In January, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli released their spectacular JRPG Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and the Z1G review, written by Tim, can be read here. I bought the game on release day, and finally, seven months after release and with 47 hours on the clock, I finished it. Most reviews published on release day could only review the first 10 hours of the game at most due to the vast nature of JRPGs, so I thought that it might be interesting to review the game as a whole now it’s over and done with.
Oliver is a small boy living his idyllic little life in a town that looks like it’s from a 1950’s propaganda video when he indirectly causes his mother’s death and has to travel to another world with a welsh fairy to rescue his mother’s soul mate, hoping that his dear old mum will be revived in the process. Most JRPGs concern themselves with a group of adolescent fashion victims stopping an evil corporation; Ni no Kuni, on the other hand, tells a unique and relatable story of a young boy who lost everything before being thrown into an apocalyptic conflict threatening a world inhabited by strange creatures. However, as enjoyable as the story was, there was probably only enough story for 20 hours of gameplay at a stretch. Ni no Kuni stretches its story to almost pathetic lengths. Nothing is as simple as getting an objective and completing it. There’s always a curveball that results in Oliver and company (what a film!) trekking half way across the map just to talk to someone, only to have to trek back again. The most offensive example of this is when Oliver is tasked with putting together an instrument. I collected all the parts and just as I was about to walk into the room to have them put together, I found out that one of the components had been stolen… by a cheeky mouse with glasses. Sensing that my blood pressure was rising, I switched off the game and had a cup of tea.
Practically every section of the game is stretched out uncomfortably. From the very start of the game the main baddie is established. Through-out the game the main objective is to kill this particular bad guy, and everything is geared towards a showdown with him. After a horribly confusing level in a castle, I finally got to the final boss fight. It was long and bloody, but I pulled through triumphantly. Inevitably I got to the ending cut-scene where everyone was celebrating and hugging and saying their goodbyes etc. Then, just as I was about to lie back and enjoy the credits, the game rudely and obnoxiously carried on. The story continued for another five hours, during which another baddie who’d featured in a couple of cut scenes through-out the game was established as the real main baddie and I had to carry on. I was absolutely deflated. You can’t kill off the adversary you’ve been pitting us against for most of the game and then expect us to get passionate about hating somebody else in a few measly hours. Setting up a climactic boss fight as the final one and then making us fight another was a massive mistake, because everything after the showdown with the faux final boss felt anti-climactic.
I imagine it sounds as if I don’t like this game.In fact, I love it, despite its shamelessly bloated length. It’s hard not to love such a beautiful game. Visually, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Each environment, despite being a little generic was fantastically detailed, and the world was fairly expansive and fun to explore. One thing this game does better than any game I’ve ever played is that it makes the player feel as if they’re going on an adventure. It stirred up a sense of childish wonder in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. The feeling did decline somewhat as the game began to drag on, but for the first twenty hours I felt like I was eight years old again, and that feeling is invaluable.
The developers should be congratulated for creating a truly wonderful world, full of interesting creatures and locations. You begin exploring the world by travelling on foot, making the land feel expansive and awe-inspiring. When you get the ship, you feel like you’re setting sail for even more adventure, but with an all new nautical bent. Then when you get the dragon, you feel majestic as you swoop over mountains, speeding above deserts and seas that you remember trawling through hours before. The methods of transport Ollie gets are staggered out, which makes the world seem big, and this is helped by the fact that the fast travel spell isn’t unlocked until quite some time into the game. I genuinely enjoyed knowing there was a long journey ahead, and adventures to be had!
The characters are well-written and likeable. Mr Drippy, the latern-wearing welsh fairy who takes his place early on as Ollie’s side-kick is a highlight, but my absolute favourite is an adorable green-haired British girl named Pea, who helps Oliver on his journey before gaining significance towards the end. The voice actor delivered her lines perfectly, making her sound endearingly childlike. The voice acting f0r most characters was stellar, which is why I was so disappointed when after 5 or 6 hours the characters stopped speaking. Sure, they had dialogue, but voices were barely ever employed. There were plot important moments that occurred in complete silence, and then maybe once every half an hour they’d be a small cut scene with voices and when that was done it was back to reading again. It’s such a shame because my face would light up every time Mr Drippy got to air his lungs.
Ni no Kuni’s combat system is a little hit and miss. You have A.I. partners who accompany you in battle who can sometimes be very useful and can sometimes be a massive pain in the arse. You can battle with Ollie’s spells, mighty as they are, or you can use familiars that you catch in the wild and train as your own. They learn abilities, level up and evolve. When you encounter a monster, you are transported to a Final Fantasy-style combat zone, in which a real-time battle takes place and you send out one of Ollie’s familiars to do battle for you. They then use a mixture of generic attacks and special abilities to best their enemies. You can catch as many familiars as you like, but there’s no pressure to catch them all and there’s nothing wrong with just being mediocre and uncompetitive, so it’s completely unlike Pokémon… obviously.
The side quests are a little hit and miss. There are many side quests based on Oliver’s ability to take a chunk of somebody’s heart and give it to somebody else. Let me explain: if someone has so much enthusiasm that they have some to spare, Oliver can take the excess and give it to somebody who is lacking in enthusiasm because Shadar, the big baddie, broke their hearts by taking a certain emotion away from them. I enjoyed these side quests and I thought this part of the game was very original and quite heart-warming. There’s something very lovely about fixing broken hearts. The logistics of it are a little questionable though. I remember one little cat-girl didn’t want to go to school, so Mr Drippy announced that Shadar must have taken her enthusiasm. Surely, if your list of priorities included ‘destroy the world’, then ‘stop little girl from going to school’ must be pretty low on the list. However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. The bounty hunts are straight forward enough, but the other side quests are mostly boring and repetitive, and when I say repetitive I mean they actually repeat themselves. Nothing in this game is done once when it can be repeated five or six times. There’s a portly gentlemen who loses his diary every time he visits a new town, and the quest is literally to go find it and give it back to him. FUN!
Despite its flaws and unnecessary length, Ni no Kuni is still a beautiful, charming and immersive game that everyone should experience. I loved it, and I’m sure that one rainy day in winter I’ll start playing it from the beginning again so I can feel the childish exhilaration of a magical adventure in a fascinating world again. It seems to me that a lot of gamers have a JRPG they grew up with. For me it was Final Fantasy X, but I’m jealous of all the kids who get to grow up with Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Apart from astounding them with a stunning, eclectic world and giving them a challenge that will let them succeed without pissing on their bonfires, it will also teach them the virtue of patience.
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.