Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch review
Take a deep breath, and get ready to immerse yourself in a world simply brimming with delightful characters, fascinating creatures, diverse and beautiful environments – not to mention an emotional roller-coaster of a story.
Ni no Kuni‘s main protagonist – Oliver – is a boy who, unlike his JRPG protagonist brothers/sisters, isn’t full of vengeful angst or sickly-sweet hyper happiness (Oh Vanille…). In fact, he isn’t much like any sword-swinging, testosterone pumped character starring in the majority of games out there. Oliver is “The Pure-Hearted One”, a boy who just wants to help people.
Another striking aspect of this game is the visuals. The cut scenes, character composition and scenery wouldn’t look out of place in an anime movie. Which is unsurprising, as the entirety of Ni no Kuni is animated by Studio Ghibli, known for producing fantastic anime movies like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
This visual choice might make you question whether the game lacks detail, but it doesn’t. The sweeping landscapes are simply breathtaking, and the towns vibrant. From lush green forests to spooky graveyards, Ni no Kuni will have you eagerly anticipating what enchanting environment you’ll venture into in next. All of this is exquisitely complemented by a stunning soundtrack.
So, it’s for kids?
This game might appear to be lighthearted and possibly childish at a glance, but it definitely doesn’t shy away from tackling some fairly sensitive topics even early on. Within the first hour, a tragic and heart-wrenching accident occurs involving Oliver’s mother, leading Oliver into another world in his quest to save her.
However, you certainly won’t be adventuring alone! You’ll meet many memorable characters along the way, and gather up a few party members too, each invested in assisting Oliver on his quest in any way they can. The first of which is Drippy, self-proclaimed Lord High Lord of the Fairies, equipped with a seemingly endless supply of witty puns and handy info. Oh, and a lantern dangling from his nose.
A large part of what makes Ni no Kuni’s story and characters so captivating is the wonderful character animations and amazing voice acting. The English version of the game features a wide variety of accents, giving each of the characters that added dash of pizzazz. Drippy in particular sports a Welsh accent, rarely adopted in the gaming space, and even the text conveying his dialogue are written phonetically.
It’s just that little extra that deepens the characters and the experience. One potential downside could be for people who aren’t proficient in English, as they might encounter difficulties understanding the phonetic subtitles. Thankfully, in most cases, you have control over the speed of the text, allowing you to read at your own pace. Although, believe me, there is a whole lot of text in this game. It’s helpful that the writing and translations are such high quality.
I choose you! Oh, wrong game…
There is a lot about this game that is high quality. It doesn’t bring anything shockingly new to the genre, rather it takes many of the pillars of what makes RPGs great; story quality, character depth, and world immersion, and makes them awesome. Dungeons and towns are connected by a vast and diverse overworld, which you roam in a variety of ways throughout the course of the game. On your travels, combat is initiated by connecting with enemies, after which the screen will swirl and Oliver will be standing beside two other party members ready for the showdown.
Now, here’s where the action begins. In battle you take control of one of the three party members, each equipped with what the game calls “familiars” – which are similar to Pokemon, in that you deploy them to fight for you. Each party member can have up to three familiars, but only one per party member can be on the battlefield. You can also choose to throw yourself into the fray, which is sometimes more useful than you might think.
You can interchange between party members and their equipped familiars during the course of battle. As you take control of one, the AI adequately though sometimes sloppily handles the other two. It’s possible to set battle tactics for your team, but you can only access them in combat, and the settings are a bit too broad to be actually useful.
Let’s do this!
Battles take place in almost real-time and requires you to maneuver yourself/familiars around the battlefield attacking weaknesses, collecting health and mana orbs, and most importantly – learning to defend at the right moments. When all the battle intricacies are unveiled, you’ll need to keep on your toes and find a balance of what’s needed to win the day.
Another feature that is quite like Pokemon, is that there is a multitude of different familiars to capture, level up, and give equipment to. Familiars and party members level up independently, and battles often yield enough XP to assure that at least someone levels each fight, even if they don’t take part in the battle.
It’s possible to encounter odd difficulty spikes. Some bosses are noticeably harder than others, and some enemies on the road to a boss can end up more difficult than the boss itself. It can be somewhat frustrating, but persistence and a strong and balanced setup is key.
Alongside the main quest, there’s a crafting system plus a plethora of side quests to keep you busy and well rewarded for your exploits. You’ll gain stamps, which you can trade in for various abilities and upgrades. The quests range from defeating difficult foes, to bringing an articulate llama gourmet food, to healing a broken heart. It’s easy to be drawn into “just one more side mission” by the incredible imagination that’s gone into creating this universe.
The entire game has a lot to offer. Granted, the start up is pretty slow, but I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way. You’re guided into a complex game without being thrown in the deep end, and it still leaves you to discover the details yourself. A minor annoyance with the slow start up is that some abilities unlocked later in the game could have come in useful a little earlier, but it’s minor.
Oliver and his friends are guaranteed to melt your heart with their witty humor, delightful friendship, and enchanting journey. Filled with love, life, tragedy, comedy, and surprise – Ni no Kuni is a true adventure and a joy to behold. Just be ready to invest numerous hours, as even 40 hours of playing won’t cover everything this game has to offer. Not to mention that even after you beat the game new quests pop up. The game doesn’t end just because the main storyline is concluded – it still has a lot more to give.
Miss; The copious amounts of text coupled with the slightly jarring sequences where you can have a cutscene, followed by text, then another cut scene in the same conversation.
Need; More voice acting! As this is undeniably a stellar job both in Japanese and English. Really can’t get enough!