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REVIEW | “Ni No Kuni” Shines With RPG Perfection

By
Posted on February 11, 2013 AT 04:09pm

Let me be frank: role-playing games are my least go-to genre in the video game realm. Sure I’ve played a plethora of titles — from Final Fantasy adventures and a couple Tales games to Skies of Arcadia (my all-time favorite in the genre) — but it’s usually difficult for me to get into this style of gaming. Is there anything that could draw me into diving headfirst into the RPG realm no questions asked? Sure enough, Level-5 knew how to do just that with Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch.

Ni No Kuni follows a young American boy named Oliver, whose mother shortly dies unexpectedly. After crying into his favorite doll, the toy magically comes back to life in the form of Mr. Drippy. Drippy tells Oliver that there may be a way to bring back his mother: by rescuing her doppelgänger in his world via defeating a wicked witch whose true motives are a mystery throughout the game. After finding a magic wand the two jump into Drippy’s realm, and seek out a way to bring about peace amongst the world.

Of course — as another famous video game once said — it’s dangerous to go alone. To help Oliver out are what are known as familiars, strange creatures who can battle for Oliver during impromptu fights. Oliver can also fight his own battles, at times, thanks to the spells he learns as the game progresses. Both Oliver and the familiars are connected with the same HP and MP systems, so if your current familiar is running out of energy you cannot simply switch another one with full health; instead you’ll need to either cast a healing spell or nourish yourself with some food.

As the adventure goes on you make new friends such as the kind-hearted Ester and the swindling Swaine, who have their own familiars that can help out during battle. With these characters helping out you can set up tactics for each of them (i.e. healers, defensive actions, offensive techniques), along with some simple button commands that will either have everyone Leroy Jenkins-ing the enemy or cower for protection when a boss is about to unleash one of his massive attacks. In your journey you discover new spells you can use in battle or within villages and on the path to destiny. You’ll even collect a cauldron to create new spells, potions, and the occasional sandwich using alchemy.

Ni No Kuni is not your average RPG, rather it’s a demonstration of how far the heart of a child will go to find what he desperately needs. Oliver is no coward, mind you, but he’s still a young boy who still doesn’t have a grasp or understanding of how his world works. As the game goes on, Oliver grows not just as a fighter and wizard, but also as a human being, and as the tale is told you get the raw emotional outlook of how Oliver is feeling and what is running through his confused and heartbroken self. Ni No Kuni isn’t just a strong game, it’s also one of the most heartfelt stories to come from both Level-5 and Studio Ghibli!

Did I neglect to mention about Studio Ghibli, the famous animation studio responsible for such classics as Porco Rosso and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away? The Miyazaki-founded studio was responsible for creating the character designs, along with the fully animated cut-scenes. Their magic touch adds a cel-shaded beauty not seen since the Wii-exclusive Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars. Studio Ghibli clearly runs circles around that Wii fighter, thanks to the graphical power of the PS3 and the ability to showcase its worlds in HD. Even Roger Ebert will be able to look at Ni No Kuni and say that it looks and plays like a work of art.

It’s fairly easy to get lost in the worlds of Ni No Kuni, whether it’s the modern-day Motor City, the festive Fairygrounds, and the steampunk-influenced Hamelin. You could simply roam these towns for a couple hours chatting with the locals, admiring the surroundings, and run the many errands and side-quests you’ll come across in the game. The heroes — and even some of the villains — will easily put a smile on your face as you play through, with their shiny personalities helping even the smallest of crabs add their own uniqueness.

Back to the battle system, when you begin playing you may find yourself playing Twister with your hands as you move around the menus and evade enemy attacks. It’s tough, but not impossible, and by the second hour of gameplay it should all come very easily. Do expect to die many times during your time with Ni No Kuni, so save accordingly, and if you continue expect to lose 10% of the cash you’ve earned. It’s a shame the game does not have multiplayer, as its battle system would be perfect for it.

While the game has its difficulties, it’s nowhere near frustrating. Rather Ni No Kuni is a video game that is a joy to play even during the toughest of battles. Unlike most RPG games that suck the fun out and inject a dose of angst as it goes on, Level 5 have taken the route of letting the game become more challenging as you level up. It’s like climbing a moderate mountain: as you get higher it becomes more and more difficult at a baby-step pace. It may sound like Ni No Kuni was built for the young ones to enjoy, but trust me that there are plenty of harrowing tasks that all will find themselves sucked into doing.

Adding to the charm of the game is its sound. You can choose between the English and Japanese voice actors, so if you don’t like the picks for English you can always go with the originals. Trust me, though, that the English cast is just as good as any Disney dub of Miyazaki’s films. Then there is the soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi, who could probably pen a masterful tune in his sleep. From the battles and flashbacks to the comic relief and town ambience Hisaishi has created a musical score worthy of any big-budgeted film or symphony hall.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s main story last over 40 hours, which if you really think about it is like getting an 80-episode anime series from Studio Ghibli. Of course there’s more than the regular story, as there are plenty of side quests and bounties that will keep you busy for an additional 40 hours. These side quests and bounties will also help you earn additional powers, weapons, gold, and items that will come in handy during your journey, so there are plenty of reasons not to push them to the side to complete at a later time.

PROS:

  • Beautiful worlds, characters, soundtrack
  • A fun battle system that blends other well-known RPG styles into one
  • A plethora of quests and a great, lengthy story

CONS:

  • The game ends at some point

FINAL THOUGHTS:

On the back of the box for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch it reads, “Step into an Animated Role-Playing Masterpiece.” This one sentence sums it up pretty well, and those who don’t own a PS3 are missing out on the much-needed jolt the RPG industry has needed these past few years. For those not into RPGs, Ni No Kuni will still find a way to win you over, whether it’d be its story, lovable characters, or its worlds. A must-play, in every sense of the word.

FINAL GRADE: 10 (out of ten)

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008 where he is a contributing editor and co-host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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