- Visually stunning
- Fantastic localisation
- Critter collecting is enjoyable
- Tons to do
- Takes a while to get going
To many, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the coming together of Studio Ghibli and Level 5 as the former merges its unique visual style with the latter’s expert RPG production values. To me, it’s more about Level 5 than Studio Ghibli. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the company’s blockbuster films as much as anyone else, but I was more interested in getting stuck into another of Level 5’s sprawling adventures. As someone who adored the Dark Cloud games and Dragon Quest VIII on PlayStation 2 and felt that Dragon Quest IX on the DS just didn’t have the same oomph, Ni No Kuni looked like what I’ve been waiting years for. A new, epic RPG from one of my favourite developers.
You play as Oliver, a boy who is orphaned during the game’s opening scenes and is whisked away to a magical world which promises to have a method with which he can bring his mother back to life. In this other world, an evil warlock named Shadar is breaking people’s hearts by taking away their enthusiasm, courage, kindness and more. It is by defeating Shadar and stopping his nefarious deeds that Oliver should be able to bring his mother back from the dead.
Ni No Kuni takes pieces from many other games and molds them into something special. At its core, the game is a mixture of classic Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XII, Dragon Quest, and Pokémon. Like classic Final Fantasy, you’re given a world map to explore with beasties to battle and towns to visit. Like Final Fantasy XII, these battles are constantly flowing but allow free movement to evade and plan attacks. Like Dragon Quest, the game has expert localisation featuring some of the best voice talent and script-writing you’ll find in gaming today. Lastly, like Pokémon, you’re able to enlist the help of tameable monsters in battle that evolve when trained enough.
It’s these monsters, known as Familiars, that provide what could be the meat of the game. If you’re a completionist, you’ll want to tame every monster you come across and Metamorphisise each into something stronger until you’ve tamed them all. The only problem with this however, is that unlike Pokémon, taming a monster doesn’t require any skill and is entirely luck-based. Upon defeating one in battle, it might begin to spew hearts from its head and only then can you add it to your team. What this means is that if you’ve got your heart set on a specific monster, you might have to get mass-murdering before you finally find one that agrees to join you.
Aside from the game’s main story, you can also opt to undertake in various sidequests that reward you with Merit Stamps for your Merit Card. Folks in towns will ask you to complete tasks such as gathering ingredients, taming specific monsters, or you might have to heal their broken hearts by finding someone with the appropriate trait to spare. You can also take on bounty hunts that see you tasked with taking down tough enemies in reward for stamps and valuable rewards. It’s these that place the game perhaps at its most challenging with the enemies being far stronger than those you’ll face during story progression, making even bosses seem like softies. Of course you could just leave them until much later when you’re stronger, but where’s the fun in that?
It must be said that Ni No Kuni does take a while to get going and this is perhaps where it could make or break it for most players. As expected from an RPG of its size, it has features and ways to play oozing from every pore and introducing each takes the game a long time. It’ll be a good seven hours before you’re able to freely recruit partner monsters known as familiars and you won’t be able to freely travel around the huge world map until much later. These are’t problems per se, but if you’re the type who judges on the first hour or two, you may find yourself getting bored, quickly. It’s definitely worth sticking with though.
As you’d expect from development coupled with renowned Japanese animators Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni is one of the best looking games you’re likely to see this generation. And with this generation looking more and more like it’s about to end, it may be the best looking game we’ll ever see on PS3. Whilst the game is full 3D and lets you move around freely, it does a fantastic job of looking like a cartoon, mostly due to its simple but effective cel-shaded characters. The environments are a little more detailed than the inhabitants but it all blends together to create something truly unique. Coupled with the majestic orchestrations that come courtesy of Studio Ghibli’s Joe Hisaishi, the games is as close to a playable cartoon as you’re likely to get.
Ni No Kuni is a fantastic title, even if it does take a while to get going. Once you’re in the swing of things and you’ve found a play style that works, you’ll be hard pressed to stop. An early contender for Game of the Year – beyond a shadow of a doubt.