Join us for a studio tour at LEVEL-5 with Akihiro Hino (CEO of LEVEL-5) and Ken Motomura (Game Director). Ni No Kuni – Wrath Of The White Witch will be available on PS3 only on the 25th of January 2013. For more info, please visit the official website: http://www.ninokunigame.eu/ or your local Namco Bandai Games ... Read More »
Release Date: 01/02/13
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review
Having already previewed Ni no Kuni a few weeks back, I knew I was in for a treat when the full game landed in my lap. The animators of Studio Ghibli, an award-winning Japanese film company, and Level-5, who have made games such as Professor Layton and The White Knight Chronicles, have lovingly designed this PS3 exclusive JRPG to great effect. Everything about Ni no Kuni from the moment you load it up screams Ghibli styling, and that’s not just within the cut-scenes; the gameplay itself is beautifully rendered in keeping with the intricate splendour of their films.
Ni no Kuni is everything you want in an RPG; there are characters you can warm to, locations that you can feel at home in, quaint shops and inns to spend your hard earned cash… oh and of course levelling up by fighting monsters. You join Oliver on an adventure through the parallel world of Ni no Kuni, with his crazy mascot Drippy, ‘high lord of the fairies’, as he attempts to become a wizard in the hope of bringing back his recently deceased mother. Not only does he have to face adverse situations along the way, but also save those inhabitants of Ni no Kuni who have been subjected to a terrible curse known as being ‘heart-broken’.
Heart-broken citizens are found at varying locations around the towns, and usually seem a bit… under the weather. They might have run out of enthusiasm, bravery, or kindness for example, and the only way to heal them is to use Oliver’s magic locket, take these traits from other inhabitants who have some going spare and give them to those who need it. These are often little side-quests, but occasionally they become part of the main mission to progress further. It’s a lovely little addition, and means you have something extra to look for when entering a new location. The people to look for show up in green on your mini-map, so they’re fairly easy to spot – although the conversations between Oliver and said green person are often a bit waffley, so I tended to skip through them.
You meet various characters along the way, and a few even like you enough to join your party. Fighting as a team is pretty straight forward – hit the left bumper and it pauses the fight so you can choose which character to take control of. To help in fights, you can also recruit different monsters (which are pretty cute really) that you can name, level up, and customise with different weapons and armour. These ‘familiars’ become your mini-army, and can be called upon throughout a fight. They have elemental properties too, and some are better at healing, cursing or smashing, so the choice yours as to how you prepare for battle. With hundreds to collect, these Pokémon-esque familiars can be captured using a magical song, and stored away in a resort. You will probably grow to love your original friend (whom I promptly named Dennis), but there are so many to choose from you end up being a bit spoilt. I just went for the ones I thought were cutest, while at the same time making sure they spanned the various abilities. You’ll find your groove with the little sweethearts.
Although the main map is quite easy to navigate from one main location to another, there are times when you can, and should, explore a bit. To level up your characters and familiars you need to fight… a lot. There have been times I have only managed the bare minimum on a journey, deciding to avoid confrontation in the hope of getting to my target quicker, but I urge you to grind away for a while. Just a little at a time – if you don’t, you might get a little frustrated (as I did to begin with) when you find yourself up against a boss. The difficulty spike is pretty immense and those bad boys will tear you a new one – you will try time and time again to beat them, maybe just doing so by the skin of your teeth. For once I didn’t throw the controller across the room – mostly because I knew it was my fault for not taking on as many beasties to begin with. Lesson learnt.
During your time becoming an up and coming all-powerful wizard and collecting spells along the way, there are times when you must overcome certain trials, set for you by even more powerful beings than yourself. These are in the guise of puzzles, using common sense to solve riddles, or co-ordination skills by navigating two characters across separate bridges using both thumb sticks at the same time. These made for an interesting link between main plot points, similar in some ways to the cloister trials in Final Fantasy X. Oliver will also meet ghost-like wizards, who offer him pages for his spell book in return for answering riddles. This usually entails reading a section of said book – maybe a story or a recipe – to find the answer. The slight drawback to this is that you then have to input the answer correctly using the onscreen keyboard. After a few attempts I managed to work out the way in which the game wanted me to answer, but I found this a bit of a burden. It would have been far easier to simply include a multiple-choice option, rather than having to type out the exact words. Then again, it did add more of a challenge – whether you want that though is something else.
Like any RPG, there are elements you are going to love and those you are going to… like a bit less. Ni no Kuni has pretty much hit the nail on the head with the style in which the game is presented, but I have a few niggles with some of the options within challenges, the horrendous difficulty spike when up against a boss (which I’ll illiterate was partly my fault), and the occasional conversation that makes me feel sleepy. That being said though, I am still utterly addicted to the game – with over 40 hours of adventure to be had I can honestly say it has been a magical one. Each location is stunningly crafted, and almost every element that makes this game an RPG works harmoniously with the next, while the characters are both adorable and light-hearted. Ni no Kuni is definitely a contender for game of the year (already) in my eyes… although it was launched two years ago in Japan, so does that count? I like to think so.
Ni no Kuni has now become one of my favourite JRPGs, due to it’s beautiful styling, it’s simple yet engrossing storyline, and the sweet characters you meet along the way. It is definitely worth playing through with the English dubbing on, rather than Japanese with subtitles, as the voiceover work is truly wonderful, as with any of the Ghibli films. Definitely worth your time and money if you’re a fan of this genre.
Wonderful use of RPG elements
Some challenges could have been a bit easier to navigate
Difficulty spike with bosses if you don’t grind enough
I struggled with this score, mostly due to my undying love for the Studio Ghibli films, From the moment I knew this game was being released I knew I would love it down to this element alone. The game plays beautifully as well, however, and with only the few issues I can find with it, it definitely deserves an 8.5.
