It's not shocking at all to find out that many Americans haven't heard of Ni no Kuni, and that's because it hasn't been released in North America yet. However, there are a few who are aware of its existence, and have known for a couple years now. Mostly because they follow anything Studio Ghibli does, and they happen to be the collaborators in this game, with the producing company being Level-5. However, even hardcore followers of Studio Ghibli are unaware they have helped with two video games, Ni no Kuni being one of them, and are utterly shocked and overjoyed to see this game.
For those not familiar with Level-5, they are one of the top ten most successful gaming companies in Japan. They are the ones that brought Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle (or Dark Cloud 2, as the name was changed to in North America) to life with the help and collaboration of Sony Computer Entertainment. They also worked on notable games such as the White Knight Chronicles and Rouge Quest, as well as the Professor Layton series, which is less known here in the States.
However, for those who are under the impression Level-5 is just a video game company, let me impress you further. They have produced several TV Series and even a few movies based off their games! In just a little over a decade, Level-5 has lived up to their name and made games worthy of top marks (Level-5 being the highest marks one can receive in Japanese grading).
Ni no Kuni is one of these games. Largely responsible for the game's popularity, Studio Ghibli works with Level-5 to create the cut scenes, game play animation, and breath-taking backgrounds which looked to me (at first glance) to be a new movie. When I found out it was a game, I was shocked into silence for a full minute, staring at my screen in wonder as the review video played. The cut scenes and even the game play are not only as fluid as real-time animation, but unlike SquareEnix/Disney's Kingdom Hearts, there isn't that drastic difference bwetween the opening and ending sequences and playable character mode. In Ni no Kuni, the game play and the landscapes are just as vivid as it would be in an animated movie, albeit still obviously cell shaded.
While I can't give you too many details of the plot, I can tell you the story revolves around a young boy named Oliver who loses his mother in an accident. However, as he's crying, his tears awake a fairy in the doll his mother had given him. The doll explains he has come from another world, and upon bestowing Oliver with a magical and mysterious book, brings him to this second world where Oliver may be able to save his mother by saving her "other", or the woman in that world who is his mother in his world. Using the magic in the book, and creatures known as "imajinns" (that are reminiscent of Pokémon), Oliver battles his way to face the evil Jabo, the black mage who is darkening (or cursing) people's hearts.
While it was originally released in Japan in December of 2010, for the Nintendo DS platform, Level-5 has announced in June that they will be releasing the game for PlayStation 3 on January 22nd, 2013 in North America, where as Europe will have to wait an extra three days for their release. As the DS version did in Japan, the PS3 version will come with an actual version of the book given to Oliver that the player will need to use to figure out the puzzles in the game. Creating a unique twist, just reading the book is useless; although hints are made in the book, it's impossible to tell without the game what these hints mean.
Ni no Kuni, technically translating to "Second Country", is not the official name for the game, it is the name the game is referred to as a whole. The DS version, which was exclusively Japanese, was titled Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi (literally "Second Country: The Jet-Black Mage"), the PS3 version that has been released will be called Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the North American/European versions. It will come not only in Japanese with English Subtitles, but the audio will also be available in English with the option of French, German, Italian, and Spanish subtitles.
Studio Ghibli, headed by the directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (who directed Grave of the Fireflies), also lent the talents of Joe Hisaishi. Hisaishi is a noted director and composer who has been writing all the music for Studio Ghibli's movies since Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (which technically came out before the Studio's founding). He has also wrote scores for Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky and, most famously, Spirited Away. For his work on Spirited Away, more specifically the song "Day of the River" ("Ano Hi no Kawa"), Hisaishi was awarded the 56th Mainichi Film Competition Award for Best Music, the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2001 Best Music Award in the Theater Movie category, and the 16th Japan Gold Disk Award for Animation Album of the Year.
Sources: Gameinformer.com, Vg247.com, and Gematsu.com