In an age where RPGs that sell are games like Skyrim or Fallout it’s difficult to find a good throwback to the old school console JRPGs of yester year, Ni No Kuni is just that game. Now before anyone says anything I don’t mean that console JRPGs don’t exist anymore, I just believe that they are no longer as glorious as they were 10 years ago. Just in case you hadn’t guessed I am going to be talking about the game Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and in this review I will be going over, in spoiler free detail, the story and gameplay as well as any other goodies that I feel is worth mentioning. No Ni Kuni was released in November 11 2011 in Japan and January 22 2013 in North America, developed by Studio-5 and Studio Ghibli for the Playstation 3 the game is an epic adventure that deals with magic and separate dimensions but does that make it good or was the game a letdown of epic proportions. In this review I will be going over the story, gameplay and any other elements I feel is worth mentioning before giving a final thought and an over score.
The story follows a young boy named Oliver a 13 year boy who is the destined pure hearted one, Oliver is an amateur engineer who, with his friend Phillip, builds a soap box racer. Early in the game Oliver’s mother suffers heart complications and dies causing Oliver to slip into a deep depression, Threw the purity of his heart and the sadness in his tears Oliver accidentally awakens his doll which is revealed to actually be a Fairy Lord for another world named Drippy. Oliver is tasked to go to the other world and defeat the villainous Shadar, bring peace to the other world and bring his late mother back from the dead. The story of Ni No Kuni does something that I feel most games fail to and that’s appeal to a large audience of all ages, Oliver goes around the other world and curing the “Broken Hearted” people by using fragments of people who have an excess of heart in their soul; Shadar is said to remove a bit of an emotion, anything from kindness to excitement, and Oliver is the only person of either world who has the ability to cure the afflicted individuals. The game uses dark undertones like fascism and layers it in this larger than life idea of this other world where every person is connected to someone in our world by their soul, the game’s story is easy to follow and never gets to full of itself so even young children can understand the important elements without having to understand the larger picture. Now this game is a good 40 hours at least and that is only if you do the side quests as well, you also have the ability to collect spells and raise familiars (I’ll get into the familiars in the gameplay) so even if you need to get a break from the story there is always something to do in the game. Now the length of the game is the downside to me, maybe it’s because I’m getting older and now have to work but I find it very difficult to play an intense story based game for that long. The game becomes drawl after a while and a person likes me has to take breaks that last a couple of days since the game just feels like it never ends but on the other side the game’s story twists and turns enough that it does keep you invested or at least it tries. The difference between a game like Skyrim, logs about 300 hours, is Ni No Kuni makes you pay attention for 40 hours where Skyrim you can just turn your brain off for as long as you need and I think that’s where Ni No Kuni goes wrong. Now the next step is to go over the characters but this is an old school JRPG so the character list is MASSIVE so I will just be going over the two main characters.
Oliver is an immensely loveable character, as the Pure Hearted one Oliver has a duty to help out the people of this world he knows nothing about but that is not what makes him loveable, what makes him loveable is the fact that when Drippy tells him this Oliver says “I can’t do that!” and actually refuses until Drippy says he has a chance to bring back his dead mother. Now in my opinion that is loveable because it is a trait we can all relate to, if a magical stuffed animal tells you to save the world you wouldn’t say yes and pack your bags! If a magical stuffed animal says that any normal person would say fuck you! The other aspect that makes him loveable is the mother thing, the fact that he is willing to help her at the cost of his own life (other reasons I cannot divulge) without a second thought is an honorable trait I can stand behind. Oliver is always polite and kind to his elders and always shows the utmost respect to the authorities controlling the other world making him a great role model for the intended audience. The worst part about Oliver is he is consistently confused about everything that is going on, I understand that we all would be but they spend a lot of time just having conversations of him just repeating what was just said to him.
Drippy is a Lord High Lord of the Fairies in the other world and acts as Oliver’s guide and companion throughout his journey. Drippy is an obnoxious loud mouth that is always calling people stupid and making light of horrible situations, though the Lord High Lord’s heart is in the right place sometimes you wonder if Shadar didn’t curse him but was any other wizard that might have been offended by him. Drippy has extremely long drawn out tutorials where he continues to mock Oliver and company making you hate this little fairy.
The battle system is an encounter system though it is not random; a monster will see you either on the world map or in a dungeon and the monster will run into Oliver activating a battle similar to games like the dot Hack series. The battle system is a complicated one that gets rather tedious after 10+ hours; when you enter battle you control Oliver and can switch between him, his familiars or your party and their familiars. A familiar has its own attacks and can be sent out when needed but can’t stay out indefinitely and shares its owner’s health so therefore doesn’t have its own, the downside to this is if a familiar has a weak defense then so does Oliver for as long as it is active. Oliver can also do miracle moves which act as limit breaks in the game a huge attack that deals tremendous damage for a split moment. Oliver is a wizard and can use various spells in and out of combat that can help push the story forward, Oliver also can locate people who have an abundance of an extra emotion and can give it to people suffering from broken heartedness. Familiars also act like pets outside of battle that can be fed and have equipment that can be attached, familiars also work better with certain party members and have weaknesses and strengths. Oliver is given a stamp card that he stamps after every side mission, the amount of stamps differs from mission to mission, and can be turned in for greater rewards at certain places in the many cities of the other world; story missions have an interesting aspect where you can learn what characters are doing by crossing over to our world and finding their counterpart or soul mate. The biggest problem with the gameplay is that I find it complicated and since the game is intended for children if I find it complicated and confusing I doubt that kids could play it, sometimes I feel like the game doesn’t know what its target audience is since the story is for kids but the gameplay is for adults. The gameplay becomes tedious and prolonged after long hours of gameplay and sometimes the boss battles are long games of keep away, after the game introduces other human party members the battle system becomes more difficult since you are consistently switching control over your humans and watching all the familiars so they are not out past there limit.
In this part I will be talking about the audio/visual aspects of the game. The main story cinematics well mainly the extremely important ones are all animated by studio ghibli and there for are the most gorgeous 2d animation in existence. The 3d animation is cell shaded and made to look like the 2d art style of studio ghibli, the monster designs are all adorable and far from terrifying which works since it makes it seem like Oliver is underestimating every monster he fights. In battle attacks are entertaining and devastating but nothing is as amazing to watch then each characters/familiars miracle move, each devastating and beautiful at the same time. The audio score was composed by a Ghibli regular the legendary Joe Hisaishi and was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra with vocals provided by Hisaishi’s daughter. The game sound is gorgeous and provides you with emotions all at appropriate times, the over world music is mystical and adventures but the battle music makes you feel like you are going to battle.
Ni Nu Kuni is a trying experience but a good one none the less, it provides you with adventure and fun as well as pulling on those heart-strings in a way that doesn’t feel hammed up or corny. Though the battle system becomes tiresome in such a long game the story is good enough that it can be carried on that alone, but a game that’s 40 hours long can become tiresome on its own right. So if you are looking for a silly yet epic adventure look no further than the beautifully stunning Ni No Kuni.
Overall score: 12.5/15