Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the latest game from Level-5 Studios and a collaborative project with Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese anime studio. Published by Namco Bandai, the game has finally made its way to American and other English speaking audiences, but how did it turn out? Was Ghibli’s influence noticeable and was Level-5 able to make the JRPG relevant again? Is it fun to play by today’s standards? Suffice it to say that every now and then a console is graced with a game that is timeless and magnificent; Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of those games for the PlayStation 3.
The game starts out with you, Oliver, doing kid stuff: running around on errands for your mom, talking with friends and getting into trouble. Something goes terribly wrong and your mother ends up dying in an accident. As Oliver cries in his room with his stuffed doll Mr. Drippy, his tears bring it to life and you find out that Oliver is the “pure-hearted one” that can save Mr. Drippy’s world and restore balance by defeating the evil Shadar.
What starts out as a generic “chosen one must battle the armies of darkness” tale, turns into much, much more than that over the course of the 40+ hour adventure. Ni no Kuni isn’t just a game about a young boy battling evil in order to save his mom. It’s a game about friendship and kindness; it’s a game about overcoming life’s obstacles; most importantly though, it’s a game with heart (pun intended.)
As you travel across the various landscapes, you’ll come across certain individuals that are overflowing with certain characteristics (kindness, courage, enthusiasm, etc) that you can take pieces of and give to those in need. One of Shadar’s trademarks is to “break the heart” or “steal pieces of the soul” in his victims. He does this by taking away those aspects mentioned before and Oliver is the only one with the power to restore them.
These events and various other quests are sprinkled throughout the game in the main storyline and as extra content. You can even hunt down unique and especially powerful creatures on bounty missions for special rewards. After completing quests, you earn stamps that can be traded in for even more upgrades and rewards. The key facet of this game is the fact that it is absolutely seeping with content. Never while playing did I feel a sense of aimlessness or lack of purpose, which often plagues JRPGs, but instead I always had things to do, people to talk to and places to see.
Speaking of which, the places to see are breathtaking. Studio Ghibli’s influence is noticeable not just from the wonderful animated cutscenes, but from the overall art direction in the game as a whole. Playing this game is literally like playing an anime mixed with a watercolor painting and you will often have to stop and stare to just take in your surroundings. The visuals accompanied by the amazing soundtrack and stellar voice acting put this game at the very top of the pile in terms of production values. Which makes it even more apparent that most of the dialogue in the game is just text with very little actually recorded and voiced, but what is voiced is spectacularly done.
Keep reading on the next page to see the rest of my thoughts…