Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Massive spoiler alert. Ni no Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch doesn’t contain any mind-boggling gameplay element that you have not seen before. Another massive spoiler alert: big whoop. This game is still well worth playing. Read on to know why.

Ni no Kuni fuses the best bits of Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Persona, Dragon Quest and the Tales series of games into one tidy little blu-ray disc. Nonetheless, it manages to do so in a way that ensures it doesn’t feel generic, boring and cookie-cutter. Rather than resulting in a soulless wreck of a game you have a fresh, charming RPG with few equals.

Created from the collaboration between Level-5 (Rogue Galaxy, Dark Cloud and Professor Layton) and animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away), Ni no Kuni sports an aesthetic that would make most anime look dull in comparison.  The graphics seamlessly merge with the cut-scenes so well that we wouldn’t fault you for thinking that you were playing a highly polished animated film.

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That isn’t all. From the way NPCs stand while you’re talking to them to the myriad of animations your fairy companion Mr. Drippy performs while you idle around, such as pirouetting and stumbling about, the attention to detail is astonishing. It sets bad precedent because everything else seems pedestrian and rougher around the edges in comparison. Well, at least when it comes to the aesthetic side of things.

Graphical goodness and delightful details aside, there’s a soundtrack that more or less singes your brain.The range is immense, including epic battle scores and calmer music fit for a day at the beach. Every piece feels unique and infinitely listenable long after you’re done with the game.

While we’re on the topic of “done with the game”, you won’t finish this in a hurry like the dudebro shooter of the month. Expect to soak in around 40 hours or so with an RPG of this calibre. More if you intend on doing the spate of side-quests that pepper the main story.

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Along the way you’ll meet Oliver, a young boy whose family has fallen into terrible misfortune. You’ll help him liberate a parallel world with the help of the king of fairies, Mr. Drippy, who just so happens to be his stuffed toy brought to life by Oliver’s tears.

Sure, the plot has its fair share of gaping holes and conveniences and at times, you can see the twists coming a mile away, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid, entertaining adventure. Complete with voice-acting that’s second to none. Particularly Mr. Drippy voiced brilliantly as a Welshman.  Barring Oliver who sounds out of place with an American accent, everyone else is rocking a British tonality that just classes things up.

As is custom with most Japanese role-playing games, combat plays a huge, if you can excuse the pun, role in the proceedings. Your party consists of a bunch of kids who are definitely young enough to be considered as jailbait so they’re quite underpowered.

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How would you get ahead in a  world rife with magic packing monsters you ask? With your own beasties of course. You can capture enemies in battle and use them as your own personal army. These are known as familiars. With a maximum of nine allowed in battle and over 9000 400 to store you’re not exactly short for choice.

In addition to this, you can block attacks (key to surviving most boss encounters), move around the battlefield, use magical and physical attacks as well heal yourself and your allies. Typical JRPG fare with the twist being, knowing when to switch from familiar to using your own spells in a fight.

And it’s at the point of combat when Ni no Kuni feels most temperamental. The spikes in difficulty are peculiar. One moment you’re breezing through battles with barely a scratch, the next you’re hanging on for your dear life, hoping you can heal yourself in time. But a second later, you’re staring at the game over screen.

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This is aggravated by an in-game economy that’s brutal if you’re not careful. In order to survive most boss fights not only would your need your complete attention to block most attacks and your best familiars, you’d also need a steady stock of health and magic giving items to keep your troops from dying. Problem is, you’ll never always have enough cash to get all the supplies you need, ensuring that you spend more than your fair share of time fighting regular enemies just so you’ll have enough cash (and experience) to take on the bigger threats. Even on easy mode.

Furthermore, the battle controls are counter-intuitive. To evade enemies you’ll be using the left analogue stick, but to select and issue commands, you need the d-pad. More often than not you’ll find yourself moving your characters around with your left thumb while using your right thumb to order your party around. It feels odd and takes awhile to get used to.

With these balancing and control issues, Ni no Kuni isn’t the ideal choice for novices to get acquainted with the genre. Japanese role-playing game veterans can rejoice because this game was made with them in mind.

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Regardless which camp you belong in, this is one title that no matter what you’re doing, be it being bested by bosses or just going through a town full of cat people (which is awesome!), you always feel that you’re on a grand journey. I guess the situations it puts you in helps. From helping a broken-hearted queen of cows quit her dairy addiction to aiding a fairy godmother in prolonged labour, Ni no Kuni ends up being just more than another game of “save the world”.

It is another world.  If you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll be richly rewarded with satisfaction few games this generation can match.

  • Insanely good production values
  • Fantastic atmosphere
  • Whimsical scenarios that keep you going
  • Feels suitably epic
  • Odd difficulty spikes
  • Economy that promotes grinding
9

If you’re willing to put in the effort into Level5/Sutdio Ghibli’s latest RPG, you’ll be richly rewarded with satisfaction few games this generation can match.

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Game Info

Available On
PS3
Reviewed On
PS3
Developer
Level 5/Studio Ghibli
Genre
Role Playing Game
Age Rating
12+
Release Date
February 01, 2013