By Laura . October 22, 2011 . 4:30pm
While Level 5 fans will get to play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on PlayStation 3 in English next year, what they may never get the chance to see is the original Ni no Kuni on the Nintendo DS. The “lost” Ni no Kuni game, if you will. This is the final part of our series of playtests for Ni no Kuni: The Jet Black Sorcerer. Developed by Level 5 and the famed Studio Ghibli, it was released late last year in Japan.
Ni no Kuni is a game of exploration and discovery. Every step of the way, there are quests posted in the Shibakuro Co., an international company that exists in every city and has requests from people in cities all around the world posting on their billboards.
These appear the moment they’re unlocked, so the only thing you have to do is find the person and talk to him or her.
Quests usually span three types. The first is item quests; these are actually the rarest of the lot. The second is heart fragment quests, where you have to find people across the world who have a certain fragment for people who are lacking that same fragment.
The second involves those called Nukegara People (anything I translate this into will sound like a ripoff from another game, so I’m leaving it in Japanese) who have had parts of their heart stolen by the evil magician. The different kinds of fragments include Motivation, Kindness, Courage, Restraint, Confidence, Love, Faith, and Dreams — which are very unusual categories. Basically, Oliver has a bottle that can store one of each kind of fragment using the Heart Piece spell, and so it’s best to give out the fragments as quickly as possible.
Luckily, you can accept as many quests as you want without worrying about a deadline.
At first, I didn’t have much trouble with these quests since most of them can be done as you’re traveling around the world for story’s sake anyway. However, towards the second half of the game, the quests require more back-and-forth traveling and the story takes a breather before the grand finale. Thankfully, by then you have the Teleportation spell, which makes this a little easier. That said, even with spells and a flying dragon, merely traveling through the overworld and the cities takes a long time and I found myself spending more time than I would have liked for relatively little reward on the quests.
The third kind of quest is bounty hunting, where certain monsters appear on the overworld. Usually, monsters chase after you, but these stay put and wait for you to approach them and talk to them. This doesn’t really matter for most the game, where the enemies are Imagens you’d find in the wild, but towards the, they start to get very, very strong.
There are 100 quests in the game, but you can unlock more by connected your DS to the Internet. There are new Imagen, and new alchemic recipes as well. Completing quests gives you quest points, which are used to fill up a Hero Stamp Card.
Each card has room for 10 stamps. Completed cards are used to get abilities, such as easier avoidance of enemies, easier befriending of Imagens, automatically obtaining money as you walk, etc. Usually, quest completion will also net you an item, some of which can be used for alchemy.
Ni no Kuni is ultimately a game-and-book, rather than just a DS game. The Magic Master book that comes with it is indispensible, and not just because some quests require it. Or because all the runes are drawn in it and that’s the only way to learn new spells. The Magic Master is organized very clearly, and even comes with a removable index to help you find specific items or Imagen. Each chapter is interspersed with trivia, as well, such as background about the shops or lore about certain areas. There are pages on the transportation systems in the world, complete with illustrations, ancient drawings that look inspired from Mayan art, as well as cultural customs.
The first chapter has everything you need to know about spells and runes. In the game, you’re prompted to “look up the rune in the Magic Master and draw it on the touch screen!” at which point you find the spell that matches the provided description or name using the information from the book. Interestingly, some of the spells that are provided don’t even appear in the game, and there are even spells blacked out, to “prevent you from using life-threatening black magic.”
The second chapter contains recipes. So long as you have the items necessary, you can create anything from the book without the recipes found in the game. The third chapter has a list of all the items, as well as a simple drawing, a description, and where to find them. I haven’t checked, but I believe all items are listed, although some are found in nice locations such as “unknown” or “fusion only.”
Fourth is the enormous chapter on Imagen, including information on how to catch and raise them. Imagen come in groups of four – each type of monster can evolve twice, with the third form being a choice between two different ones.
Each Imagen (not just the species, but each form) is provided with a small description, their weaknesses and resistances, where they’re found, what items they drop when defeated, and what special skill they have. I often use this information, especially the last, to figure out which evolution I want to try and get a balanced team. The pictures are really cute, too.
The sixth chapter contains popular myths from the world of Ni no Kuni. Aside from providing some interesting reading material, most of the tales tie into the story in some way or another. For example, one is a tale about four brothers and their flute, which is a key item in the story. Another talks about the creation of the dragonfly-like flying machine they have. Perhaps the most important of these is about a man and his legendary treasure hunt. Accompanying the myth are illustrations of the area, including a map that shows all the hidden routes, traps, and answers to the puzzle dungeons that you have to travel to at a certain point in the story.
Finally, the last chapter is about geography. There are plenty of maps showing where the cities are, as well as their customs, history, trade, and information about their leaders. In addition, there is a world map, dotted with cities as well as Xs and stars. These are the locations for hidden treasure chests and hidden medals, both of which unlock hidden special quests that are spoken of only by a handful of townspeople and in the book itself.
In addition to the ones mentioned above, secrets are hidden throughout the Magic Master. Scattered throughout the book are scribbles, writings in another language. There’s a deciphering key in the back, and understanding the Astram language is one of the keys to one of the longer quests in the game. Each cover page to a chapter contains these Astram letters, and when they’re linked in a certain way, they spell a message. There are two pages in the book that contain only an illustration of green land, blue skies, waterfalls … and flying fish, lit candles, open treasure chests, and other such odd things.
This is a depiction of the Dream World, which you can visit every so often when you visit an inn (it’s determined randomly) and get Imagen and items not found elsewhere. The Dream World is basically a conglomeration of riddles and small puzzles, and the only way to solve the majority of them is by studying that picture.
The Magic Master is an indispensible accompaniment to the game and serves as a guidebook as well as an instrument to move the story along. It provides a background to the world, as well as a certain atmosphere of its own (even just by the look of its cover. So many of Ni no Kuni’s secrets are revealed in the book in such a way as to not decrease any of the fun of playing the game, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Food for thought:
1. After you finish the game, you gain access to the Moya’s Tower dungeon, an 100-level, randomized dungeon. It contains Imagen not found anywhere else, and at the tippity-top is a legendary beast for you to defeat.
2. In the game, there is a casino city, complete with a golden pyramid like in Las Vegas. There, you can play minigames, like slots and a card game. After completion of the game, though, you are given access to a theater where you can watch events and movies that you’ve seen through the course of the game. Unfortunately, to do so, you have to have a certain rank in the casino, gotten only by getting “777” in the slots, so good luck.
3. Other online goodies include the ability to trade eggs with other Ni no Kuni owners via a Tag mode/StreetPass-like feature, and the ability to battle others’ Imagens.