I’ve been waiting for a game like Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and I don’t think I’m the only one. I enjoy the more modern console RPGs, like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Dragon’s Dogma, Rainbow Moon and Tales of Graces F, but sometimes you need a more classic RPG. Ni no Kuni delivers by offering an experience reminiscent of the classic SNES Dragon Quest games on the PS3.
Ni no Kuni‘s story begins with a tragedy. Oliver and his mother Allie live in a town in our world called Motorville. They have ordinary lives, with his mother being a singer and Oliver being a normal, 13-year-old boy… which means Oliver will naturally get into 13-year-old mischief. He and his friend have built their own car and sneak out one night to test it. Allie seems to sense something is wrong and it is. Oliver is driving it for the first time and it crashes into a river. Allie’s there in time to dive in and save him.
However, Allie has a weak heart and dies as a result from the exertion and shock spent saving Oliver’s life. He then sits in his room, alone, crying over a doll she had given him as a child. His tears bring the doll to life. It explains that his name is Drippy and he happens to be a very important fairy. He also sees greatness in Oliver, that the boy could be the pure-hearted one with the magical power needed to defeat Shadar, a wizard breaking people’s hearts in his world. Drippy tries to recruit Oliver to his calling, but Oliver declines.
That is, he turns Drippy down until Drippy explains that Oliver’s world and Drippy’s are parallel to each other and each person has a soulmate in the other world. Although Allie is dead in Oliver’s world, her counterpart is the sage Alicia in Drippy’s. Drippy suggests that Oliver taking on the task of becoming a wizard and facing Shadar could lead to a way to bringing Allie back. With that, Oliver’s adventure begins.
The world of Ni no Kuni is magical, whether a player is exploring the real world or the fantasy world. The fantasy world is naturally more beautiful, with sweeping landscapes, colorful characters and environments, but the real world is just as detailed as charming. Every aspect of the game oozes personality and it’s sad that this is such a wonderful rarity. Of course, this is Level-5 and Studio Ghibli we’re talking about, and it would be odd to see a game from Level-5 and Studio Ghibli that wasn’t big on quality.
Even the battle system feels revolutionary, though it isn’t widely different from turn-based systems we’ve seen in the past. Still, the Ni no Kuni battle system is great and if Nintendo ever decides to create a Wii U Pokemon RPG, Game Freak needs to steal it. It is exactly how I would imagine a next-gen Pokémon battle taking place. Oliver, Esther and Swaine each have familiars assigned to them, which can be shifted outside of battle in the menu screen. Each person is better with certain kinds of familiars, which means its best to equip certain people with certain minions. These menu screens are also a place where familiars can be fed to enhance stats and choose which skills they have equipped.
Once a battle begins, players first choose whether they will directly control Oliver, Esther or Swaine. Unless you want to try and focus on magic spells for a battle or do some stealing, it’s usually best to pick the person with a familiar that is best suited for beating the opponents at hand. When this happens, it’s time to look at opponents signs. Each minion and enemy has a sign, which can be sun, moon, star, planet or double planet. Think of it like rock-paper-scissors. Except here sun beats moon, moon beats star, star beats sun, double planet beats sun, moon and star and planet beats double planet. Granted, you don’t have to throw out a minion that is better than a certain sign, but it does mean the minion will likely do or receive critical damage when facing a minion its strong or weak against.
Ni no Kuni’s battle system is turn-based, but with some active elements. When controlling a character or familiar, a player can move freely around the battlefield to try and avoid attacks or collect glims that can restore a tiny bit of health, magic or provide the opportunity to unleash a special attach. When you decide you want to attack, defend or use a special ability, it is selected from a menu at the bottom left corner of the screen. Each one has a certain recharge time after use and could be cancelled at any time if you need to quickly defend or move. If you need to switch familiars or characters, it can be done at any time with a click of a shoulder button and the directional pad. It works perfectly and allows for quite a bit of strategy, especially during boss fights.
Ni no Kuni isn’t all about battles though. It’s also about restoring peoples hearts and completing sidequests to collect stamps for stampcards. Restoring people’s hearts is a charming endeavor. Shadar’s been busy, because lots of people are broken hearted. Restoring hearts to advance the story and complete sidequests is crucial. Its also usually pretty easy. All you have to do is collect extra heart essence from people who are exuding certain properties. If someone is exceptionally brave or loving, you ask permission to take some of that and store it in Oliver’s locket. Then, when coming upon someone lacking that quality, you give it to them and restore their heart.
This is one of the kinds of missions Oliver will have to complete for sidequests, as well as collecting various items, finding people, beating monsters or more. Each one of these sidequests will reward him with stamps for stamp cards, which can then be traded in at a Swift Solutions. These provide bonuses for Oliver and his party that can make things better in and out of battle. Someone could trade in two cards for Jackpot, so more glims appear in battle. Monsters could be easier to recruit with Esther’s song if a person picks up Jack of Hearts. Oliver, the ship or the dragon could move faster with certain Merit Awards. I found the Crackerjack awards most beneficial, due to the increased experience they provided. It’s a wonderful bonus to encourage people to explore more and while none of these perks are needed to beat Ni no Kuni, it’s nice to know that they are there.
The problem is, after seeing how wonderfully Level-5 and Studio Ghibli worked together on Ni no Kuni, I want more. I want a sequel to this. I want a video game adaptation of Princess Mononoke. I don’t think this collaboration should be a one-time thing and that Ni no Kuni is good by chance. I think two fantastic and imaginative forces have found each other, created something astounding and, if they kept working together, even more good things would stem from this relationship.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is amazing. It looks and sounds beautiful, it has a substantial challenge, an engaging story, an ample amount of sidequests and collectable familiars, and is a memorable game that anyone interested in RPGs should try out.
Food for Thought
1. I love the detail that’s gone into character’s mannerisms in Ni no Kuni. The way Oliver jumps or runs up and down stairs is adorable. Seeing Drippy topple over when moving too fast is adorable. Townsfolk interact.
2. The English voice acting in Ni no Kuni is absolutely lovely. I especially love Drippy with his Welsh accent.
3. Ni no Kuni would have benefited from an "easier" easy difficulty level. I had to switch to easy, and even that felt like it required hours worth of grinding to make Oliver, Esther and Swaine formidable enough to face the challenges ahead of them.
4. I wish familiars weren’t so disposable. I would have liked to have used Mighty, the first familiar, the entire game.
5. Hold onto items for alchemy! Don’t sell stuff. It could be something you’ll need for a future recipe to make a better piece of equipment, item or snack.