Developers: Level-5, Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Namco Bandai Directed by Akihiro Hino
Composer: Joe Hisaishi
Platform reviewed: PS3
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a beautiful game with the combined talents of Level 5 (the Professor Layton series) and Studio Ghibli (Ponyo, Porco Rosso, Spirited Away) you can expect nothing less and even the score is, there’s no other word for it, beautiful.
The story begins with the humble, heartrending story of Oliver, a young boy who loses his mother after an accident. In his grief, his tears awaken Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies, a very Ghibli creation. He looks like an aardvark with a lantern dangling from his nose, and speaks with the thickest Welsh accent you can imagine. Together, they cross into a parallel World where magic is very real and the inhabitants strangely mirror the folk of Oliver’s home town.
The central quest is deceptively simple – save the linked realities and Oliver’s mother may be restored to life. Along the way, Oliver’s joined by others, and the inevitable crew that joins up often prove to be interesting subversion’s of RPG archetypes, each carrying a particular tragedy with them that adds a heartfelt depth to the story beyond the cell-shaded beauty of the visuals.
Anyone who’s played a Japanese RPG will feel right at home here. It’s rather like a combination between Final Fantasy and Pokemon; as you travel, you learn how to tame and control the myriad beasties that roam the other World, training them into better, and in some cases cuter warriors to aid your quest.
While the regular gameplay itself doesn’t break any boundaries, the Wizard’s Guide that Oliver is given is where the magic really lies, so to speak. As well as being a catalogue for all the spells, tools and beasties you’ll encounter on the way, it’s full of myths and fables relevant to the world you’re exploring.
Initially, the switch between fully-voiced and animated segments and in-game cut-scenes is a bit jarring; the game just can’t match the beauty of traditional animation. But once the game has settled down, it’s a surprisingly fluid game as you travel across the worlds meeting monsters and reaching new towns. It’s the little things that mark the game out, like a slightly different, more cautious running animation when Oliver runs down a flight of stairs.
Prepare to invest a lot of time into Ni No Kuni, as rushing headfirst into the story and trying to reach the next Big Event is a bad idea. Believe me I know. You can very easily find yourself up against an unbeatable boss, and have to backtrack to train your team up to snuff. But if you’re ready to commit, Ni No Kuni has a lot to offer. It’s just that some of it is hidden under the oh so pretty visuals.