Fans of the JRPG will not want to miss out on Level 5′s latest, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, an epic, heart-warming tale of a boy’s quest to repair a broken world filled with evil. Borrowing from some of the best games of the genre while adding in its own unique style, Ni no Kuni is one that PS3 owners will surely want to have in their library.
Ni no Kuni is very much a story-driven game; it is a pretty good story at that, filled with lots of twists and turns and interesting characters. Right off the bat, you will find yourself caring about Oliver, the game’s protagonist. In the opening scenes, Oliver’s mom suffers a heart attack after saving him from drowning in a river. This leaves Oliver orphaned and laden with guilt. It is here, at his lowest moment, when he meets Mr. Drippy (Lord High Lord of the Fairies!), his wise-cracking stuffed doll which has come to life after his mom’s passing. Mr. Drippy brings Oliver to his world to embark on an epic journey to defeat the dreaded Shadaar. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away here, but it is definitely one of the better JRPG story lines. Ni no Kuni‘s greatest strength in regards to the story is the attachment you have to its characters. Each character, flawed in their own way, is so honest and relatable. Oliver’s desire to bring his mom back; Swaine’s need to gain his father’s acceptance; Marcassin getting a second chance to recover from despair and fulfill his duty as a ruler–all of these characters offer something to love or relate to.
Ni no Kuni, aside from its hefty main story, has two major aspects: battling and running quests. Much like the sandbox style of Skyrim, Ni no Kuni is a massive open world for you and your adventurous party to explore. You’ll walk, sail, teleport, and even fly a dragon through a variety of landscapes. The gorgeous cities and islands boast an extensive display of weather and terrain. From the shivering, snow-covered land of Yule to the golden hills of The Shimmering Sands, the game does a great job of creating a unique world to venture through. You’ll find hidden treasure chests and secret areas scattered throughout the world. Aside from the exploration aspect, one of the biggest parts of the game comes from the errands and bounty hunts. Errands are side-quests given to you from the people (and creatures) from all the different cities. Most of the errands will have you retrieving a piece of heart and giving it to a brokenhearted person, or tracking down some miscellaneous ingredients for someone.
Even though these side-quests were typically the same thing over and over, with some unique ones tossed in for good measure, I didn’t mind doing them. Each one sent me to a different location, allowing me to see every corner of what this game had to offer. I would run into new familiars that I hadn’t seen yet and was given the chance to battle them and level up my crew. After completing an errand, you are rewarded with stamps. These stamps are used to fill out your merit card–fill out the card by collecting ten stamps and then cash it in for some perks. The bounty hunts were another great feature. Bounty hunts, like errands, were assigned to you from the townspeople and required you to defeat a certain creature. These creatures were much bigger than the familiars that wander the different areas. Completing bounty hunts rewarded you with a good amount of stamps, money, and usually an item. They were perfect for gaining experience points and filling out your merit cards.
This brings us to the battling system. Ni no Kuni blends real-time action with strategical, turn-based action to create a fantastic fighting system. Players have full control of their characters and can move anywhere on the field during a battle. Focus is key, as you will have to choose your moves while avoiding and defending against enemy attacks simultaneously. Each character has its specialty, be it melee type attacks or magic type. There is a great deal of strategy that you should consider while fighting. For example, if you are battling fire-based familiars, you’ll want to throw out some water or storm familiars to maximize damage., You will also want to equip your familiar with the proper armor and weapons so that it will be able to defend itself. This blend of fighting styles is the perfect combination for people who aren’t used to turn-based. And for RPG veterans, this will be a refreshing new take on the genre.
