Posted on February 6, 2013 AT 01:18pm
Ni No Kuni is not your typical Japanese role-playing game, and yet, it is. All the basic hallmarks are there but there is something extra, a feeling you get when you play it, that makes it much more. Like it or hate it, you have to admire the creativity and talent so glaringly apparent.
Level-5 created and admirable and compelling story. Well written and voiced, players will quickly find themselves needing to know what happens next. Studio Ghibli created the look of the world of Ni No Kuni and what a world it is; they are famous for their animated features and short films. If you have ever watched Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away or any of the numerous titles they produced, you will recognize the art style instantaneously. The characters are charming and odd. Even the enemies and bosses are quirky and wonderful. Absent are the usual blobs/jellies in various colors, so common in JRPGs. The environment as a whole is detailed, colorful, and gorgeous. Even the overhead view when you are traveling between regions is beautiful and full of minute details. You have to admire the care that went into the game’s appearance. It transcends the look every game on the market, really. Level-5 and Studio Ghibli are a match made in gaming heaven.
The story follows Oliver, a normal boy that has lost his mother. His tears bring to life his doll, Drippy the fairy. Drippy explains to Oliver that there is a parallel world, a magical parallel world, and each inhabitant in Oliver’s world has a corresponding person in Drippy’s world. Drippy’s world is being overtaken by Shadar and he needs Oliver’s help. Oliver is an unlikely hero; he isn’t out of glory or fame. He sets out on his adventure with Drippy to set things right in his world and to help Drippy do that same in the magical realm. Trying to help his mom might be the force that drives him at first but soon, it turns to just helping others. It’s hard to not care about a character that is so genuinely selfless.
Like any other JRPG, there are side quests and main missions. Some are comprised of the typical “fetch” quests or errands that require you to go into the world and locate a certain object. Then there are the atypical side quests, these involved repairing the hearts of the brokenhearted. The brokenhearted are the people that have had a piece of their heart stolen by Shadar. Being brokenhearted means a person is missing something from their character make-up, for example courage, kindness, or restraint. Oliver must locate a person that can afford to let him take a piece of whatever character aspect the quest giver is needing thereby repairing the brokenhearted’s heart and making them whole again. These errands can also involve traveling between Oliver’s world and Drippy’s world. This moving back and forth offers an interesting view on what is happening to both worlds simultaneously and demonstrates how connected both worlds truly are.
These errands do not just benefit you with intangibles like experience, gold and the odd items, they offer a tangible prize. Early in the game you will be given “Merit Cards”. These Merit Cards act as a type of currency for special rewards. Side quests have a value in the form of Merit Stamps. Each Merit Card holds 10 Merit Stamps and when you fill a Merit Card you can turn it in for things like moving faster when traveling between areas, earning more experience, or even something as simple jumping. Some rewards will cost multiple Merit Cards but not to worry, some side quests are worth a fair number of Merit Stamps. You will fill cards quickly. The hard part is deciding what you want to “buy” first. Not all side quests are fetch missions. Some are Bounty Hunts. These involve finding a certain monster and killing it. While not as fulfilling as helping others in game, they do reap some serious rewards in Merit Stamps, money and experience.
Combat takes place in real-time and in wide open areas. You can move about freely to dodge simple attacks or try to position yourself better for battle. There are the typical choices to use provisions, fight, use magic, run away, change your party’s tactics or defend. Battles can be fought by you or your familiar. Ah, here is where it really gets interesting. Familiars are creature you produce from your heart or enemies you have captured. Each creature has it’s own skill set and abilities. The familiars will also gain experience and abilities as they rank up. Like any other party member, they can be equipped with items, weapons and armor. One of the most refreshing aspects to this battle-system is the fact everyone, people and equipped familiars, gain experience even if they were not actively in the battle. Gone are the days of finding out you need to use a certain character in battle but hadn’t ranked them up because you hadn’t been using them mush up to that point. It was a welcomed change. You can also change between party members and familiars (yours or theirs) on the fly, allowing you to switch between abilities with ease.
Battles are not straightforward. You will not be sitting there pounding on X until it is over. Boss battles do require strategy as well as preparation. You will find yourself being defeated in these battles until you figure out the best way to win and it’s not always just hacking away with you weapons. Sometimes you need to use distance attacks only, dodging the enemy’s attacks and other times you might have to leave your familiars out of it all together. Patience and paying attention is the key. All enemies will have “major” attacks and you will know they are coming when a red X appears over you as a target. Get ready to defend or suffer the consequences Don’t worry about running out of magic or life, green and blue orbs will drop periodically and offer some life/magic renewal. If you are really lucky, you will find a gold orb. Grabbing that will unleash a devastating attack. However, you had better grab that orb fast because it will disappear far quicker that then normal ones. Your familiars can utilize these gold orbs as well, so pay attention. Of course you can find or purchase items that will offer cures or renew life or magic. Any provision can be used in battle. There is a short wait between attacks, defends, provision use, or spell use but it’s short and you can run around dodging until the timer resets.
The score for Ni No Kuni is simply breathtaking. The music was written by Joe Hisaishi, the famous Japanese composer, which by itself is awesome, but add to the mix the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and you have something a little extra special. The music is well thought out, catchy and not once did I get tired of hearing it. The composition of the music offered emotional responses when needed or a lighthearted respite when things are more relaxed.
The voice acting is good, maybe not spectacular but it is solid. I found Oliver’s voice acting to be the most lacking and that was truly disappointing since he is the main character. I would have enjoyed a little more emotion from his voice. If you find it too annoying to listen to, you can change it over to Japanese and just read the subtitles. The other characters, playable and NPCs alike, are very well voiced and it does make up for what Oliver lacks, for the most part.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is long, very long. Aside from the main mission which can take 40 hours or more, there are the abundant side missions and the battle arena. I heard a rumor that just getting the Platinum Trophy can take 80 hour. You will get spend plenty of time in the Ni No Kuni universe and you will not regret any of it. This is probably one of the best RPGs I have played in years and one of those Playstation exclusive titles that should be in everyone’s library. Ni No Kuni is completely accessible to new RPG players yet challenging for seasoned players, like me. It’s not just a game, it’s a total experience.
- The Good: Amazing graphics, story, music…an entire package. No forced grinding. Extensive gameplay. Good for new JRPG players and seasoned ones.
- The Bad: Oliver’s voice acting is not up to par.
- The Ugly: N/A
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