lowering or raising connecting bridges between the belts, you can send different  bags to different belts. Get all the yellow bags on the yellow belt, flip the switch to get the bags on the flight, and you're doing your job right. Get too many of the wrong colored bags on the wrong flights or fail to get all the bags on the plane before take off, and you're going to have some very disappointed customers (and Yoot/Bob Saito) on your hands. The catch is, if you activate the bridge to raise or lower a bag from one belt to another, you activate all the raising or lowering bridges in the whole baggage department, which could cause you to raise/lower a bag onto another belt that you didn't intend to move. This forces you to simultaneously focus on all the belts in the department at once, while assessing where each bag is and where you want to move them. As your airport continues to expand (thanks to your super profitably baggage handling skills), you'll eventually end up managing seven conveyor belts at once. That's more than twice as much work as you started with. Anyone who's ever been "that guy" at a job who's willing to go the extra mile for the same pay knows how typical this workplace scenario can be. On top of all that, you'll also have to manage your fuel levels. Run out of fuel and your belts will start running at a snails pace, making it almost impossible to get anything done. You'll have to buy more fuel and get it lowered all the way down to the bottom of the screen into the engine room (but don't accidentally lower any bags into the engine room too, you moron!) There are a few ways to make your job easier though. Score enough combos and you'll gain better equipment that'll allow you to shut the lights down (to save fuel), stop incoming baggage from unloading for a few seconds, adjust the speed of your belts, and to make your belt bridges raise/lower at a faster pace. The may sound like small details, but they can mean the difference between a flight full of happy customers and a plane filled with the incorrect, sometimes deadly baggage.  This deadly baggage comes into play during Aero Porter's "specialty" situations. These events can happen at any time, and do well to simulate the kinds of unforeseeable problems that can happen in even the most serene work environments. Terrorists will occasionally throw explosive luggage into the mix. You'll have to be sure to get the bomb sorted onto the disposal truck (and not a plane, you idiot!) if you want to keep your airport's reputation (and passengers) alive. You'll also get ball shaped VIP luggage that needs to be rolled (via motion controls) around the belts to get it onto the right flight, and bags that belong to high powered politicians that are intentionally mis-colored in order to keep their owners' identity a secret. You'll have to take a close look at these bags to to see what colored tags they carry. Their tags aren't visible from every angle, which forces you to narrow your focus to just these bags for at least a few seconds. In a game that's all about taking in information from both 3DS screen simultaneously at all times, it's cruel task indeed, but necessary if you want to keep the president of some random nation (and Yoot/Bob) happy.  The beauty of Aero Porter is in how it forces the player to make these kinds of on-the-fly judgement calls while simultaneously tending to the craft of baggage handling. When those bombs or VIP bags show up, you have to make them top priority, which may mean ignoring other flights and bags for a while, or even intentionally putting the wrong baggage on the wrong flight just to get the plane out of the port. If you try to play Aero Porter like it's only a puzzle game by sticking strictly to the goal of doing everything perfectly, you will never truly master it. Only those who are willing to make tough, potentially damaging management decisions while simultaneously keeping track of every belt and every flight time and your fuel gauge will become a master baggage handlers.  Aero Porter is a brilliant amalgamation of the puzzle game and the business management simulator, though it's not for the faint of heart. The amount of information the game asks you to juggle at once will be too much for a lot of people. It took me a long time to get past the third day of work, though that level of tough-but-fair challenge only worked to enhance my level of excitement about pushing forward.  My only real issue with the game is that it runs out of new rewards fairly quickly. After you've maxed out your airport to "Space port" size and gained all the new equipment available, your only in-game motivator for continued play is the opportunity to unlock a variety of new customizable planes for your personal hanger. I'm sure that aviation enthusiasts will find that compelling. The rest of you may drop out. That deficiency aside, Aero Porter is a definitely worth the time of anyone looking to have both their decision making skills and color sorting technique pushed to their limits. 
Aero Porter photo
A game where you sort luggage. Really.
A videogame is a thing that asks you to do a series of tasks in order to meet arbitrary goals that were established by someone else. Videogames are things that most of us partake in for "fun," regardless of how difficult the ...

