GAME NAME: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
DEVELOPER(S): Level 5 / Studio Ghibli
PUBLISHER(S): Namco Bandai
GENRE(S): JRPG, Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): 1 February 2013
Every now and again a special game comes along that makes you thankful for the experience and thankful that gaming even exists. Sometimes it has to do with the graphics, sometimes the gameplay, sound or story and sometimes, just sometimes, you get a game which has it all. Whilst opening paragraphs often throw a question about a game like “does it fit this criteria” or “is this that kind of game?”… Well I can tell you now, Ni No Kuni is that game.
At this point you can do one of two things, forget about the rest of the review, go out and buy the game and thank me later. Or you can continue reading to be convinced further, and then go buy the game and thank me later.
At the centre of Ni No Kuni is a young boy named Oliver. Oliver experiences a traumatic even at the beginning of the game resulting in the loss of his mother. Few games hit that hard, that early but it gets the game rolling without hesitation. Oliver’s tears bring to life a doll which his mother gave him. A doll which turns out to be Drippy, a fairy. A high lord fairy in fact and so the adventure begins. Drippy explains to Oliver that there are parallel universes and that in each universe everyone has a soul mate (not in that sense), so it is possible that something has happened to Oliver’s mother’s soul mate in the world of Ni No Kuni, which has resulted in the death of Oliver’s mother in his world, in Motorville. Oliver takes a little convincing but agrees to go with Drippy to find a wand and take a trip to Drippy’s world. It is here where most of the story takes place, with intermittent trips back to Motorville.
We find out that Oliver is the ‘Pure-Hearted’ one who is set to save Ni No Kuni from the evil Dark Djinn, Shadar. Shadar has been causing lots of problems for the inhabitants of Ni No Kuni and it is he that has trapped Oliver’s mother’s soul mate, a great Sage, Alicia. The game follows Oliver’s travels to save Alicia, take down Shadar and save the world. Easy, right?
When you first arrive at Ni No Kuni the first thing that you will notice are the stunning visuals. Level 5 and Studio Ghibli have done an amazing job on the artwork, all hand drawn animation which looks more lively than some CGI animations. It is impossible not to be amazed at the world created, from volcanoes and high mountains to beautiful forestry, oceans and desert towns. Every area you visit has something special about it, constituting an artbook in its own right.
Once you are finished gawking at the scenery you will find out that Oliver has the ability to summon Familiars, which are not too different from Pokemon. The familiars take the form of different creatures which Oliver can use to battle with. Each familiar has different abilities, skills, moves and powers. The familiars also have different traits which means that some work better with others and will also have some bonuses over other familiars with a different trait. It makes the battling incredibly strategic and very engaging. Deciding which familiar to use when battling is as important as deciding on which attack to use. Of course you can also get Oliver or one of his friends to battle also, each with their own move set.
The battles are turn-based, but not the conventional turn-based that you may think. It all happens in real time, which means you can attack, counter-attack and defend without having to wait for the enemy to have their turn first. It makes for a high-paced battle system rather than the archaic turn-based system which has finally been bettered. It also means that you are in total control of your characters, moving them at will while the battle is ongoing. This is particularly useful as glims drop during the battle which, if collected, can improve your available MP and HP. There is also a gold glim which occasionally drops which allows a character to use his Miracle Move.
In battles you have a number of options. You can choose which character will lead the battle, which will result in you taking control of said character and the AI taking control of the others. As leader you have a number of tactics you can cycle through to make sure your party is as effective as can be. You can also choose which familiar to use and when to attack and defend. The battle system is a little tricky to manage at first, but after a bit of practice it becomes second nature. This is helped by the ease of the controls when it comes to cycling through the different options and deciding what action to take when.
The battle system really has a unique feel to it. The boss fights are not simple, but with a bit of management all can be overcome. The greatest thing about the action is that it never becomes overwhelming. It means that the game is perfect for newcomers, while veterans of the JRPG will not be left disappointed at all.
Ni No Kuni also has a whole host of side missions which Oliver can take on. These side missions mostly consist of taking down a certain enemy, finding a lost item, or fixing someone’s heart with magic. The side missions are mostly very entertaining, and they also help with levelling up characters as well as securing important items which will help you along the way. Unlike many games the side missions never feel like a chore to complete, and mostly you’ll find that the effort required to complete them has been justified.
Ni No Kuni is a lengthy adventure too, with players looking at between 35 to 50 hours of gameplay, depending on how you go about the side missions, and also how long you stare at each panel for. Oliver’s story takes players to some magical cities while introducing some truly memorable characters from the Meowjesty of Ding Dong Dell to the Moojesty of Al-Mamoon and many more.
There is so much content in Ni No Kuni that it would impossible to describe it all. It is, as mentioned before, a very special game. It is the JRPG that many have been waiting for as it enhances and improves on almost everything that precedes it. If you love your JRPGs then you don’t want to miss this one. But it will also appeal to those who are not fans of JRPGs and I implore those non-fans to give it a try. It may just change your mind on the whole genre.
Ni No Kuni is one amazing journey, from start to end. You find that you grow along with Oliver as he completes his quest to save a loved one. You can not help but be charmed and fall in love with his friends along the way. Drippy’s comic relief comes just when it is needed most and Studio Ghibli are never shy to put a tear in your eye, sometimes through happy events, sometimes through sad events.
There may be many games coming out this year, but Ni No Kuni deserves your attention as much as anything else. It is a game worth owning a PS3 for. It is charismatic and gloriously animated , the voice work is brilliant but most importantly it is a game that turns hours to minutes as you find yourself completely lost in a world where everything has a deeper meaning, a world where you genuinely care about its inhabitants and their problems, and a world you will find yourself falling more and more in love with.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is as good a JRPG as any you have played before, but don’t let the JRPG tag put you off. It is as good a game as any you have played to date. I am happy to delay next-gen if this is what I get on current-gen. Truly ‘Wand-erful’.