However, one of the game’s most annoying qualities comes from the battling–the A.I. Unfortunately, no matter what difficulty you are playing on, your party members will need constant attention, as they are quite incapable of handling themselves on the battlefield. You can switch between any character you want at any time, and you will be forced to do so, as failure to switch will result in a lot of deaths to your party. Another frustrating thing about the A.I. is how carelessly they play. Just seconds into a battle, the two characters you aren’t controlling will have already blown through a good chunk of their precious MP, leaving them screwed over for the rest of the fight. This wasn’t a huge issue during encounters with smaller, weaker familiars. However, when it came to the big boss fights or bounty hunts, this was a big problem.
In addition to the side-quests, there is plenty to keep you entertained. Using your Wizard’s Companion, Oliver’s instructional guidebook, you can work on filling out your familiar compendium. Ni no Kuni‘s familiars are equivalent to Pokémon–they are creatures that you battle, capture, and take care of. You can feed them and level them up. But this game goes a little more in-depth than Pokémon. You can equip your familiars with different weapons, armor, and accessories. You can also level up individual traits for your familiar, such as attack, defense, evasion, and accuracy. This is a detailed, complex mechanic and Level 5 nails it. In addition to catching over four hundred familiars, you can perform alchemy to craft anything from treats and provisions, to weapons and armor. There is even a casino which you can go to to play a variety of games for prizes. There is so much to do in this game, it’s almost overwhelming.
Ni no Kuni is one pretty looking game. Level 5 partnered with Studio Ghibli (creators of the films, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castles) to deliver the gorgeous artwork you see. This is one of the few JRPGs that truly makes you feel like you are playing an anime. It’s as good looking a game as you will ever see on this generation. Ni no Kuni is an explosion of color, a massive feast for the eyes. Composed by Joe Hisaishi, the game’s score is a mixture of a playful cartoon and a grand-scale epic. Each city and region comes with its own themed music that perfectly matches the area. Part of me wishes that the music was a bit more varied, however. Get used to that battle theme because you will be hearing it A LOT. Though the score is fantastic, there were some cutscenes in the game that it just didn’t fit with. Some of the more serious scenes were scored with light-hearted tones, which took me out of the moment a little bit.
Ah, the cutscenes. Those familiar with Studio Ghibli films already know how beautiful their animation is. Ni no Kuni is no different. Since the scale of the game is so big, with a range of different themed locations, Studio Ghibli really got to flex their muscle, showing how diverse a color palette they have. Clear blue ocean water, fiery volcanic mountains, plant-filled forest groves; these all showcase what the studio is capable of. That brings me to my next gripe. These cutscenes look fantastic. Other than the beginning and end, we don’t get to see nearly as many of these cutscenes as we should. Most of the game is done through texted-speech. There were some big moments that deserved to have cutscenes and instead, were shown through text. This was really upsetting, as it downplayed the importance of the scene. Another issue I had with the game was the voice acting. Oliver is such a sweet, endearing character. Sadly, Adam Wilson, the boy who voiced the character (in the English version of the game) , fell flat throughout.. He lacked passion behind his emotional speeches–which made me not love him as much as I should have. The same goes with a lot of the characters in the game, with the exception of Mr. Drippy, who was voiced fantastically by Steffan Rhodri. Level 5 wrote some really lovable characters but since the voice acting was subpar, it took away from my attachment to them a little. This is especially a shame given the game’s high budget and production value.
Without a doubt, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an amazing achievement. Adventurous, exciting, and a great cast of characters; this game has it all. Aside from its few hiccups, be it with frustrating A.I., lack of cutscenes, and mediocre voice acting, this is absolutely still worth playing. The main story took me about forty-five hours to complete. However, I am not even close to being done with it. There are still treasure chests to be discovered, secret areas to be explored, and familiars to be caught. To get the game’s coveted Platinum Trophy, you are looking at about ninety to a hundred hours of gameplay–so don’t worry about there being low replay value; this clearly isn’t the case. Ni no Kuni is so sweet and endearing, it will make even the most cynical person smile. I think we can learn a lot from Oliver. This world is a broken place, but with close friends and a positive attitude, we can all do our part to repair it, one broken heart at a time.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available now for the PS3