It’s been a while now since I’ve played a good classic JRPG. With the large amount of shooters and action games released over the past few months, I haven’t been able to get my fix. Unfortunately, when I first looked into Level 5 and Namco Bandai’s latest JRPG, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, originally released in Japan on the Nintendo DS, I thought it looked kind of stupid. I’ll tell you straight up, after playing through this, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Some neat plot twists near the end really take it from what I originally though was kind of a kids fairy tale-type of story, into something pretty special.
Ni no Kuni tells the story of a young boy named Oliver who is on a quest to save his mother and stop an evil wizard who is planning to destroy the world. Oliver’s mother mysteriously passes away and as he cries, his tears bring his favorite stuffed animal, Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies, to life. Drippy reveals that he is from a parallel world where each person or animal in Oliver’s world, has a soul-linked counterpart in Drippy’s world. Drippy also reveals that in his world, Oliver’s mother has been trapped in a Dark Crystal by the evil wizard Shadar, but is in fact not dead. So Oliver and Drippy set out to stop the wizard and free his mother’s counterpart, in hopes that it will revive her in his world.
Much of the story is about helping the people Oliver encounters along his journey. Shadar has inflicted a magic called Brokenheartedness on the people of the world, which essentially takes away their virtues like Kindness, Love and Courage. Oliver is able to help these people by traveling back and forth between the two worlds and battling demons to restore their hearts. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the sequences when I had to return to Oliver’s hometown of Motorville at all because it’s just so bland and boring compared to how beautiful and magical Drippy’s world is. The further I got into the game though, the more I enjoyed the story. It started off pretty slow as Oliver learned of his magical abilities, but it picked up rapidly afterwards and continued to get better and better as I went.
The graphics and art direction of the game are absolutely beautiful. The advanced cell-shaded graphics make the game look like you’re watching a cartoon mixed with a water-colored painting. Some of the cutscenes dropped in framerate at times though which was weird to me as the actual game-play not once dropped frames. A wonderful soundtrack accompanies the game throughout its entirety, which really enhances the experiences. The presentation of the game is so great that I found myself just standing there at times taking it all in. I should point out though that there is a LOT of reading via text dialog. There is a bit of voice acting here and there, but for the most part, you’ll be reading everything.
Ni no Kuni took me a little over 48 hours to complete the game with almost every pre-ending side quest on the Normal difficulty setting. Additional content is unlocked once you complete the game as well, which should bring that playtime even higher. It wasn’t until I completed the game that I discovered an option to turn off the hand holding the game does through nearly everything. I wasn’t left guessing on what I needed to do very often which was annoying. If you are a classic JRPG fan like me, you’re probably going to want to disable this option.
Being that Oliver is to become a powerful wizard, the game is all about two things: Spells and Familiars. There are simply a TON of spells that Oliver will learn along the way ranging from powerful combat spells, to utility spells like the ability to create bridges or levitate over traps. He’ll even learn spells that will help solve various simple and semi-complex puzzles along the way. Oliver can also use Alchemy to craft his own weapons, armor and consumables.
In addition to casting spells in combat, Oliver and his companions that he gains along the way can use Familiars to fight for them. There is something like 400 different enemies in the game that may be tamed to join your party. Each party member may control up to three familiars at a time and each familiar has their own abilities and statistics that they will enhance and level up as they are used. Treats may be fed to the familiars to buff their stats as well, so managing your familiars is essentially a meta-game of its own and really gives you a ton of options to customize which spells they will learn and what roles they will be used for. As the familiars level up, they may also be metamorphosed into more powerful familiars that return them to level 1 but grant them access to better stats and spells.
In addition to equipping weapons, armor and items on Oliver and his party, you will also need to acquire and manage what gear your familiars are wearing as well. Some of the gear looks really awesome in your inventory, but it sucks that equipping these weapons and armor doesn’t change how the familiars or party members look. I realize this would be a massive amount of additional work for the developers to implement, but I think it would have really enhanced the game.
The game world felt pretty large as I played it and is filled with several large towns and many cleverly designed dungeons. Over time, Oliver gains access to a spell that allows you to teleport to locations he’s discovered, as well a boat and a dragon to travel to areas not accessible by foot. While traveling in both the over-world and in dungeons, enemies are displayed on the screen and not until you run into them or they chase after you will combat begin. These enemies also respawn very quickly.
The combat system reminded me a lot of White Knight Chronicles in that it takes place in real time and you run around the battlefield and queue up a move and wait for it to complete. This is most noticeable when you order a basic attack or defend command and your unit repeatedly executes it until a timer runs out or you cancel it. In combat, each party member may cast spells, use items or attack on their own – or they may swap places with one of their three familiars. Each familiar has a stamina gauge that drains while they are on the battlefield and when it depletes, they are swapped back with their master. Each familiar also shares the health and mana pools of their master, so much of the strategy revolves around which familiar to use, what abilities they execute and for how long they are in combat.
Because the combat is in real time, you can only control one party member at a time. You can issue vague instructions like attack my target or keep us alive to the remainder of the team, but overall, I didn’t find the AI to be that great for most of the game. When your party has full mana, they are very powerful, but they burn through their mana pool so fast that after a couple battles in a dungeon, they are completely out and almost useless. You can issue orders to not cast any spells, but that’s not very practical either. I wish there was an option to use spells conservatively.
The game is rated for gamers 10 years and older, but I don’t see how a 10-year old could enjoy this. I actually found the game to be pretty challenging lots of the time. I actually found that I needed to grind a bit here and there to be able to take down some of the bosses. There are a very large number of side quests and bounty hunts that you should do along the way to help ease this though, plus they reward you with the best gear in the game.
Oliver carries with him a book called the Wizard’s Companion that contains information on all of the monsters, gear, spells and various stories. You’ll have to access and look up information in this book a lot throughout the game, which is a pain in the ass. There is a collector’s edition of the game that comes with a hard copy of this book, but a hard copy should be given to anyone who purchased the game.
Over the past few weeks I’ve read a lot of comments from gamers who were excited for this title and are hoping that it gets the recognition it deserves. I know that my videos don’t get a lot of views, but I hope I can do something here to get the word out. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a wonderful game for those who enjoy classic JRPGs. Over time, the JRPG has taken a turn for the worst it seems as the Western RPGs dominate the market. It’s refreshing to play through a game done right for fans of the way things used to be. If you like Japanese Role Playing Games, Ni no Kuni is a must purchase.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review – ZGR
Developer: Level 5, Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: January 22, 2013
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