Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review

September 1, 2014 at 11:18 am | Posted in Game Review, PS3 Review | Leave a comment
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I make a point of abstaining from reviewing a game until I’ve finished it, or at least got to a point where I’ve seen all it has to offer. I wasn’t expecting this to take so long with Ni No Kuni, but here we are, a good 18 months after it was released in the UK, and I’ve finally finished this wonderful game.

Ni no Kuni

Title: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Format: PS3

Developed by: Level 5

Published by: Bandai-Namco

Genre: RPG

 

There have been some amazing gaming partnerships in recent years: the glorious merger of Final Fantasy’s iconic characters with Disney’s incredible roster of colourful worlds; Beat-em-up heavy-weights Street Fighter and Tekken going toe to toe; and Mario and Sonic finally ending a long-running feud to battle for Olympic glory. We can now add to that list a true marriage made in heaven – and an RPG fan’s dream come true – Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s incredible adventure, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Level 5 have rightfully earned a reputation for sprawling and engaging RPG experiences. After making a name for themselves with the fun, but criminally ignored Dark Cloud games, SquareEnix charged them with steering Dragon Quest 8 to the pantheons of greatness. The result was an incredible adventure that proudly sits atop most Dragon Quest fans all-time favourite list. The small studio showed a deftness for pairing warm characters and engaging stories with colourful worlds that just begged to be explored, and followed up DQ8 with the equally wonderful (but again, largely ignored) Rogue Galaxy on PS2. Their rapid expansion and continued success with hits like Inazuma Eleven, Professor Layton, and Fantasy Life have served to reaffirm them as one of Japan’s top developers.

Ni no Kuni follows the tale of Oliver, a young boy grieving for the loss of his Mother. His tears bring his favourite toy, a fairy named Mr Drippy, to life and he’s soon whisked off to a magical world to save it from the evil White Witch of the title. Along the way, Oliver meets many weird and wonderful creatures – each with a real-world counter part – and must find a way to mend their broken hearts either in the real or magical world.

While many games have tackled the subject of parental loss, Level 5 and Studio Ghibli have done a wonderful job portraying Oliver’s journey from grief-stricken child to a world-saving hero. It’s a very touching tale and one that will resonate with anyone who’s experienced the death of a loved one. The writing and acting is of the highest order with a particularly memorable villain (the shadowy wizard, Shadar) and some incredible twists late on in the adventure that will keep players hooked until the moment the credits roll.

As expected from Level 5 and Studio Ghibli, the presentation is top-notch stuff. Locations pop with colour and fine details, while the characters that inhabit the world capture Ghibli’s distinct style perfectly. The soundtrack is one of the finest I’ve heard this generation. Joe Hisashi has lent his skills to Level 5’s already talented bunch of musicians to create a memorable score that skips from whimsical jazzy tunes to dark and foreboding orchestral numbers and everything in between. This is one of the few soundtracks I’ve actively sought out for purchase. It’s really that good.

The meat of any RPG is in the battle system, and while I found this to be one of the weaker elements of Ni no Kuni it’s still no slouch. Battles play out in real-time in an enclosed arena, and players can move around freely and switch between party members whenever they choose. While the main characters can be used in battle, the vast majority of the fighting will be done by their familiars. Taking a leaf out of Pokemon’s book, players can capture monsters they meet in battle, train them up, and use them to fight on their behalf. While raising a team of monsters is in itself rewarding, it also turns the game into an almighty grind-fest. When a familiar reaches a certain level it can evolve into a potentially more powerful version, but doing so will stick it right back at level 1 again. Training a favoured fighter back up to a point where it can start being useful again is time-consuming and potentially fatal if a character doesn’t have a decent alternative or two waiting in the wings.

Ni no Kuni is a great addition to the PS3’s already bulging line-up of RPGs and one of the best exclusives on the console. The experience is nothing less than magical from beginning to end and one that should be experienced by every RPG fan out there.

9.5 out of 10

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