Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the
White Witch is the product of a collaboration from developers Level-5
(Dark Cloud 1 & 2, Dragon Quest VIII) and famed Japanese animation
company Stubio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro) that looks
extremely promising. The thought of classic JRPG gameplay coupled with
a beautiful aesthetic and a charming story has excited many. The legion
of PS3 JRPG fans who have been sorely disappointed with its output so
far (*cough* Final Fantasy XIII *cough*) will be very happy to learn
that Ni No Kuni is a thorough success.
Before getting into the all-important issue of how
the game actually plays, the presentation of Ni No Kuni deserves special
mention. Let’s start with the in game graphics. This is hands down one
of the most beautiful game currently available on the PS3. While others
may boast more realistic facial features or destructible environments,
Ni No Kuni oozes charm and attention to detail from every pore. There
is so much care put in every environment, from the expansive world map
to the most routine of dungeons that players will want to often stop and
rotate the camera just to get a load of the scenery. This extends to the
characters, who are simple yet emotive, and all animated perfectly.
The treats don’t stop there, as the game also boasts
a great voice cast to carry the story and infuse the characters with
life. While the main character Oliver, might shout “Neato” too many
times, the voice cast is more than capable, with a wide variety of
accents and dialects to keep listeners entertained. Rising above all
other performers is Mr Drippy, your magical companion who guides you
through his world. His Welsh accent is a joy to listen to, and his local
idioms add a lot of humor into the game. In fact, one of the minor
quibbles with the game is that is doesn’t employ its voice cast enough,
and instead uses text for the bulk of its dialogue. People will also be
happy to learn that the audio track can be switched to its original
Japanese as well.
The musical score of the game is a thing of beauty.
Composed by Joe Hisaishi and brought to life by the Tokyo Philharmonic
Orchestra, every track is a winner and makes the game feel like playing
through an epic movie.
Let’s move on to the story. People expecting
something as wonderful as a Studio Ghibili film may be a little
disappointed, as the story is rather basic. Oliver is a 13 year old boy
brought into a magical world charged with a quest to save this alternate
world, while also finding a way to bring his recently departed mother
back to life. While the story itself may be a little clichéd, it will
not matter too much as the world itself is so full of whimsy that it
will paper over the narrative cracks.
Players looking for a traditional JRPG experience
will find a lot to like in Ni No Kuni. Players move from town to town on
a world map (yay!), while fighting monsters and advancing the plot. Each
town will contain a variety of sidequests that will lead to combat and
status bonuses. The sidequests range from bounty hunts, where Oliver
will be charged with taking down a particularly nasty monster to more
traditional fetch quests. Most of the sidequests are fairly simple and
involve bringing one item to another location, they also involve a fair
amount of backtracking. Luckily, they keep from getting too frustrating
as completing the sidequests means spending more time in this wonderful
world and also leads to all important character upgrades.
The battle system is a very robust system, although
it may not seem it at first. The first hour of the game just features
Oliver hitting creatures with a stick and maybe the odd spell, but
eventually access to Familiars is granted and the system opens up
considerably. Familiars are monsters that Oliver summons in battle to do
his bidding. This grants you an additional wealth of battle strategy and
abilities to cast. Familiars level up with Oliver, which grants them new
skills. They can also be fed treats, which will boost their attributes
and eventually leads them to morph into new forms via the use of special
gems. Once you get your second party member you will also learn how to
catch new Familiars, which means that any enemy fought in battle can
hypothetically be added to your stable.
Experimenting with different
familiars and abilities leads to a deep and satisfying combat
experience. It is also worth mentioning that despite its child like
visuals, this game is hard, very hard without the right preparation.
Each new area features an upscale in difficulty that will require some
grinding to pass through with comfort. It is recommended that before
entering one of the games many dungeons, to spend some time leveling the
characters, as otherwise the inevitable boss battle will probably wipe
the floor with Oliver and co. While this might seem like unnecessary
padding, RPG fanatics will get a kick out of it and it gives the game a
sense of reward for every boss battle survived.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a special
game and a rare beast in the current console generation. A traditional
Japanese RPG with a deep and rewarding gameplay experience with a level
of polish reserved for the biggest of franchises. Even if level
grinding and monster catching is outside your comfort level, this game
is worth checking out. Once you spend a few hours with Oliver, Mr.
Drippy and his friends you will not be able to put Ni No Kuni down.