You play as Oliver as he searches for something meaningful within two worlds and within himself. Along the way he’ll face physical and emotional trials.
The story could've tugged more fiercely on the heartstrings; there are scenes that feel forcibly reserved, which is odd considering it's by Studio Ghibli. They also provided cut scenes, character designs and beautiful in-game animation full of colour and vibrancy. Sadly the traditional 2D animation gets less frequent as the game progresses, but the consistency in quality remains.
Battles mix real-time movement and turn-based inputs. When you enter the menu the action halts. After you input a command the action resumes.
Oliver doesn't fight alone. He can recruit creatures to fight alongside him, Pokémon style. Mostly you’ll be instructing them to fight on your behalf, utilising their abilities and swapping them in and out when needed. You can’t rely on them completely because they get tired and must be rested. During boss battles you’re going to need millisecond timing.
The game has two flaws that keep it from a perfect score. The absence of your party members’ magic bar during combat is one. If you’re relying on them to heal you it’s vital to know if they have magic or not.
The second is that pre-rendered animations take precedence over any attempt you make to damage an enemy; e.g. if you release your most devastating attack just before the boss goes into his/her attack routine, they'll take the hit but it won’t do damage. You’re left with depleted magic and no time to defend.
Neither issue is game-breaking, but being aware of them in advance will help you plan your strategy better. It's a small criticism of an otherwise wonderful experience, which is the perfect antidote to bland sequels and rushed reboots.
Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack is superb; parts of which is the best he’s written in years.
I played with the Japanese v/o. I checked the English dub on YouTube and it was dreadful in comparison. If you're not averse to subtitles, I'd recommend them.
Available for PS3 only.
4½ emotional transfusions out of 5