Let’s get the big question out of the way first; should you buy Ni No Kuni? YES!
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of the most beautiful games to appear on any console in a very long time. It is a fantastic addition to the list of PlayStation 3 exclusive titles and shows that even in the twilight of this generation we haven’t seen everything.
Ni No Kuni tells the story of a young boy called Oliver. Oliver lives in a 1950’s style town called Motorville. He lives there with his mother and lives a pretty ordinary life, but this isn’t to last. Following a tragic accident, and I do mean tragic, I genuinely shed a tear during this part, Oliver sinks into a deep depression. Thankfully though all is not what it seems in Oliver’s life and he soon encounters The Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Mr Drippy. Mr Drippy then leads Oliver on a mission to save a magical world and restore Oliver’s broken heart.
What follows is an adventure that will last you at least 40 hours, just for the main story, and will take you to all four corners of a world filled with surprises and wonder. You’ll meet a variety of people, creatures and friends, and while Ni No Kuni is not a perfect game, it is one of the best JRPG’s in an age.
The game has been developed in a partnership between Level 5, of Professor Layton fame and legendary anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli creators of Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away amongst many more. Level 5 handled the development while Ghibli lent their amazingly talented animation skills.
The game they have created feels very familiar to fans of the RPG genre or anyone who has played Pokemon. As Oliver you will traverse the worlds and encounter enemies that require defeating, and while Oliver has his own abilities to use, the emphasis of the game is placed on using creatures called Familiars to do your fighting for you.
Familiars are initially given to you, but as the game progresses you’ll eventually be allowed to use a capture style ability that will ensnare creatures that you fight and allow you to use them to battle on your behalf. Each Familiar will have different skills and abilities so it’s up to you to create and nurture the best team.
As you do battle you and your familiars will level up allowing you to use new skills and create a stronger bond between you. You can also level up your familiars in other ways such as feeding them different foods to increase their skills. This is a great way of getting to know your creatures, and with the risk of sounding like an 8 year old girl, they make the most adorable sounds when you feed them their favourite foods!!
The battles you’ll fight in are also different to most other JRPG’s. Not naming any names but they are more than a case of pressing X. The battles occur in real time and take place on open spaces, you’ll be able to move in full 360 degree motion to fight and avoid attacks. This means that you pay more attention to the battles and will often cancel planned actions to avoid attacks or change tactics on the fly.
Away from fighting and battles, Ni No Kuni has a wonderful second quest system. As you move through the world you’ll encounter people with broken hearts, they can be broken hearted for a variety of reasons and will only respond to the piece of heart that they are missing. With the aid of a crystal vial Oliver will be able to help these poor souls and earn points on his merit card.
The merit card system isn’t just for mending broken hearts; you’ll also earn stamps for killing certain enemies in certain places, completing various errands and finishing the occasional fetch quest. Once you have enough stamps you’ll earn merit points which can then be exchanged for rewards. Initially these rewards start off as simple things like increased movement on the world map, but then progress to increased XP for Familiars and high chances of receiving items. It’s a great reward system that adds something tangible to the main quest.
Ni No Kuni isn’t without its faults though; Mr Drippy is likely to be a divisive character depending on your feelings towards the Welsh accent, personally I adore the character and the voice acting (which by the way is pretty damn amazing across all characters), but I know it won’t suit everyone, I’d have loved more cut scenes to experience and watch, and that’s one of my main issues with the game, the placement of cut scenes. Often major plot points would take place as text on the screen with an occasional flash of cut scene at an obscure point, but then other sub quests with no real link to the main story would be blessed with near minute long scenes. There is a joy in watching these cut scenes that you don’t get in other titles, I just wish they were saved for when they could have been more effective, and that there were more of them.
The other issue I have with the game is the amount of hand holding the story does. While there are side quest puzzles that will allow you to work things out on your own, most questions are answered as soon as they are asked, usually by Mr Drippy. You’ll often encounter problems that need fixing and as soon as the problem has been located, The Lord High Lord of the Fairies will chirp in, explain the problem to you again and then proceed to explain to you how to resolve it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would have been nice to have had more freedom to find the solutions myself. It gives the game a sense of being for children when in fact it really isn’t.
Those two issues are really the only things stopping me from proclaiming Ni No Kuni a perfect game. The title excels in nearly every way, but it’s sometimes let down by being too worried about players being unable to find solutions to the problems it poses.
As we gear up for a new hardware generation Level 5, Studio Ghibli and Namco Bandai should be applauded for giving us something fresh and exciting. Ni No Kuni is a must have title for PS3 owners, and purchase reason for those who haven’t taken to Sony’s console. It’s a wonderful adventure through a beautiful world that is sure to mend the broken hearts of gamers who are tired of guns, explosions and grey lifeless gameplay.
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Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.