Ni no Kuni photo
Ni no Kuni

Ni no Kuni is #1 in the UK, sold out in many shops


Three cheers for color and whimsy!
Feb 04
// Tony Ponce
I guess a lot of grown-up "mature" gamers, who complained that Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was too "kiddy," were blowing smoke out their asses and bought the Level-5 RPG anyway. According to GfK Chart-Track's UK Top ...
 photo

Namco Bandai responds to Ni no Kuni LE order issues


Affected fans to get 400-page guide book
Jan 25
// Dale North
Namco Bandai handed Destructoid an official statement on the Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Wizard's Edition order issue we've been following these past few days. It is as follows: Namco Bandai Games America ...
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Ni no Kuni Wizard's Edition orders issues abound [update]


Sound off if you've had issues with your order
Jan 25
// Dale North
[Update: As you can see from our comments section below, this has been a messy issue. It got nasty when word got out that one buyer got over 200 copies and is now selling them on eBay. Disgusting. Thanks to our readers for in...
Ni no Kuni pee-pee photo
Ni no Kuni pee-pee

I helped a girl take a piss in Ni No Kuni


Sympathy for the NPC
Jan 23
// Rodimus Prime
It wouldn't be fair to say that Ni No Kuni has a specific urination quest. It's more of a side story or side effect of a larger task, if you will.  Nevertheless, when I came upon this girl who needed to whiz, I immediate...

C'mon, Level-5! Localize Ni no Kuni DS already!

Jan 21 // Tony Ponce
[embed]242714:46443[/embed] The original Ni no Kuni was announced way back in 2008. It would be nearly two years, mere months before the DS game's release, before any mention was made of a PS3 version. Wrath of the White Witch is no mere update of the DS version, subtitled The Jet-Black Mage. From what I've gathered, both games were developed separately and feature several elements that differ in significant ways, even though the general framework is the same. Even if Mage and Witch were identical save for the graphics, I still believe there would be strong interest in the former. The large library of quality RPGs on the DS and PSP indicates that the genre has found a cozy home on handheld devices. It's ironic that a genre infamous for demanding massive time investments would adapt so well to the style of bite-sized gameplay fostered by portable hardware. Level-5 envisioned Ni no Kuni as a franchise, thus there is no reason why anyone ought to picture Mage and Witch as anything but complementary experiences. I understand that the big draw of Witch is how closely the in-game assets resemble the original artwork, but it's not like Mage is a slouch in the art department either. [embed]242714:46442:0[/embed] It doesn't end there! In order for Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi's score to sound as crystal clear as possible, Level-5 opted to use a 512 MB game card, the largest of any DS game. "Compromised," The Jet-Black Mage is not. More important than graphics and card space is the fact that Ni no Kuni is a major milestone for an animation studio that has historically avoided getting involved with videogames. Ni no Kuni is technically not the first time Ghibli had a hand in a game's art direction -- Magic Pengel on the PS2 holds that distinction -- but the level of involvement here is unprecedented. Why would you not want to experience such an event firsthand? But Wrath of the White Witch was announced for the West, while The Jet-Black Mage wasn't. Localization for Mage was definitely considered, but according to Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino, the big spanner in those plans was the book bundled with every copy of the game. For those unaware, the 352-page Magic Master book is a companion guide that details in-game lore, creatures, and magic runes that can be drawn on the touchscreen to cast spells. This book is a crucial element of the game, and its existence as a physical object was intended to add an extra layer of immersion. Apparently it was too expensive to translate, and even if it were translated, there would be the issue of printing enough copies for each game and expecting consumers to pay a premium for the bundle. I'm sure Level-5 could have found a decent workaround, but I do understand the cost concerns. Disappointing news, but that's the way the world turns, right? By the way, Witch also requires the use of the Magic Master book, but instead of being a physical object, it's an in-game item accessible from the menu. And oh yeah, US publisher Namco Bandai is selling a limited "Wizard's Edition" bundle that includes a physical version of the book, now called the Wizard's Companion. WHAT. THE. FUCK. So all that talk about expense and translation hurdles was just bullshit? I'm trying to be as rational as I can, but the only conclusion I can draw is that neither Namco nor Level-5 thought Ni no Kuni would have been able to sell on the DS. I don't see how it wouldn't unless Namco wasn't planning on advertising the game at all. Look, I'm glad that Ni no Kuni is coming out for PS3, but we are still being robbed of delicious Ghibli goodness! There has got to be a way for the DS game to make it out here somehow. Here's what to do The DS is a lame duck. There might be a studio or two still releasing new DS software, but most have moved on to its successor. Therefore Level-5 should port Ni no Kuni: The Jet-Black Mage directly to the 3DS. The team won't really need to touch it up too much -- as you saw in the footage above, its a very beautiful game, I would say even by 3DS standards. With this platform transition, Mage would benefit from the larger game card capacity -- cards at the 3DS' launch could already hold 2 GB, four times the size of the DS' largest. I'm going to take an educated guess and assume that Mage's card was fairly packed, thereby preventing Level-5 from -- oh, I don't know -- including a digital version of the Wizard's Companion. Because 3DS game cards are much roomier, the already translated book ought to fit in nice and neatly. There you have it! Players now have in-game access to the book, just as PS3 players do, and they won't be prevented from casting spells be drawing the runes. And for those who desire the original experience as intended, there could be a 3DS version of the "Wizard's Edition" as well. [DS version unboxing by Espelancer] But what of the argument that a currently two-year-old game from a previous generation platform would be a hard sell no matter the pedigree of the parties behind it? If Namco doesn't want to play ball, Level-5 should take its business to a progressive company like XSEED, which has recently shown great willingness in taking chances on niche but highly demanded RPGs on Nintendo consoles. XSEED has already been rewarded for localizing The Last Story, and even Xenoblade Chronicles, which Nintendo of America itself published two years after its Japanese release, has done "quite well" by the company's expectations. If Wrath of the White Witch performs to Namco's satisfaction, there ought to be no reason to hold off on localizing The Jet-Black Mage any longer. But if Witch does not meet its goal, Mage should nonetheless be given a shot for the sake of sharing one of the most beautiful-looking games in recent memory with the rest of the world. We have evidence that low-print software runs can pay off handsomely, just as long as the parties involved keep modest expectations. I just want some Level-5 / Studio Ghibli magic on the go. Is that so much to ask? Am I asking for the sun and the moon? Am I being naive in regards to the nature of big business?
Ni no Kuni DS, please! photo
And here's how to do it
Tomorrow, January 22, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch finally arrives on US shelves. The PlayStation 3 role-playing game is a collaboration between developer Level-5, and animation house Studio Ghibli -- two companies th...

Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Jan 21 // Jim Sterling
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PlayStation 3)Developer: Level-5Publisher: Namco BandaiReleased: January 22, 2013MSRP: $59.99 Wrath of the White Witch tells the tale of Oliver, a boy from Motor City who, through a tragic family event, finds himself alone and grieving. His misery, however, has the fortunate side effect of lifting the curse on a fairy from another world, the rambunctious Mr. Drippy, who convinces him to become a wizard in an alternative mirror universe where all the important people coincidentally share souls with everybody Oliver knows in his small city block. As is often the way!  The story, afflicted though it is with plot holes, a little creep of a protagonist who says "Jeepers" and "Neato" without a trace of irony, and some of the most passive-aggressive villains in videogame history, is actually quite good. It suffers from a slow start, but once it gets going, the supporting cast and charming world of Ni no Kuni make suffering through Oliver's simpering (and inexplicable American accent in a world of British ones) worth it. Mr. Drippy, while constantly running the risk of being irritating, is actually quite affable, helped in no small part by the relative rarity of hearing a Welshman in a videogame, while the plot twists toward the end are smartly executed, even if they're made a bit obvious before the grand unveiling.  [embed]242794:46466[/embed] As a wizard, Oliver naturally has access to a whole range of spells, for use both within battle and without. The most useful non-combat spells come in the form of the "Take Heart" and "Give Heart" skills, which Oliver employs to undo the work of the villainous Dark Djinn Shadar. Various characters around the world are missing pieces of their heart, lacking qualities such as courage, enthusiasm, and ambition. Fortunately, other inhabitants of the world have an abundance of such qualities, so Oliver must grab a piece of their excess heart and give it to Shadar's victims. While there are many important "Brokenhearted" characters, many incidental NPCs also require help, and visiting towns to collect emotions can become a huge game in its own right. Not the most exciting game, maybe, but helping out the Brokenhearted can be rewarded with merit stamps, which one can trade for a number of helpful passive abilities.  Other spells grant players the power to build bridges, open locks, light dark tunnels, and even float. Some of them don't have much practical use at all, while others have specific uses that you may not even discover while playing the first time. Oliver's magical wizard book, accessible in the main menu, contains details on all these spells, as well as summaries of equipment, lore, monsters, and even a heaping of fairy tales if you ever get too bored. The amount of effort poured into realizing the world of Ni no Kuni is extraordinary, and it's a good thing too, because Ni no Kuni's is a very nice world to be in.  Of course, getting into battles is the main draw of Ni no Kuni, and fans of grinding, leveling, and hectic combat will be served more than their fair share of pleasure. Combat is reminiscent of the Tales series of games, with real-time movement of the battle arena and skills that cool down after use. During the game's plodding opening hours, this system at first looks rather brainless, but eventually opens up to become astonishingly tactical, with the player eventually learning how to command the party, initiate synchronized blocks in time to weather powerful boss attacks, and -- of course -- make good use of familiars.  While Oliver and his eventual party of allies all boast a range of combat skills, one quickly finds they're not quite strong enough to handle the creatures of the world. However, they possess the ability to capture and train the very monsters they're fighting as friendly familiars, with up to three creatures per party member used in battle. These familiars can be swapped in and out at will, and each one has its own strengths, weaknesses, and attacks. With three party members boasting three familiars each, one can have a party of twelve in any given fight, though familiars all share the same health meter as their master. Utilizing the right familiars, swapping them out before they get too tired, and keeping everybody healthy is no small task, and the battles are paced quickly enough to where the combat can feel like total chaos. However, it's a carefully controlled chaos, and a player with a clear mind will be able to swap between allies, switch out familiars, and know when to use the human characters' abilities at just the right time. Once you realize that it's a game about using everything you have, rather than trying to rely on one tactic and one familiar, you start to truly appreciate the depth on display. Each human hero and familiar is leveled up independently, gaining stat boosts and new skills as they rack up experience points. Once familiars reach certain levels, they can be "metamorphosed" into new and powerful forms, though they will lose all their experience and begin anew at level one. So it is that Ni no Kuni becomes a game all about leveling. You level up your familiar to get it to the point where it has to start again from scratch, then level it up some more so it can start from scratch again. Every familiar has three forms (the final form being one of two unique variants selected by the player), and if you aim to have a strong party, ready to face the sudden difficulty jumps presented by boss encounters, you better be prepared to grind like a workhorse.  