Review by marcomeatball

"NI NO KUNI review"

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a game that exudes beauty and charm. It has a simple elegance that enables it to rise up from the ashes of the JRPG genre bringing an experience full of nostalgia and JOY.

Level-5 and Studio Ghibli joined forces to create this game and it certainly shows. It is BEAUTIFUL. Quite a few sequences appear to be straight out of a Ghibli movie while the in-game cutscenes themselves are formed from a very particular type of cel-shading that makes you feel as though you're playing a cartoon. The over world is chock full of detail: Visible wind streaks (think Okami), swaying (giant) dandelions, clouds casting shadows on the ground, the way the waves move over the beach. These artistic details enrich the game and make the player feel like they are not just playing another game: but a work of art.

Without giving too much away, the story is exactly as you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film. A coming of age tale. A young boy named Oliver experiences great tragedy. His stuffed doll Drippy comes to life and eventually convinces Oliver to come and save Drippy's world so that he might save his own in the process. From there the adventure really begins, we see Ollie grow up before our very eyes. The voice acting in the English dub is fantastic and quite convincing. Such meticulous care was given to this game - In the Japanese version, Drippy is from Osaka and has a very particular accent, which is why he is Welsh in the English version! Who thinks to do that!

At it's core this is a traditional Japanese role-playing game. Not much emphasis is put on choice as in Western RPGs, but it's not missed. For those of us who played Final Fantasy games, this is a beautiful reminder of younger years staying up till late hours, grinding, fighting that incredibly difficult boss, constantly being driven by the desperation to find out what happens next. The fighting is the real key element to Ni No Kuni, based entirely on Active Time Battles /waiting your turn as in old school RPGs. You begin each battle by selecting a character: choosing to play as him/her or their respective familiar (think Pokemon). You can only control one character at a time, choosing an attack will generally last five seconds - at which point you will have to re-issue another command, so on and so forth. You can switch between characters or familiars at any time throughout a battle. It reminds me of Final Fantasy 12 as far as style. Players can move freely around the battle zone (which helps to dodge some physical attacks), cancel out attacks to replace them with defend or magic, and eventually the ability to shout group commands (all-defend/all-attack). Grinding is essential to continue with most sections of the game, bosses are incredibly challenging and keep you on your toes so one can never feel too confident when fighting the heavy hitters. In my 45 hours of gameplay (having not yet finished the game!) I only wanted to through my controller once! I think, however, that this comes with the territory at times with this sort of game.

Familiars are an interesting concept in a game like this - they function like Pokemon from an evolutionary and trick learning standpoint. As they level up they learn new abilities and eventually are able to metamorphose into a stronger and usually more interesting versions of themselves. The player can also feed them specific items in order to increase their certain stats. This is a highly involved aspect of the game that I have I not spent too much time with. My particular characters were strong enough throughout the game and I didn't futz too much with this whole feeding them items business. The metamorphs are pleasant but somewhat bland seeing as the general creature skin doesn't change. No two-legged familiar becomes four-legged or really drastically changes in appearance. For such a highly involved and detailed game I would have thought the familiars would have been given just a slight extra touch of variety.

Ni No Kuni also gives the player a great deal to explore and discover. There are more than enough things to do on the world map and my wunderlust was always fulfilled as I entered a new city or dungeon. These locations are interesting and never repetitive. The world is heavily varied: Grassy plains, deserts, and snow covered islands, there is plenty to see and do while in this other world. The game is also full of quests to pursue, these are interesting and original. Most require giving or taking heart from one person to another - this is the game's way of making you do fetch quests. Go here get this emotion from one NPC and bring it to this person here. It doesn't really get old and is a very fresh take on questing.

The only gripes:

1. The game does have a bit of handholding even when it supposedly stops holding your hand around five or six hours in. Ie: Drippy just gets to talking a little too much.

2. Battles (while exciting) get a little overwhelming, especially when certain party members don't necessarily carry their own weight. You'll find yourself having to bail other party members out a good amount of the time. I wish they were able to use items. Especially if they have been designated party healer, the MP will go quickly.

This is a fantastic game and certainly reminds me why buying a PS3 was a great decision. It's games like these that represent the art in video games. Gone are the days when people say that video games are for children. Ni No Kuni allows all us to feel a sense of excitement and vulnerability in our every day lives. Every step is an adventure allowing our inner child to shout for joy.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/07/13

Game Release: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (US, 01/22/13)

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