I have taken a little longer to write this review not because I had better things to do but more to the point give this game my complete time and attention as it fully deserves it.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch is not just another JRPG release, but a title that has the genius game design of Level 5 along with the visual clout of one of the greatest animation studios behind it on the form of Studio Ghibli. Yup, THAT studio which has crossed territories, taking emotive Japanese storytelling coupled with anime style animation and creating some of the greatest cinema in the modern age of the movies, Spirited Away being the most famous to the western world when it scooped Best Animation feature at the Oscars. The result? An RPG that has stopped the JRPG from getting the life sucked out of the genre by a myriad of quality first person RPG’s that are available on this generation’s console.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch casts an ordinary boy called Oliver as the main protagonist who, through personal problems needs to travel to a magical world in order to be reunited with an alternative version of his mother. Accompanied by Mr Drippy, the comedic sidekick and Lord of The Faeries with a Welsh accent, Oliver travels to this alternate land in order to see his mother as well as defeat the evil Shadar whilst learning magic, combat skills along the way.
It all seems pretty standard stuff accept that Ni No Kuni provides a rare glimpse at top level storytelling and game design that is not only simplistic in it’s approach to make a child fall in love with it instantly but has enough tongue in cheek dialogue and depth of gameplay to also pull an adult in two. It’s very rare that you do see this nowadays but Level 5 and Ghibli pull it off beautifully.
The battle system is a very simple affair but requires a little thought later on into the game. With the base actions being attack and defend with spatterings of special abilities and magic, implemented in real time the battle system comes down to well executed and timed displays of skill. The Final Fantasy series should really take note here as the battle system in that franchise could really do with learning from Ni No Kuni and realising that a simplified system, for the most part, offers a more rewarding experience.
Ni NO Kuni also gives a nod to Pokemon in terms of familiars, a variety of monsters that can be caught, collected and trained in various abilities which can be used in battles to overcome a foe. The variety of abilities do play a big part in battles and understanding how each works and what enemies would be weak against a certain ability can play a part in when to swap in and out each familiar also adding to the depth of the game.
Graphically, Ni NO Kuni is sublime with Studio Ghibli painting a beautiful landscape in which Oliver plays out his adventure. The different locations each have their own character and have a certain wash to them that really stands out. The cut scenes themselves are well directed, bringing the story together with elegance and in a way that can be appreciated by young and old. Although some may argue that the initial scenes of the game become a Ghibli short film in itself with a few prompts thrown in, I feel that this only adds to the depth of the story and the tale that Ni No Kuni has to tell.
Side quests exist in the way of errands, much like the standard fetch quests that can be found in most if not all RPG games. In Ni no Kuni, it usually doesn’t involve finding an item for the character, but instead Oliver uses his wizard power to mend broken hearts. A broken hearted character will be lacking in a specific emotion – kindness, courage, enthusiasm, etc. – and to fix it you’ll have to find a character with an over abundance of the same emotion. Cast a spell to take a little bit of the emotion and cast another spell to transfer it to the character in need. There isn’t much in the way of guessing, the game essentially tells you outright what emotion you must find, while having subtle hints could have improved the mechanic and added a bit more challenge in the process.
The other type of errands, revolves around bounty hunting a specific powerful creature, providing rewards that are well worth the leg work. While being labeled as “side quests”, I would almost call them a necessary component to the title and narrative. Completing these quests earns stamps on merit cards, which can be turned in for special rewards, such as increasing the experience earned in battle, having an easier time capturing Familiars to fight for you, and many more. By the end of the game, you will be glad you took the time to complete them, trust me.
Overall, Ni No Kuni is a breath of fresh air to the JRPG genre and a needed shot in the arm to RPG’s overall. There is a reason why The Secret Of Monkey Island’s point and click adventure still has success in a market saturated with gorgeous visuals and huge worlds and the same holds true for Ni No Kuni too. These games manage to capture the hearts of many through great design, outstanding stories as well as simplified yet versatile controls that EVERYONE can understand. On the surface Ni NO Kuni is a delightfully enchanting story with heart but look into the game further and you will find a game painted in glorious Anime visuals that shrouds itself in darkness, evil witches, comedic genius, heart warming storytelling and characters that capture the hearts of all who play the game.
In the great console war of this generation, if Sony ever needed to fire a fatal shot, then loading Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch up into a PS3 would be enough ammunition to settle the score once and for all. This game IS the ICO of this generation.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch is due for release on Friday 1st February in the U.K. and can be pre-ordered from our retail partners That Game Shop.