Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3) Review
Posted by Stephen Randle on 01.24.2013
Level-5 and Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli come together to bring us a truly great JRPG.
Title: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games/Level-5
Developer: Level-5/Studio Ghibli
Rated: Everyone 10+ for Alcohol and Tobacco References, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Simulated Gambling
Available exclusively on Playstation 3
The Playstation made a statement early on that it was going to be the console where you could find RPG’s. Starting with the massive hit that was Final Fantasy VII and expanding to include such great franchises as Tales, Wild Arms, Shin Megami Tensai, and Suikoden, the PSOne was a treasure trove of incredible RPGs. The PS2 continued that tradition, and many would agree that its vast library of RPG titles helped to cement Sony as the front-runner of that console generation. However, the PS3 seems to have fallen short in supporting this genre for most of its run, and the list of truly great RPGs, especially Japanese-based ones, has been pretty short. Now, as the console cycle begins winding down, Namco Bandai, Level-5, and Studio Ghibli have come together to show that there are still some incredible RPGs to be found on Sony’s console, with the release of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
Ni No Kuni, on the face of the plot, is a very standard RPG. We’re introduced first to Oliver, who is destined to save the world. Oliver lives in a small town named Motorville, somewhere in what you might consider the “real world”. After an unfortunate series of events results in the tragic death of his mother, Oliver awakens Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Faeries, a strange small creature with a lantern attached to his nose. Drippy reveals the presence of a parallel world, where everyone has a soul-mate connected to someone from Oliver’s world, and by travelling to that world and confronting an evil force known as the Dark Djinn, Oliver might be able to save his mother’s life. And with that storm of traditional, semi-cliched plot elements, we’re whisked to the other world and the adventure begins.
All right, so the plot isn’t anything incredibly new or special. However, the way in which it is presented is so enthusiastic and honest that you can’t help but get caught up in it. In fact, “bright” and “happy” are words that could best be used to describe the emotional tone of Ni No Kuni, and everything about it seems designed to create a comforting, emotionally uplifting experience. After a year in which games like Walking Dead, Mass Effect 3, and others, seemed to spend their time trying to wrench your heart from your chest with painful, depressing situations where even your good choices end up having huge emotional costs, to play such a light-hearted presentation like Ni No Kuni is, quite simply, a breath of fresh air and an absolute joy to experience. That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have serious moments and presents some very dark issues, but the overarching tone of the game is one that is very hopeful and heartwarming, full of characters who believe that everything will work out if they just keep trying. It’s strange, but when you play Ni No Kuni, you can’t help but feel better, and for that, the simplistic plot can be somewhat forgiven.
If this game had absolutely nothing else going for it but the art (and fortunately, that isn’t the case), that would almost be enough for me. Courtesy of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio behind the Oscar-winning movie Spirited Away and seven more of the highest-grossing anime films of all time, this game puts to rest the argument as to whether or not video games can be art. Quite simply, this game is art. There is no better way to put it. From the expansive landscapes, to the detailed character designs, to the cinematic-level cut scenes, everything about Ni No Kuni is a breathtaking experience in animation. At times I literally found myself stopping to rotate the camera so I could take in the breathtaking scenery I was immersed in.
This is the first town you visit. It just gets better from there.
Since this is obviously a Japanese localization, you have the choice to play the game with the original Japanese dialogue or an English dub. And while I have always been a staunch “subs over dubs” supporter, in this case, it is well worth your time to play the game with the English tracks. The localization is nearly seamless, and the voice cast puts on incredible performances that never feel forced or awkward. Most notable is the work of your sidekick and mentor figure, Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Faeries, whose thick Welsh brogue creates an instantly memorable character that is a pure joy to hear speak (although you may want to enable subtitles solely for his dialogue). In addition, the soundtrack is deep and moving, with incredible symphonic tracks that add greatly to the atmosphere of the places you visit, even fading in and out as you move between different areas, underscoring the changing moods, from the idyllic fields to the dark and dangerous dungeons to the bustle of humanity in the world’s vibrant cities.