There’s a moment in everyone’s gaming life I’m sure, or at least I hope, when a title comes to light that you feel so strongly towards you could have sworn it was made especially with you in mind. From the moment I heard that Studio Ghibli, one of my all time favourite film-makers, were in the process of making a game, I couldn’t believe my luck. For those who have never heard of Ghibli, they are pretty much the Japanese equivalent of Disney, creating award-winning anime films that will melt your heart with the characters, the story telling, and their amazing artwork.
Ni no Kuni is everything Ghibli brings to their films, but with the added bonus of being thrown into the role of the main character. Playing as Oliver, a young boy who unfortunately witnesses the untimely demise of his loving mother, you must adventure through magical worlds, not only to try and bring her back, but to relinquish the parallel world of Ni no Kuni from an evil that is breaking the hearts of the inhabitants to pieces. With the help of Drippy – a toy given to Oliver by his mother, transformed by his tears into the ‘fairy king’, with a lantern hanging off the end of his nose, you begin your travels through a mystical world on your quest to become a wizard.
Playing the game from the very beginning, it is easy to see just how much effort has gone into the animation alone. The cut-scenes are works of art, as though they have been pulled directly from one of the many Ghibli films, and the gameplay is no different. Characters and locations are flawless; bringing to life a magical anime world that has to be seen to really appreciate it. If you’re a lover of everything Japanese, you can play Ni no Kuni with subtitles, adding to the experience of the JRPG genre, but I was advised to turn on the English version, and I’m very glad I did. The characters are wonderfully dubbed, with a very humorous Welsh accent added to Drippy, which makes for some very light-hearted conversations and amazing quotes. You can’t help but laugh at his outrageous comments at times, which again is part of the hilarity instilled into everything Ghibli touch.
Upon entering the world of Ni no Kuni, you are faced with your first adversary; a rather cute looking lion-esque creature. The smaller enemies you encounter on your travels are reminiscent of un-evolved Pokémon, and make for some adorable battle scenes. To begin with, all Oliver can do is hit these creatures with his wand (read: a stick), but as time goes on he learns a variety of magical spells with the aid of his spell book, given to him by Drippy. As you journey, Oliver will come across other pages from said book, adding to the collection of spells he can master.
You begin with your regular, run of the mill attacks, such as fireballs, and again… hitting creatures with the stick, but Oliver soon learns a particular spell to summon a little friend, or a ‘familiar’, to fight by his side. These little guys are fully customisable, and Oliver can have up to three equipped at one time to swap into a battle. They require snacks you pick up along the way to increase certain aspects of their fighting skills, and they also level up with Oliver at the end of a fight. Although they have their own stamina bar, they utilise Oliver’s health and mana bars, as technically they are just a part of his magical imagination fighting on his behalf. Once the stamina bar is depleted you have to swap the familiar out to fight again as Oliver, or as another little friend. These make for some adorable battle scenes; if hitting a Pokémon-like enemy with a stick wasn’t cute enough, having a small doll fight in your place would make even the hardest of men ‘squee’ a little. You can even teach them tricks and dress them up, although I think that was available a bit further into the game, and I probably would have passed out from cute-overload at that point.
My first familiar, who I named Dennis, was a mighty little warrior, and one I shouted at relentlessly in the heat of battle to slay the little fuzzy creatures before me. Basically, I had a load of fun… but of course Ni no Kuni is not just about adorable fight scenes. There are bigger foes to deal with as you adventure; one of which was in a forest, and had what looked like broccoli growing from its shoulders. Dennis and I had to circle him to avoid his overly large hands, and defend when he was charging a power-move… it was all very crazy, but Dennis managed to take him down no problem.
Through the world map, which is a beautiful landscape redolent of that from Final Fantasy VII, you will find various locations to explore. Once inside an area the movement is fluid and intuitive, climbing and jumping over obstacles with ease. Oliver skips over rocks across streams; just one of the simple yet striking gestures the game offers while exploring an area. There are treasures to be found, quests to undertake, and a whole host of characters to converse with, as one would expect from an RPG.
During my time with the game, I visited a town in which the inhabitants were cat-people. This didn’t shock me in the slightest, as Studio Ghibli have the tendency to include cats in the majority of their films, in one form or another. While exploring I came across, for the first time, a character who had been affected by the evil – breaking his heart to pieces. I used a new spell in combination with a pendant to ‘Take Heart’ from a nearby guard, who seemed to be rather too full of beans, and transferred it to the broken-hearted guard via the ‘Give Heart’ spell. He was then right as rain, as though he came out of a trance. This idea is utilised throughout the game with varying emotions, and is the only way to break the spell over the land of Ni no Kuni.
I enjoyed my time immensely with Ni no Kuni, if you hadn’t have guessed, but that could just be down to the fact that I adore anything Studio Ghibli touches. This definitely won’t be for you if you’re not a fan of the cute and colourful, or not particularly into your JRPGs (although saying that I’m not a huge advocate for them). The game is an art form in itself, and can be even be admired while watching someone else play. The 40+ hours you can throw at Ni no Kuni will be well worth it, and I honestly can’t wait to get my hands on it again. To put it bluntly, it is simply adorable.Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review,
How far would you go to save someone you love? Would you be ready to travel across worlds? To learn magic and risk your life? Let the vision of LEVEL-5, the animations from STUDIO GHIBLI and the music from Joe Hisaishi guide you through one of the most amazing adventure ever. Ni No Kuni – Wrath Of The White Witch... Read More »