Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Playstation 3
Release Date: 31st January, 2013
Price: $59.99 – Available Here
Studio Ghibli are known worldwide as the Disney of Japan, having created masterpiece after masterpiece, nearly everything with the Ghibli name attached to it ends up receiving a great deal of fanfare. Such is the case with Level 5’s latest RPG adventure into a magical world that could only come from Ghibli called Ni No Kuni.
There has been so much hype surrounding Ni No Kuni with some of the more extreme fanatics calling it the next Final Fantasy or Tales before it was even released in English. Don’t get more wrong now, Ni No Kuni is a truly magical experience, one that will not soon be forgotten. It is by no means the next Final Fantasy, it’s not even the next Tales. What it is however, is the first Ni No Kuni.
Ni No Kuni features a very Ghibli-esque tale of adventure through a child’s eye, albeit one with a slightly different flavor to what we are used to from the legendary studio. As you’d expect the story won’t be conveyed as straight-forwardly as a film with everything playing out before your eyes, instead you have to play out the events yourself, which does leave a feeling that some of the pieces of plot are lost along the way.
You get the sense that Ghibli had more to tell than what is seen despite there being a large quantity of fully animated cut scenes. This is a game of course and as such a lot of the steps of plot are passed over as you simply go from one plot point to the next. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just feels odd to see a Ghibli story represented in this way.
The plot itself revolves around a young boy named Oliver as he travels into a magical world in order to save it form the evil Shadar following a huge tragedy befalling him and turning his life upside down. He is ushered into the other world by Mr Drippy, who might I add is the standout character of Ni No Kuni, with the promise of being able to restore his old life.
It all makes for a very classic adventure story filled with discovery and excitment, but it is hard to not feel as though some of the heart and spirit Ghibli is known for was lost on the video-game medium.
This is where Ni No Kuni shines. This is a game that is best likened to the RPG cult classic Guardian’s Crusade. Both this game and Guardian’s Crusade feature a protagonist that is compelled on his journey by a creature companion (Drippy in Ni No Kuni and Baby in Guardian’s Crusade) and both feature a collectable creature aspect of gameplay (Familiars in Ni No Kuni, Living Toys in Guardian’s Crusade). This isn’t the end of the similarities though, Guardian’s Crusade is a game that was far ahead of its time and I strongly feel that Ni No Kuni will be looked back on in that same regard, there is a lot at play here that takes a while to wrap your head around, but it is what makes Ni No Kuni so enjoyable.
The battles of Ni No Kuni is of course a major focus of the gameplay as this is honestly a grind-heavy RPG with a lot of fighting and leveling to be done. What sets Ni No Kuni apart however is its combat mechanics, it mixes the turn based creature summoning combat of Guardian’s Crusade with the real-time action mechanics of the Tales franchise. At first it feels somewhat clunky and difficult to get a grip of. Afterall the game lets your run around in real time, but halting combat and switching between party members and familiars is a large part as well. This puts Ni No Kuni in an odd predicament, it is seemingly undecided on whether or not it wants to be a turn-based RPG game or an action RPG, instead just opting for the odd middle ground. It feels fresh and indeed it is, but the problem is that it has a relatively steep learning curve as it is not something many RPG gamers are accustomed to. There are flickers of past games we have seen but when mixed together it doesn’t glue all too well. Once you get the hang of it though, Ni No Kuni can prove to be an immensely satisfying RPG adventure that is the perfect mix of challenge and fun.
Besides the combat mechanics, it is very interesting to note that Ni No Kuni takes another page out of the Guardian’s Crusade playbook with seamless graphical transition between the overworld, towns, dungeons and battles. This may seem trivial in this day and age but there are still a lot of RPG games that don’t implement something as simple as this. Despite that Ni No Kuni does something that they don’t, it makes its world feel truly immense, it seems almost endless. No matter how far you travel the world just keeps on growing. This makes for a world that you just have to journey through, for a game with such a heavy focus on adventure, this is a necessity.
While some elements of gameplay may feel a little clunky at first, with some time they will come to click with you and become second nature. Ni No Kuni does a lot of things that haven’t been done in a long time which hearkens back feelings of RPGs of old as well as giving it a certain fresh flavor that you just don’t come by these days. Weighing in at easily 60 hours, there is plenty to see and do in Ni No Kuni. It may not be Final Fantasy or Tales but it is something special.
Visuals and Audio:
Ni No Kuni aesthetically lives and breathes Studio Ghibli, that instantly recognizable style of art that has enchanted anime fans for decades. In fact it is hard to imagine Ni No Kuni without Ghibli behind it. It certainly wouldn’t be half as magical as it is and the world of Ni No Kuni wouldn’t be half as fun to explore.
Ghibli and Level 5 have created a beautiful world to journey through and memorable character designs that won’t soon be forgotten. The sheer visual delight of Ni No Kuni is enough of a reason to give this game a look in as it is utterly gorgeous.
Not only is the art stunning, the soundtrack for this game is simply a masterstroke by Joe Hisaishi. He has composed he greatest score since Princess Monoke with this game. Each track is intricate and detailed telling a story without words. This soundtrack is a credit to Hisaishi and will be remembered as a high point of his career.
Level 5 and Studio Ghibli came together to make magic and they succeeded. Ni No Kuni is an enchanting experience that will resonate in the hearts of gamers with its charm and romantic affection for adventure. It is a game that the world may not be ready for, with ideas that may not be fully embraced just yet, but it is still a game overflowing with creativity. While it owes a great debt to its forefathers like Guardian’s Crusade and Tales, Ni No Kuni has stamped out its own identity. It may be many things but more than anything it is what it is – Ni No Kuni.
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