Games are the most expensive form of mainstream entertainment; those that play games know that already. It’s little wonder that the revenue amassed from game sales rivals that of mainstream cinema now. Call of Duty: Black Ops II made over $500 million worldwide in first day sales according to CEO of Activision/Blizzard; Bobby Kotick. To put that in perspective, The Avengers, recorded this year’s highest grossing box opening weekend for a film, totaling approximately $392 million. Comparatively, that’s where games are now. Games demand the same level of fervent hysteria, fanatical mass appeal and production quality as film or any other mass market entertainment. It happened, everyone. It happened faster than many expected.
With that in mind, it’s not been too surprising then to discover that widely beloved, Academy Award winning anime house Studio Ghibli ventured into producing an original game completely detached from any cinematic work. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (NNK) for the PlayStation 3 is the meeting of Ghibli and game studio Level-5.
Games have always had a relationship with the film industry, most commonly in the form of cash-in licensed ‘shovelware’ based on whatever blockbuster is carrying out a nuclear marketing assault on the school holiday bazaar that year. Not every film gets a tie in as good as Goldeneye on N64.
There have been plenty of game forays into cinema. Most will remember when Square Enix was still Square (and for what felt like around a week in 1999, Square Pictures) and created the terminally fated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within for cinematic release. All gamers had their china plate childhoods smashed to dust with a sledgehammer every time a terrible live action movie based on a video game came out, recoiling in bemused agony at Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat and around 12 and a half or whatever Resident Evil movies (I’ve lost count/don‘t care/deny they exist/all of the above).
It’s when studios involve themselves with games themselves that something artistically impressive is more likely to emerge: games on games’ terms. Warner Bros. Interactive have had successes for years before nurturing the Batman: Arkham Asylum games and publishing Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw. Disney has most notably overseen successful gaming properties through the console generation. They put Mickey Mouse on a Game & Watch in 1981 and never looked back. Before Epic Mickey and Kingdom Hearts there was a Keiji Inafune-designed Ducktales 2 on the NES and the Mickey Mouse ‘Illusion’ series was winning hearts and minds over to Sega during the console wars of the early nineties.
Ghibli is what you could consider the “Disney of Japan”. Ni no Kuni is the “House of Miyazaki” throwing itself headlong into the gaming landscape. What separates NNK is its inception and its scope. It isn’t based on a film and doesn’t feature established franchise characters. It’s an original “stand alone” creation. Ni no Kuni was released on Nov 17 2011 on PS3 in Japan. Over a year later and in typical fashion, it has still yet to reach us. The actual US release won’t happen until Jan 2013. The game even has a Nintendo DS version (Ni no Kuni: The Jet-Black Mage) which came out in 2010, that the US will never play. Remember the DS? That’s how long ago 2010 was. That’s how long fans have waited for this title.
The game plays as a world sprawling RPG. Players will battle enemies by selecting and ordering spells and magic creatures. That’s the game part. There are plenty of opportunities to show off Ghibli’s characteristically stunning cinematography, from colour drenched landscapes to bright and fun character designs. All the studio’s trademark cel-drawn animation takes place through filmic cut-scenes, which break up the computer rendered gameplay. That’s the film part. The localisation has been thoughtfully handled, down to the voice acting and regional colloquialisms. The cinematic elements are all there.
Whether Ni no Kuni is a global success or not, the public could see more collaborations between studios of different artistic disciplines. Particularly, between film and game companies. Ghibli’s incentive might be to reach a new audience or purely to deliver something fun and engaging via a different approach. However, this method could bolster the brand identity of many different film companies. As Hollywood grinds down to a remake and comic book laden malaise, it’s hardly surprising film studios might start sniffing around games. They cost far less to make.
Games are where films are now in terms of audience reach. Maybe this still isn’t felt by older generations but the medium can’t be ignored on their part alone. The world should celebrate video games as an intellectually equal form of mainstream entertainment. Simply put, if you were disappointed that there isn’t a new Studio Ghibli film coming out very soon, well, there is. Only it’s a game …which is just as good.