Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the new JRPG from Level 5 and Studio Ghibli. Yes, the Studio Ghibli – creators of some of the most amazing Anime films in history, including Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. The game is about a young boy who travels to a strange world after his mother passes away. Is Ghibli’s first foray into games a delight or does it falter before it’s even begun?
I’m not a huge fan of the JRPG genre, if I can call it that. I can genuinely recall only two titles, Pokémon and The World Ends With You, that I’ve personally enjoyed both gameplay and storywise, but that was in my younger days. The thing that often bugged me about JRPG’s is the amount of grinding early on and the uncertainty of how much I should be doing versus how much I was doing. Of course, this is a staple of JRPG’s as well as most RPG’s and it’s a fact that I’ve learnt to respect as well as despise.
Ni No Kuni does play out like your regular JRPG with levelling up and fighting creatures to grind your way to the next part of the game but its battle system is so much fun and crafted well that it keeps things light and varied. It suits the tone of the game as you slowly drift more and more into this strange world and learn the tricks and fighting styles that will help you out in combat.
I will warn you however, that the first 40 or so minutes of the game you are literally just running around your hometown of Motorville doing basic things before you enter the world of Ni No Kuni. It works as a tutorial and also a way of slowly manoeuvring you into the story, but overall it feels like a false start. The gameplay is explained to you easily enough and you will learn how moving about and timing your attacks just right will take your opponents out quicker.
Also within the game are merits that you’ll collect and small items to help you level up and move through the story. While they are pretty much side missions, they add to the atmosphere of the world and to Oliver’s character traits. The game never really wants to sidetrack you from the main story and why you’re in Ni No Kuni, but it does want you to explore the beautiful world it’s created for you.
When you ask somebody like Studio Ghibli to make the animation and graphical style for your game, I don’t think you’d ever really be disappointed. The game switches its cutscenes between the lavishly animated work of the Anime company and the in-game 3D graphics based on their flow-y style. While it does take an hour or two of gaming to really get into it and let your mind sink into the style, you’ll come to love the style. If you’re already a fan of Miyazaki’s work, you may already be there just from looking at the trailers.
I did have a few issues when it came to some of the repetitive animations from the characters and the opponents you come across. For example in the lower levels, the winning animation for Oliver and your Mites are almost always the same. Also there are minor graphical glitches when walking too close to some areas or tilting the camera in one way or another, but that’s expected of almost any game. Also I felt at times the worlds had this mash up of time periods that I couldn’t get around where they were initially setting it.
That being said, the worlds are so set out quite well, even though they do seem stock for an RPG. You’ve got your desert world, your forest world, etc., but the top-down view and the way you encounter monsters is quite interesting and depending on where you have your camera set could be quite exciting. There is a level of detail that I feel as lacking in some areas of the world building, but it’s never truly boring or ho-hum.
Something that the game has and should be commended for is the attention to detail it puts into almost everything. Early in the game, you receive a Wizard’s book which contain pages on the world of Ni No Kuni and acts as a growing and adaptable encyclopaedia as you continue through your adventure. But you can literally pick it up and open it at any time and read full pages worth of description and the history of your world and its inhabitants.
The character design is something that truly stands out in this game, and while it is very Ghibli in its style, it never feels out of place going across mediums. There is a sense of “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” when you begin to play more and more into the game as each level is carefully crafted and stunning in its rendering. Gorgeous dense forests become lush paintings and the cities feel like old towns crafted with brush strokes. It’s truly a sight to see.
First things first, the game’s soundtrack is one of the most exciting and beautifully handled musical scores I’ve heard in a game since Portal 2. The game’s soundtrack starts off with an exciting orchestral bang and each piece of music played during the world switches perfectly to the mood, whether you’re running through the highlands or encountering a new enemy on the battlefield, it really helps set you in the story and journey unfolding. Thank you Joe Hisaishi for creating something so listenable and enjoyable with each note.
Also worth commending is the voice acting from Mr. Drippy, played by Steffan Rhodri from the Britcom Gavin and Stacey, steals the show with his Welsh accent. He often sounds like a snooty disgruntled Billy Connelly that never lets up. That being said, for purists out there, the game does have a Japanese voice option with English subtitles.
Sound effects-wise things are fairly standard but I do have to say the little sound effects given to the creatures are quite well picked out and add a level of world-building considering how tame it could have been. Overall, the sound in the game is well thought out and I would definitely pick up the soundtrack eventually if you begin humming it during your daily routines.
- A beautiful world to explore
- A lot of original characters and designs
- Satisfying big battles
- A great story to string you along
- Lack of variety in the gameplay
- Pacing can be slow at times
- Some standard JRPG plot elements
While being a fan of Miyazaki’s work, it’s hard to put Ni No Kuni in a pile that stands up with his best films. The game works as a game and is better for it, but overall it’s best to play it and enjoy it for what it is a PS3 exclusive RPG crafted by Miyazaki. There is so much to explore and so much to enjoy out of this game that may stand the test of time in the hearts of some RPG players. Truly for the young at heart and fans of the genre.