For years, console JRPG fans have been clamoring not only for a title that hearkens back to the genre’s golden age but one that will revitalize it. When Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch was announced, many believed that the messiah had finally arrived. Although it isn’t the game that will resurrect a once mighty genre, Ni No Kuni is one of the most charming and awe inspiring games you’ll ever play.
Ni No Kuni was co-developed by two giants: Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. Level-5 has been putting out quality JRPGs for years and everyone knows about the amazing movies that Studio Ghibli has produced over the decades. A union between these two powerhouses could only create something beautiful and that is exactly what’s happened with Ni No Kuni.
Ni No Kuni’s story is standard fare for studio Ghibli. A young boy named Oliver loses his mother and needs to go to a magical fairytale land in order to bring her back to life. The setup is as simple as you can imagine but the story is told in such a charming manner that this won’t be an issue. Charming is definitely the most appropriate word in the English language to use when describing Ni No Kuni. The game is bursting at the seams with it.
Ni No Kuni is as traditional as you can get as far as JRPGs go. You have a massive overworld to explore, various cities to visit and several dungeons to explore. You’re given tasks to complete in order to move the story forward but like old school JRPGs, you’ll have to do a few other things before you can accomplish your current goal. You know the drill. You have to enter a dungeon but need a key. That key can only be found in a hidden location. To find this place you’ll need a special map. The map is protected by a monster that can only be harmed with a special weapon. To get that weapon you’ll have to ect ect ect. These sort of clichés could have easily undermined the experience but Ni No Kuni manages to pull them off nicely. Yes, you’ll still have to level grind and do some grunt work to complete tasks but you’ll never feel frustrated. The game has all the trappings of old JRPGs but modernized to make things more convenient for the player.
Combat isn’t exactly turn based but when you choose spells or decide to switch between different party members or Familiars, the game pauses to let you make your selections. There’s also a brief cool down period for spells and items after they’ve been cast or used. In between your attacks, you’re free to roam around the battlefield. This is useful for dodging enemy attacks. Speaking of enemy attacks, most enemies telegraph what their next powerful attack is going to be, allowing you to defend against them. Successfully blocking attacks will sometimes generate orbs that you can use to replenish your health and magic or even ones that power you up and let you unleash devastating attacks. The mechanics aren’t complicated but they are strategic enough to keep you engaged.
One of the interesting things about combat in Ni No Kuni is that it isn’t really done by the main characters. The majority of battles are fought with creatures called Familiars. You’ll be given some starter creatures near the beginning of the game but if you want the most powerful ones, you’ll need to hunt for them. Yeah, yeah, it is kind of like Pokemon, I know. Like that game, you can level up your creatures and when they reach a certain level you can metamorphose them into another, more powerful form. Familiars specialize in certain fields. Some are good at melee combat; others are good at magic, and others at defense. A well rounded menagerie of critters will mean the difference between victory and death. You can have as many as 400 Familiars in reserve and you’ll be hard pressed to not get addicted to collecting and leveling up as many as you can.
Ni No Kuni is without a doubt one of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever seen. No hyperbole there folks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given who is behind the visuals. Studio Ghibli’s artistic sensibilities really make this game stand out from the pack. The studio’s style permeates every inch of this game. Everything from building interiors to the vast outdoors is a wonder to behold. The characters that inhabit the world are given just as much attention as the environments. Every character and creature has clean, smooth animations that almost look as if they were hand drawn. Speaking of traditional animation; the game also has a good amount of cinemas that look like they came from a Studio Ghibli movie that was never released. Words cannot properly describe just how incredibly beautiful Ni No Kuni looks.
Just like with the visuals, mere words can’t express how amazing the music of Ni No Kuni is. The soundtrack was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Having a real orchestra performing the soundtrack definitely helps to heighten the experience. Everything from epic boss battles to subtle moments sounds incredible. Listening to the music stirred feelings in me that I can’t even explain. It really is one of the best video game scores you’ll ever hear. The sound effects and voice acting are also incredible. A lot of the sound effects have an appropriately cartoonish feel that just add to the charm of the game. The voice actors all do an incredible job of portraying their characters. I liked how certain people had specific accents. The best one had to be from your fairy friend Mister Drippy who has a hilariously thick Welsh accent. The only drawback is that the entire game doesn’t have voice acting. For a game as modern as Ni No Kuni, it’s a bit of a surprise that most of the dialogue is written out and not voice acted. This is a small thing though and the game’s audio is just as majestic and wonderful as the visuals. The overall presentation is hard to match.
It’s a good thing that the world of Ni No Kuni is so inviting because you’re going to spend a lot of time in it. The amount of sidequests available is pretty mind boggling. There are a ton of errands and completing them will get you items, money and special passive abilities that make the game easier. Finishing tasks can get pretty addictive since the more you complete, the more you get in return. Capturing and leveling up Familiars will also take up a good amount of your time, especially when you find the really good ones later on. Let me not forget to mention how long it will take you to explore all of the world’s nooks and crannies. You’ll have access to most of the world pretty early on so if you want to explore, you’re able to. Ni No Kuni’s story is long enough on its own but with side quests, level grinding and exploration you’re looking at many, many hours of play time.
While it won’t bring JRPGs back to prominence like some have hoped, Ni No Kuni is still a marvelous and wonderful game. The collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli really paid off and the result is one of the most awe inspiring and charming games the industry has ever seen. The game stays true to the traditions of the genre but it’s modern at the same time. Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch is a stellar JRPG that will find a place in the hearts of all who play it.
•Beautiful graphics and art design
•Great voice acting and witty script
•Modernized traditional JRPG mechanics
•Simple but fun combat
•Your magic attacks being cancelled when one of your teammates do their own
•Some sidequests were too easy even in the latter parts of the game
•Not all dialogue is voice acted
Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White White was co-developed by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. It was published by Namco-Bandai. It is available now exclusively on the Playstation 3.