Meet Drippy, Lord High Lord of Faeries. Apparently they don’t all have wings. Who knew?
The combat system of Ni No Kuni is an interesting hybrid of several popular RPG system that have come before. There are no random battles, enemies can be clearly seen on the map, and it is possible to avoid battles if you try. In addition, once you hit a certain level, weaker enemies will actively avoid you, so you won’t get bogged down when you return to old areas with having to deal with enemies that couldn’t possibly be a threat to you. Once you encounter an enemy, you move to the separate battlefield screen that has been around in RPG’s since the early days of Final Fantasy. However, the fighting itself is done in an odd mash-up of the traditional ATB system and the newer live-action style that has risen in the past few years. When you select your action, a small clock appears and begins to count down, while your character performs whatever you chose. When the clock runs out, you can choose a new action, and at this time, your character is also free to move around the battlefield, enabling you to avoid enemy attacks and also pick up health and magic-rejuvenating items that may drop during the course of the fight. Of course, your enemies aren’t restricted by this system and can continue attacking while you run around. Once you expand your party beyond Oliver, this leads to a complex, sometimes frenetic, fighting system that ensures you have to pay attention at all times.
Yes, all the creature types have disgustingly clever names. Some of them use puns.
And that’s not all, because your characters also can have up to three “familiars”, which are basically little creatures that might resemble a system similar to something that might be a popular Nintendo property. If you desire, one of your familiars can fight instead of your character, bringing a whole new slate of abilities to the battle. However, familiars are restricted by a stamina bar which decreases while they are in combat, which only regenerates at the end of battle or if you switch them out for a different fighter. Thus, it’s in your best interest to plan your strategies and end battles as efficiently as possible. The game gives you some familiars, but eventually you acquire the ability to “tame” your own from the creatures that roam the world around you, adding an entire extra system to the game that will have you scouring the map, trying to find the most powerful creatures.
You must catch all of them!
Plus, there are a massive number of side quests that you can undertake in order to help restore order to the world, and in return, you can unlock certain perks to help you, such as faster movement, extra experience, or powerful combat benefits. The gigantic amount of extra content may seem daunting, but fortunately it is arranged in a logical progression, allowing you to complete a vast majority of them without deviating too far from the area in which you happen to be working on the main plot.
Godzilla, Protector of the Forest
- It’s so sunny and bright and fun that you can’t help but enjoy yourself
- Everything about this game is incredibly beautiful
- An excellent job of dubbing never feels awkward, with a great voice cast (especially Drippy)
- A wonderful soundtrack that fits perfectly with the areas they represent
- The Wizard’s Companion is a completionist’s dream
- The plot isn’t anything you haven’t seen before in an RPG
- The combat system can scare inexperienced players
- As always, the “G” in RPG stands for “Grinding”, and you will have to do some
Ni No Kuni is an absolute delight of a game. The art is majestic, the soundtrack is incredible, and the gameplay is deep and engrossing. The plot isn’t anything special, but its presentation is so tight and polished that you won’t mind the clichéd “Chosen One” storyline, especially since the characters are so detailed and brought to life masterfully by a talented voice cast that makes you care about their actions. It may be early in the year, but Ni No Kuni is a clear frontrunner for the Best RPG of 2013. All other upcoming RPG releases this year should be forced to face comparisons to this game, and it has set the standard incredibly, nearly unbeatably high. If you’re an RPG fan at all, you need to own this game.
Some of the best art to be found in a video game, ever. Period.
The combat starts out simple but ratchets up as you add familiars and characters, although it’s nothing that RPG veterans won’t be able to handle.
The voice acting is incredible, with Drippy a big highlight. The soundtrack is enthralling as well.
You probably won’t play it twice, but it’s got at least 50-60 hours of content, including an incredible number of side quests that you will absolutely want to complete.
RPGs can often turn into long slogs, this one never does, remaining fun and engaging from start to finish, with lots to do and explore.