While not quite as ludicrously involved as games like Disgaea, it's fair to say that Ni no Kuni is certainly on the high end of the time demanding ratio. You'll be needing to maintain a party of twelve fighters, and most players will be swapping familiars out of the stable as they discover new and better ones, so the game is a constant struggle to keep fighting fit. Familiars gain experience whether they're in battle or not, so they can be taken into a fight against tough monsters to jump a few levels, but even so, this is a game about constant training, and no small amount of patience. Each boss assumes you've spent an hour or so building up your skills specifically for that one fight, and wastes no time in demolishing you if you've not done so. For some, this is going to be a real chore, but for others, I dare say I've just described Heaven.  I'm somewhere in the middle. I can appreciate a good grindfest, but I find Ni no Kuni sometimes takes it to extremes. This is already a long game, and when every new area of the map requires a few hours of training to survive, progression slows to a crawl and threatens to become an excruciating bore. It's a good job the world is so adorable, the monsters original and amusing, and the actual payoff for the hard work feeling like a true reward. Not to mention, there's plenty of additional content to break up the monotony and keep one invested.  Still, this is a game that thrashes and bites when you try to hug it, fighting your love every step of the way. Just saving up enough gold to have an acceptable level of revival items and equipment is a grind in and of itself. You don't unlock the power to fast travel until twenty hours in, and it takes even longer than that to get the dragon and fly across the map. Wrath of the White Witch's grind-heavy structure can feel imbalanced and overzealous, its demands on the player's time occasional disrespectful. At times, I got so sick of the game, and of hearing Oliver screaming "Neato," that I was furiously criticizing the protagonist's gormless face. Such is the maddening nature of Ni no Kuni -- compelling its victims to hurl insults at a digital thirteen-year-old.  Fight it does, but loving I remain. It's one of those games you always start playing enthusiastically, and leave feeling broken and drained. You'll be cursing, you'll be tired, but even though you shut down the game in a bedraggled, dejected state, it'll only take a few minutes before you realize how much of a blast you were actually having, and after a break from the slog, you'll be chomping at the bit for more. Never has a game made me so tired and so excited at the same time. It is a strange, perverse ambivalence, to say the least. While sharing many similarities with the likes of Tales, Pokémon, and Persona, White Witch reminds me most evocatively of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, a comparison I mean as one of the highest possible compliments. From its gorgeous cel-shading, involved alchemy system, delightfully awful love of puns ("Your Meowjesty!"), and time-sink capabilities, playing Ni no Kuni regularly feels like one of my favorite JRPGs has come back from the dead. Of course, it's hardly surprising when you know Level-5 worked on both games, but seeing so much of DQ VIII living on through this title is something very special indeed.  The aforementioned cel-shading alone is enough to draw accolades, and any review not dedicating at least a paragraph to its beauty would be performing a disservice. Featuring artwork from the beloved Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni is an absolute treasure for the eyes, with fluid animations, amazing creature designs, and some of the most gorgeous, colorful environments you could hope to see in a game. While many games have been praised for looking like an actual cartoon, few titles can hope to come as close as this. It really does feel like you're wandering around in a living, breathing cartoon, and even thirty hours into the adventure, I was still having my breath taken away by its visual splendor.  This is to say nothing of the music, brought to us by Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic. Packed with memorable tunes (the world map theme is stuck in my head as I type this) and elegant arrangements, there is a reason why expectant fans have been talking up the soundtrack in the weeks leading to launch. As with so much of the game, its orchestral qualities and sense of fun really put me in mind of Dragon Quest VIII, and that will never be a bad thing.  Wrath of the White Witch is a love letter to the classic Japanese role-playing game. It draws its elements from the best and the brightest of the genre, mimicking everything from Pokémon to Grandia with a knowing wink and no small amount of affection. It takes all these inspirations and blends them in a way entirely unique to itself, giving fans of traditional RPGs -- a rarity in the modern world -- something they've been starved of for a very long time.  It has its problems, of course. The abrupt difficulty spikes can feel like an ambush, and the amount of time it absorbs borders on the imposing. Yet, as annoying as it can be, it can never be said that Ni no Kuni is badly put together. It's as structurally sound as a game can get, something made all the more impressive by how messy and sloppy the combat looks before you start to realize quite how clever it actually is. And even those negatives can be intense positives to the right person in the right mood.  If you're a lover of games that require you to put in before you get out, and you recall the glory days of the Eastern RPG, where experience points were the lifeblood and the grind was king, you have literally no decent excuse for not finding a way to play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. A classic of the modern age, built entirely from classics of the past, it's advised you get comfortable, cancel all your plans, and prepare to enjoy a game that will dominate your life for the next few months. 
Ni no Kuni reviewed! photo
Put your Ni Nos to the grindstone
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch could have easily been called Japanese Role-Playing Games: The Official Videogame, for it plays out like an overview of the entire genre as much as it does a game in its own right.  I...

