Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s title might be a little off-putting at first, but once you lay your eyes on the beauty contained within, the title doesn’t really matter…but expecting a great game based on great looks has led many to go down a dark path. Fortunately for Level-5, it looks like its latest release combines a great look with a great everything else.
Full disclosure: I have only played the time-limited demo that was released in the PlayStation Store a couple of weeks ago. If how the demo went is any reflection of the rest of the game, we might be looking at not only one of the greatest RPG’s of this generation, but one that might step foot in the pantheon of great RPG’s.
Remember when you saw Squall and company land on the beach in Final Fantasy VIII for the first time? Everyone thought, “Wow, what a seamless transition!” Obviously, going from a CG-rendered FMV to a polygonal world was a lot rougher back in 1999 than it is now, but the way that Level 5 implemented the style of Studio Ghibli into a polygonal world should win them all the awards. If you have ever seen a Studio Ghibli film (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away) then you know what you are going to get in Ni no Kuni: weird character designs in colorful worlds, although simply saying ‘weird character designs’ might be the understatement of the year so far. I could go on and on about how the game looks, but we all know that a game isn’t great just because of how it looks.
Sometimes a game demo is not an accurate representation of the final game (see: Resident Evil 6), so it’s hard to make a definitive statement on the quality of a game that isn’t even out yet. Yet, for as many demos as I have played over the years, Ni no Kuni seems like it is an accurate representation of what the final game will be. I think that is based on the fact that this demo provided 2 different points in the story to choose from. The first, which I believe takes place right at the beginning of the game is called “An Errand for Old Father Oak” and takes place in The Deep Dark Wood. The second is called “Eruption, Interruption!” and takes place in The Mountain of Fire. Hey look, classic RPG locations! In choosing the first location, your character Oliver is in the woods with his newly created lantern-thing pal Drippy. You’re looking for the Guardian of the Woods and sure enough, you get in his way. Right away another RPG trope hits you in the face: large bosses. You’re quickly immersed in your first battle.
Battle Arena JRPG
Battle in Ni no Kuni is kind of a mixture between a classic active-time battle system made famous by the Final Fantasy series and more recent games like Xenoblade Chronicles. You have a bevy of commands to select from when in battle. The usual suspects of spells, attack, defend, run away, and provisions are included. Oliver has free reign over the battlefield and can move around wherever he wants. This makes it easy to avoid certain attacks by enemies. If you select the attack command Oliver will attack for about 5 seconds unless you cancel it out. If you don’t cancel the attack and it completes its task, you are then able to select from other commands. Defend operates the same way as attack where as performing a spell gives that command option a slight cool down after casting.
Oliver is not the only person you’ll have to fight your battles for you. He brings along with him familiars that he’s picked up along his journey. Ni no Kuni kind of has a Pokemon game nestled inside of it. These familiars can be selected to do battle in place of human characters and bring different battle options along with them. They can have strengths in physical attacks or magical attacks with some being specifically tied to a certain element like fire. In the demo, Oliver is pretty weak with his physical attack; using a familiar to do that dirty work is highly recommended. As you defeat enemies along the way, Oliver and his familiars gain experience points together. You can also help them grow by giving them treats in the menu. I didn’t actually get any treats to feed my familiars with so I’m not exactly sure how this works but if I can guess, certain treats will raise certain classifications like stamina or luck.
A Minor Issue
I don’t have any issues with Ni no Kuni but I can see some players might be turned off by a few things. First of all, the game is not fully voice acted which means there will be some reading to do. It seems like a strange choice with all that space on a Blu-Ray disc, but maybe there is just so much content that it wasn’t feasible. That’s a very minor issue. Another reason why some gamers might be hesitant is the main character. He’s a young boy and the game might seem a little childish. Just let me remind you that games, especially JRPG’s, have been doing this for years and some of our favorite games feature a young protagonist with a high-pitched voice. However, those games didn’t have any voice acting at all, so we didn’t have to hear Chrono or the whatever your character’s name was in Secret of Mana.
Look, even a brief 25 minute demo has enough in it where I could go on an on about every little minute detail for 1000 more words. If it means anything, it’s the first demo I have ever played 4 times. Usually I’m a one-and-done type of guy but this game is just so damn charming that I can’t get enough of it. Granted, I’m a noted JRPG fan and have been since I first saw my neighbor playing the original Final Fantasy, so my opinion of games in the genre might differ from yours, but I implore everyone to give this demo a shot. If you do, you’ll be buying this PS3 exclusive on January 23.
Giant Bomb (images)