By Jared Cyhowski / March 10th, 2013
|Title: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Publisher: Namco Bandai, Level-5
Developer: Level-5, Studio Ghibli
Console: PlayStation 3
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game as visually and thematically vibrant as Ni no Kuni. Every town, every location seems to burst to life with genre-defining elements that come together in a way that not only respects Japanese RPGs from the past but also paves a path for the future of the genre. As I followed the young boy Oliver on his important journey, I realized that Ni no Kuni is a work of art that opens its arms to an audience of all ages, and that it will likely resonate most with those who can appreciate the small things in life. If there was ever a title where at times you feel like you’re stepping in the shoes of a young child, this would be it.
Every time I sat down to play Ni no Kuni, I knew I was in for another chapter of fun storytelling. Level-5 did a fairly good job at pacing the story so that every hour or two there would always be some form of a new turning point. The narrative is simple at first and almost heartbreaking with the central theme of Oliver’s mother suddenly passing away, but it helps set the tone for the ambitions and willingness of a young child. Your main companion on this adventure is Drippy, king of all fairies, and he doesn’t disappoint with being your entertaining guide throughout the game. There is a nice balance between story progression and sidequests, but it seems that if you don’t participate in helping the people of Ni no Kuni’s world that you will find yourself underleveled at times. Thankfully these sidequests are usually entertaining and provide a more fulfilling experience. The one thing that really gets me in terms of narrative development is the last quarter of the plot. To me, it leaves more to be desired after a thunderous beginning and middle.
Ni no Kuni is a visual treat that makes you feel like you’re consuming an animated world. When I entered the game’s first true town, Ding Dong Dell, it was a feast for the eyes. The world is crafted in a way such that location has its own vibe that bleeds through your television’s screen in bright color and consistent quality. We can in part thank Studio Ghibli for the animated cutscenes throughout the game, and for the familiar style that Ni no Kuni strongly showcases.
Ni no Kuni features a soundtrack written by Ghibli’s famed Joe Hisaishi. He has created a wonderful blend of memorable town and location themes, along with a sweeping main theme. The battle theme, one of the most important songs in any JRPG, always made me feel like I was entering a perilous dilemma. And while we’re on the topic of game audio, Ni no Kuni’s English dub is crafted well and is fairly pleasant to the ears. I did toggle back and forth for a bit between the Japanese and English audio tracks, but for my playthrough I landed with the language most familiar to me. I almost wish there was a bit more voice acting within the game as certain scenes could have benefited. I do not mind reading text dialogue whatsoever, but I think the dub is good enough to deserve a more starring role.
At first, Ni no Kuni’s combat system is built upon a layer of simple principles. You are introduced to “familiars” that fight for you in battle against a large assortment of enemies, and later on these enemies become attainable and can fight by your side. When additional characters were introduced, I felt rewarded with a new level of battle gameplay. You can customize your familiars to a certain degree by feeding them and leveling them up, and you can move them around to share with different characters. The battle system kept me awake at all times because one simple move was all it took to quickly lose a fight. If you’re lazy like me you’ll find yourself sticking to the same two or three familiars throughout the entire game, as there isn’t any real need to switch things up. But the potential is there to satisfy those who enjoy creating their favorite teams for battle.
There’s a lot more that could be spoken for in Ni no Kuni, such as the expansive world map, mending the hearts of the brokenhearted, and attaining pages of the Wizard’s Companion book. But I will leave those features to be discovered by your own adventure. Ni no Kuni is a game that focuses primarily on superb storytelling and defined gameplay, both brought to life with vibrant visuals and a hint of Ghibli music magic. I would say that it should satisfy the majority of JRPG fans when rounding up the game’s stand-out qualities, but some may find themselves asking more from the story or asking for less sidequests. It’s a simple-hearted adventure that caters to an open mind, and I believe that Ni no Kuni is a title created for every age to experience. Absorb this title if you receive the chance, and may it take you to another world.
Review copy purchased by author.
Namco BandaiNi no KuniNi No Kuni: Wrath of the White WitchStudio Ghibli