Game Review: Ni no Kuni

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Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was finally released in Europe, and I had the big honor to test this game for a friend’s website called Cerealkillerz. You can find my (mostly identical) german review here.

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I’ve always been a big fan of JRPGs, but I’ve been kinda disappointed about the releases of the last years, if there even were that many JRPGs  to begin with… Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were two biiiiig let-downs for me, also Tales of Graces f was pretty nice, but somehow it wasn’t as exciting as Tales of the Abyss (one of the best games I ever played) or Tales of Vesperia…

But now we finally have a new hope: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for PS3!

Ni no Kuni is a cooperation between the Japanese game developer Level-5, who were responsible for games as White Knight Chronicles, Rogue Galaxy (if you have a chance to play this great PS2 game, you should definitely go for it!), Dragon Quest VIII, as well as the Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven series, and the Japanese animation Studio Ghibli (known for Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away). The game was published by Bandai Namco outside Japan.

Thanks to this collaboration a wonderful old-school JRPG with stunning cell-shading graphics was born.

Story:

Oliver is a normal boy, who is living together with his mother in a small town called Motorville. Oliver’s biggest dream is to build a small vehicle with his friend Philip and to drive it all by himself. One night Oliver sneaks away from his home to meet up with Philip, who just finished building their car, to try it out . They agree upon Oliver being the first to try it out if he is checking out for the area being clear. While taking a look around he suddenly encounters a small girl he never met before, who warns him not to use the new vehicle. She then disappears, but Oliver can’t be argued out of his decision.

But then happened what had to happen: While driving one wheel broke off and Oliver falls down into a river. Fortunately his mother, who is already looking for him everywhere, is nearby and can rescue him at the last moment. She has a week heart and because of the big stress she breaks down and dies shortly after.

Oliver’s world falls apart and his only comfort is a plush toy, which his mother made for him. When he cries, some of his tears fall down on his toy, and it suddenly becomes alive and thanks Oliver for breaking the curse that was laid on him. He says his name is Drippy (German: Tröpfchen / japanese: Shizuku) and that he is the High Lord of the Fairies. He is from another country (Ni no Kuni literally means “second country”), which is threatened by the evil Djinn Shadar, and it was also him who put the curse on Drippy, because he wanted to save the world. Drippy also tells Oliver that there might by a way to revive his mother, because everyone has a kind of twin in the other world and both are connected through secret connections. Luckily the counterpart to Oliver’s mother is  the great magician Alice, who was captured by Shadar. So if Oliver would be able to defeat Shadar and rescue Alice from his grips, his mother would also be saved from death.

Oliver agrees and accompanies Drippy in this mysterious world, where his adventure as a magician just starts.

I really like the story, it’s like a typical fairy tale, with all it’s light and dark sides. It’s easy to comprehend and also exciting, even it it could be a little bit more detailed  from time to time.

Gameplay:

You control Oliver through cities, plains, woods, deserts and many more places on his long journey. On the world map (yes it has one! ^_^) and in dungeons you’ll see all the monsters roaming freely around. If you touch them (or they touch you XD) the battles start, similar to Tales of or Grandia Games, so there are no random encounters. The battles are really action-orientated, you can freely run around on the battle stage and just use any action anytime (certain conditions like MPs apply of course) but also cancel them again, to guard if necessary.

Other than your main party members, you can also summon familiars, which will fight instead of the magician, however they both share their HP and MP, so if the familiar dies, the magician dies as well. On this journey you will encounter a lot of different familiars, that you can also level, evolve and equip (similar to Pokémon). The familiars seem to be stronger in battles, but they can’t use items, flee and are only allowed to be in battle for a short duration. So you always have to switch your characters in battle, which add nice tactic elements to the battle.

All in all the battles aren’t that hard, but they require some skills, especially when visiting new areas or while fighting bosses. However, if you always do the side quests and hunts, you’ll get enough experience and equipment so you don’t have to do any extra leveling.

Graphics:

Right from the beginning you’ll be fascinated by the gorgeous cell shading graphics with the typical Studio Ghibli style. The story is told with beautiful anime sequences and cut scenes. For me the cut scenes and also the in-game graphics partially look so perfect, that you might think those are animated sequences as well. Everything is just very colorful  and fairy tale-like, the object are sharp and the backgrounds look like paintings.

Music:

The game is accompanied by wonderful classic music by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The music always matches the situation, so you have fast and slower pieces of music.

A big advantage of this game is, especially if you are a fan of japanese RPGs, that it does not only offer English but also the original Japanese voices! You can also choose from many different European subtitles. Unfortunately a lot of cut scenes don’t offer any voice output at all. Even in some story-relevant cut scenes you just hear that old-school beeping sound. Also, if you choose the japanese voices, you will quickly realize, that they changed a lot of names for the international versions, which is a little bit strange and sad, because most of the time it doesn’t make any sense at all.

Conclusion:

Level-5’s experience with old-school RPG’s with many fresh concepts and the great anime style from Studio Ghibli, finally created an amazing JRPG again. The battle system is challenging, but not too hard. I especially like the tactical elements in many very fast-paced and action-orientated battles. You always have the choice to fight with your magicians or your familiars. You really notice how they didn’t try to just fill the party positions with random monsters like in other games, because they don’t want to bother to include more main characters (*cough* FFXIII-2 or Tales of Symphonia 2*cough*). There are a lot of side quests, hunts, secrets, familiars to collect, so you easily get more than 30+ hours of game content. The art style and the story are really unique any maybe not everyone can enjoy this game, but at least I for myself think that the hype around this game is justified.

The missing voice output in many cut scenes, as well as the changed names are a little bit annoying, but I think you can overlook these things. It just really is too bad that Ni no Kuni doesn’t have a multiplayer mode like the Tales of series games, because we really like to play together ;_;, but it’s still a great game nonetheless, even if only one of us can play at a time. We just take turns then ^.^!

My Rating: 8.5/10