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Ghost Watch

This Ghost Watch trailer is mighty strange, and awesome


Cute ghosts battle for glory
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// Chris Carter
Everyone's been so crazy on Level-5 lately (for good reason) that their newest game, Ghost Watch, has kind of slipped under the radar a bit. Now you can get a sense of what's to come from the trailer above. In addition to fe...
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Behind the music of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch


Composer Joe Hisaishi discusses his involvement with the project
Jan 09
// Kyle MacGregor
Now that Ni no Kuni is just weeks away from release, Level-5 is back with the third in its series of behind-the-scenes developer diaries. This time around they've sat down with composer Joe Hisaishi to discuss the ...
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Fantasy Life on 3DS is doing very well in Japan


Sold out!
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// Chris Carter
Remember that awesome-looking Level-5 3DS game Fantasy Life, that started as a DS game many moons ago? It seems as if it's doing very well in Japan, as retailers have reported multiple shortages, and in many cases, the game h...
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Ni no Kuni hit with week-long delay in Europe


You'll get a freebie for your trouble
Jan 08
// Jordan Devore
One of the year's first big games, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, has been pushed back a week in Europe and Australasia due to logistical reasons. Originally scheduled to release on January 25, 2013, Level-5's lovely R...
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Xmas Cards

Check out several sites and companies' Christmas cards


From Ronimo, LEVEL-5, Shinesparkers, and Team Bobo
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Every year, game companies and other game sites like to send out holiday cards to their various contacts -- not that out of the ordinary. Sometimes these cards are your basic season's greetings, but other times they go above ...






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