Review by SBaby
"The Genuine 'I'm Playing A Miyazaki Film' Feeling Exists!"
Studio Ghibli... That renowned company responsible for timeless classics, such as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and the recent Secret World of Arietty... Never in a million years, did I think I would ever be here, writing a review on a video game site, regarding one of their products. But alas, this world has been full of surprises as of late.
This brings me to the game in question. Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of the White Witch is in a phrase, a Studio Ghibli film that you can play, over and over, for hours on end. It is engrossing and gorgeous to look at. And while not perfect, I have to admit this is one of the best console RPGs that's come out in a very long time.
The graphics can be summed up in one word: perfect. I don't use that word lightly, because it can have a variety of definitions. But in the case of this game, the visuals are utterly stunning, and go far and wide to showcase Ghibli's artistic style in a way that makes you literally feel like you're interacting with a Miyazaki movie from beginning to end. And considering the fact that the game is cell shaded, this is an accomplishment that I have never before been able to give a perfect score to. At least, not until today.
This aspect is getting a perfect score, because of all the little things the creators added to make the game look flawless. If there is a way to improve upon the cell shading in this game, I am at a loss as to how, because this game pulls it off better than any other game I've ever played. And the graphics in general are pulled off better than most other games I've played.
One small, but noteworthy example of how great the graphics are and how much attention to detail there was, lies in how Oliver looks when you idle on stairs or a slope. In most video games (and not just RPGs), idling on a slope or stairs looks clunky at best, as the character will usually stand flat-footed on what appears to be half-air. This is in games that have otherwise great graphics. But in this game, it isn't that way AT ALL! In this game, if you idle on stairs or a slope, Oliver actually changes the positions of his feet to reflect this more realistically. In fact, I had fun trying to get him to fail to do this, but to no avail. It is perfect, and I have to imagine that the creators of the game spent countless hours perfecting the character movements to get this to happen each and every time. Kudos to Studio Ghibli for pulling this off perfectly on their first PS3 RPG.
I will admit, the story is a little bit weak. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine plot for a game that targets audiences of all ages. But some of the characters get relatively little development beyond their initial chapters, and the whole first act of the game does feel a little rushed. However, I will admit that some of this could be growing pains, due to the fact that I've played Mother 3, and this game has a different sort of portrayal of a child losing his mother. It's well done and once again looks beautiful, but I think the game could've done with making the scene a little longer before seemingly 'hurrying' to the next plot point, especially considering the fact that most of the narrative revolves around this.
Once you're in the other world though, everything feels more smooth as you're whisked away to locations that feel both familiar and completely alien at the same time. While the plot remains relatively simple, with the player getting a glimpse of the main antagonist early on, it is still engaging and just alot of fun.
The story almost feels like it's more about Oliver than the other characters in this strange world, and if that's what the writers were going for, then it was handled relatively well.
Hoo boy... This will take some time, because there are many aspects to go over.
First and foremost, let's go over the battle system, because it feels both different from and similar to some other RPGs I've played before. One thing about the battle system that is unique, is the fact that while you do input commands on a menu, you can freely move the character you're controlling around the battlefield while you input said commands. What this means is that you can actively avoid many of the enemy attacks that come at you. This not only works to save HP, but it also works to save on having to constantly heal in longer battles where attrition may become a factor.
Another aspect of the battle system is the use of Familiars. Each of your characters can use up to three of these guys at a time, and they all have different abilities and purposes. Some of them are best suited to offense, while others are best suited to defense. That said, it isn't as simple as Pokemon, where you can switch them out when their HP runs low. This is because they share the same health bar of the character using them, meaning if they go down, you go down with them. However, for practical attacking purposes, they're usually your best bet for dealing the majority of damage under normal circumstances.
As you attack enemies and guard against attacks, you can pick up glims, which are similar to the orbs in Kingdom Hearts, in that they restore HP or MP. In addition, when you're fighting a boss or a tougher enemy, you may run across a gold glim, which allows you to use a special attack that is exclusive to picking up this orb. That coupled with the fact that it fully restores your HP and MP means these rare orbs can easily turn the tide of a battle.
Outside of battle, there is also plenty to do. When you get access to the guild, you can go on quests for the residents of the various towns in the world, and even go on monster hunts. Completing these quests earns you stamps. Get 10 stamps, and you complete a card, which you can in turn exchange in for various perks and abilities, such as the ability to jump or run faster on the overworld. There are even perks that affect the item drop rate, or how often you are able to harvest rare items from sparkling areas.
Something else to go over is the locket. Periodically, you'll run across people that are feeling depressed, or unenthusiastic. Using this locket, you can 'borrow' feelings from other people to cure this. Not only is this mechanic used in some sidequests, but it is also essential to completing the game, that you make full use of this.
In addition, there is also an Alchemy system, where you combine ingredients to get new items. This is tied into a few sidequests, and is also a key mechanic to get some of the best stuff in the game, as well as a good way to make money, if you can find ready supplies of ingredients.
Finally, let's go over the spells. The reason I'm going over this in more detail is because spells serve a much bigger purpose in this game than in other RPGs. In most RPGs, spells are relegated to attacking enemies, or supporting and healing allies. But in this game, spell use goes beyond that. Nearly every spell Oliver gets is used at some point outside of battle. Need to light a lantern? Use that Fireball spell you've got. Need to freeze something in a dungeon? There's a spell for that too. Many of this game's puzzles require this kind of judicious use of your magic to solve. Just make sure you don't run out of MP in the process.
The music is composed by the world renowned Joe Hisaishi (who also composed the music for various Miyazaki films). It is in a word, brilliant. Every single track is great, and that isn't something I can usually say about a game. But it's true in this case. Every track feels right for what it's used for, and you'll find yourself often times standing in one area, just so you can hear the music for that area.
In fact, I would venture to say that out of all the points in this review, the music comes on the strongest. Honestly though, I can't think of anything to say beyond this that would do it justice. Just get the game or listen to some of it online and you'll see what I'm talking about.
The main story will run you around 50 to 60 hours. However, this game does have quite a bit of replay value, in the numerous sidequests there are, and the fact that you have to keep playing after the final story boss to see everything. In addition, I know for a fact I'm going to play through the game a second time after having beaten it.
Replay Value: 9/10
Overall, this is a game I highly recommend to any avid RPG collector. If you are in the mood for a JRPG, or just want to try something a little bit different, I urge you to pick this one up. You won't be disappointed.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/24/13
Game Release: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (US, 01/22/13)
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