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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch


14:0429/01/2013Posted by Simeon Paskell5 Comments

Despite the indirect influence it has had on the world of videogames, Studio Ghibli has resisted dipping its beautifully animated toes into a title all of its own. That’s all about to change, however, with the launch of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on the PlayStation 3; the fruit of a partnership between Studio Ghibli and JRPG experts Level 5. The road to this point hasn’t been an easy one, however, as Ni No Kuni has had to undergo a lengthy localisation process since its Japanese release in November 2011 so that Western audiences can finally explore The Another World (the literal translation of ‘Ni No Kuni’). The potential of animation royalty joining forces with a video game veteran is clear for all to see, but do these two giants merely serve to water each other down?

In some ways, it is curious that it has taken Ghibli so long to make its own game, so natural a fit are the themes of its movie output; films that relish in and celebrate the fantastical. The one benefit of this reluctance is that Ni No Kuni has a huge amount of material from which to draw, and draw it does – not in basing its tale and characters on any specific movie or universe, but in milking every last drop of Ghibli’s experience and artistic/narrative heritage.

In being released in a console generation capable of doing justice to the Ghibli aesthetic makes for one fine looking game, and – as predictable as this may be – Ni No Kuni’s visual prowess is absolutely worthy of praise. Level 5’s game engine does a fantastic job of capturing that Ghibli magic, a fact that is demonstrated by how smoothly the game transitions from traditional, two-dimensional animated cutscenes into superbly realised three-dimensional worlds populated with wonderfully animated characters. Ni no Kuni wants to place you in a studio Ghibli Movie, and it absolutely manages to do so.

The tale it has to tell is also extremely engaging, even if it’s hewn from the classic heroes-journey as well as being thematically similar to Ghibli films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. The story opens in the 1950’s America-inspired Motorville, with the focus being on a young boy named Oliver whose misadventures in amateur car design indirectly result in the tragic death of his mother, orphaning him in the process. With Oliver locked in grief, a stuffed toy given to him by his mother (known as Mr. Drippy) magically springs to life on contact with the boy’s tears and whisks him off to an alternate reality and on an adventure of the classic Ghibli mould. This opening section sets the tone for the game that follows, with Ni No Kuni tackling a diverse range of themes from family dramas, personal crises, to societies in turmoil, all of which are handled with the same deftness of touch that is prevalent in Ghibli’s filmic work.

Though things get off to a mightily impressive start, this is tempered by a nagging sense that disappointment may be lying in wait around every corner, a feeling exasperated by the way in which Ni No Kuni drip feeds mechanics and major narrative progressions. Thankfully, this disappointment never comes, and the almost leisurely pace with which Ni No Kuni draws you into its world feels controlled and measured rather than lacking in momentum. The game’s world and characters are given room to breathe and time to win your affections and this ultimately sucks you in to Ghibli’s and Level 5’s combined vision. It’s a trick that a lesser game may have struggled to pull off, but here the visuals, the narrative, wonderful scripting and stellar voice acting (the decision to give your constant companion, Mr Drippy a strong Welsh accent is utterly inspired) retain your attention so well that the mechanics and systems on which the game proper is built seem almost invisible, chugging away in the background, servicing the narrative and glorious visuals.

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5 Comments »

  • HunterzMoon said:

    WOW… How much did they pay you for this review?

    “Combat is especially well implemented”. That statement could not be further from the truth. This battle system is the worst ive ever encountered in any RPG EVER! The A.I of your team mates is terrible!!! The battle system ruins what would have been an amazing game!

  • Deadeyemousse said:

    I’m confident they got paid nothing, since the battle system is good. Flawed at times, but damn good and enjoyable when compared to the large majority of JRPG’s. This is the rebirth of the franchise that had been depressingly stagnant for a long time and deserves the praise.

  • Deadeyemousse said:

    Rebirth of a genre* (not franchise)

  • Jacob said:

    The battle system is well implemented once you figure it out, and I am the definition of battle type can, favorite games being the ones with lucrative combat styles, I.E. Dragon’s Dogma(made by marvel nuff said) and prototypes. It is a little complex to figure out at first, as I can imagine the dense would have issues, especially when they have it set in their mind that its flawed, but using O and L2 or R2 to toggle switch changes to defense and attack, and L1+L2/R2 to switch positioning when getting assaulted. Don’t get me wrong, the battle system could be better, as with all games, I’m just merely suggesting that it’s not the game flawed in this case, it’s just your ability to utilize it.

  • Poodleinacan said:

    The combat system isn’t THAT flawed…
    Yes, the AI could be better (the creature selection by your teammates and their battles descisions, and the “waypoint” system in combats too)… but for orders and such, we can give orders to our teammates during battle (though we cannot set battle strategies outside of battle… This is just unacceptable), we can order them when to block and when unblock/attack, with Square and Triangle.

    If an enemy does a strong attack (of which uses a mini-cinematic), and we were about to select a certain special attack, our action selector goes back to its default (Attack (regular attacks)).

    The leveling pace is just tedious… Lots of griding, if we want to bring creatures we captured and evolved up to par with the rest of the team.

    At some parts, back-tracking is a godaweful pain.

    (in some parts of the story, I understood certain story related stuff, and then a bit later on, the game goes and says “[well that is that... Understand?]“… Just a detail for those that have a slower brain or aren’t mentally present)

    … Assisted birth from the inside (that was awkward…)

    I haven’t finished the game yet… But I can already say quite some things.

    In all, i would give the game about 85/100
    The combat system wasn’t really well made… I have played one other game with a live combat system and it was Star Ocean:The Second Story (damn be those last 2 Wise Men… Damn be them!) and it’s combat system is well over superior than Ni No Kuni. Decisions can be made fast and you can set your battle strategy off-combat (not that settig the position of your characters in NNK would matter).

    At least, we get a teleportation spell, when we visit the Sage person in “pork town”.

    Also, it often feels like the game was made for a younger audience, yet the combat can be complex… But the game goes in some adult subjects, and sometimes when you talk to Drippy (the fairy) on the overworld he can say some jokes that younger people might not get (for exemple, at some point, when going towards a cemetary (for a quest), Drippy makes a republican joke (breaking the fourth wall there)).

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