Review by WinstonCHill
"Ni no Kuni: Great Game or the Greatest Game?"
Ah Ni no Kuni. A collaboration with one of my favorite developers of all time Level 5 with one of my favorite animation studios of all time Studio Ghibli could only culminate into creating one of my favorite games of all time, right?
Well, not so much.
Although I love this game, I wouldn't go as far as to put it in the "most favorite" folder in my brain. Reasons being: some shifty AI, and most importantly, though Ghibli worked on it and it looks like Ghibli, it doesn't feel like Ghibli work.
First off, let me say what I like about this game. In terms of presentation, the game is fantastic. Level5 were dead on in making the game look like a Ghibli film. Everything is lush, wonderful, colorful and vibrant and this includes both the landscape and the people. The first thought in my mind after getting into the first town was "charming", which could be said for the rest of the game as well. There are many little interesting tidbits and details to notice in every corner of each map and it's fun to just walk around and admire the sights or explore and search for treasure.
The details are not just in the world either. Level5 included one of the coolest features in JRPGs in the form of the Wizard's Companion, the spell book/encyclopedia that Oliver receives in the beginning of the game. This in game version had me beating my head for not ordering the Wizard's Edition of the game which has the real life one. The Companion has everything from detailed maps of the world to item material locations to a complete bestiary and even old Aesop's Fables-style stories of the Second World's lore. It also happened that, the game being new and all, no one in the usual gaming forums knew where anything was so I ended up having to consult the Companion for answers to my questions. Lo and behold the answers where there and also more answers to questions I hadn't even asked yet, scribbled down in little minute details that take second glances to see. The companion really brought me into the game and puts you down in Oliver's seat as a wizard learning about a strange world.
The musical score is top notch. If you've ever watched a Ghibli film you basically know what to expect. Soft, melodic pieces and strong, sweeping orchestral hits abound. Everything fits with the location and situation at hand, though some of the music is a bit too typical in a sense. Like a "I've heard that song a bunch of times in other RPGs for locations similar to the one I'm in now" sort of deal, particularly the Almamoon and Vault of Tears themes. The Overworld and Fairyground themes though, freaking awesome.
The voice acting in the game could have used a lot of work too. Unfortunately, I just had to play Far Cry 3 not too long before Ni no Kuni and comparing the two's voice work is like comparing having your balls crushed by an elephant or having them caressed by a cool North Icelandic breeze. Oliver and Esther sound awkward all the time, but I guess that's what you get from working with children. Mr Drippy and the main villain Shadar offer exceptionally good voice work to compensate though. Also, aside from the quality of the voices is the quantity of it. There were lots of moments where a scene would be spoken with text, then all of a sudden the voices would disappear and it'll only be text. It's jarring and breaks the pace.
The battle system, at its core, is good. Fights are challenging and I actually died a once or twice from timing errors in defending against/evading attacks. The system sort of falls apart when the two supporting characters Esther and Swaine join the fray. To put it simply, they're dumb. The AI that controls the two is dumb. They waste all their MP in the beginning of the fight. They heal you when you've only taken scratch damage. They send out the wrong familiar to fight in situations where another familiar would be far more suited and they just take boss attacks to the face and do nothing to defend against it. It happened multiple times where the other members of my party died and I was left alone with Oliver to just solo bosses. Resurrection and healing items are expensive so you can't rely on them all the time. You get a new battle command feature later on in the game where you can tell them to defend or attack, but even that has its problems. You also get a bare-bones AI settings with a few options like "Do what you like" or "Keep us healthy" and "Do nothing" but again, those have problems as well. Things do pick up however, and by midway through the game you can generally understand how the AI will act well enough to control them to some extent.
Now, we get to the bad part of the game. Well, it's not necessarily bad per se, I just felt lied to. The story, to put simply, is like someone who's a Miyazaki fan tried to create a Miyazaki story but just didn't grasp what makes a Miyazaki story a Miyazaki story. Now, having the Ghibli look all plastered over the game, I had naturally assumed the game would have a Ghibli-level story. And in the beginning, the game did have that feel of being wonderfully magical and enchanting, but by the end it sort of waned down to just an above-average JRPG tale. The story itself isn't bad at all. It has plenty of character growth, decent villains, moments to give you all dem feels, and a few twists, but let's face it: it's nothing Miyazaki couldn't have come up with while half asleep taking a late-night dump. It's a Level5 story through and through. Watching the story unfold through Ghibli colored glasses made me disappointed, that's all.
So, in the end, the game is still great and there are lots to do. Hell, there's even really TWO final bosses to fight and they're both good. The game looks great, sounds great, plays decently, and has a nice story even though it wasn't up to par with my expectations. It was well worth early lines at Best Buy and my 65 dollars.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/30/13
Game Release: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (US, 01/22/13)
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