Review by BigReed

"Jeepers! This is where Jrpgs should have been 6 years ago!"

The Good:
Beautiful art style by Studio Ghibli, fun monster collecting system, likable characters, one of the best soundtracks in gaming this gen, fun battle system, good player direction

The Bad:
While the characters are enjoyable, they are still boring most of the time, lack of player control in more intense battles, somewhat slow pacing

Not too long ago, the gaming industry had an entirely different landscape when it came to role playing games. There was no segmentation of jrpgs and wrpgs, they were simply just referred to as role playing games, and there was peace. Western developers also had a much different take on the role playing genre at the time, and most of those games took refuge on the PC home front. Now, in 2013, the role playing genre is split in half with each side taking shots at the other for the themes and stereotypes that make up the respective sides. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a perfect example of where jrpgs should have been 6-7 years ago. The Japanese used to have a firm grip over the gaming industry, and titles like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger were examples of main stream titles that have now gone “niche”.

Ni no Kuni is developed by Level 5, a company well known for plenty of fabulous role playing titles, but also a company that has its name tied to some very poor examples of console jrpgs such as the White Knight series. Level 5 is back however, and even though Ni no Kuni is late to this generation of consoles, it still proves that jrpgs do have a place in the industry, and they can still continue to impress and spark many emotions from players. Sadly though, Ni no Kuni also represents the fall from grace of the genre at the same time. Very few polished console jrpgs have made their way to the west because of a lack of interest and the language barrier, which is now more present than it ever has been before.

Familiar, yet fresh

A young boy (possibly with amnesia) sets out on a journey to save somebody, or the world. On his quest, which of course starts off in an area within a forest, he'll meet people that eventually become his friends and party members. They'll stay at inns, and buy their weapons and items from their respective dealers .They'll travel by boat and air, and eventually attempt to thwart the evil wizard. Sound familiar? To Ni no Kuni's credit, while it does follow a stereotypical template, it still does plenty to keep things fresh, especially for a jrpg in recent years. This has been one of the biggest complaints of jrpgs; very little change within any of the various themes that represent the games. Ni no Kuni sets out to prove that you can keep the heart of a jrpg and still produce a fun and successful title, even in the western markets.

Combat mixes turn based and active elements, sadly with bad AI

As time rolls by, role playing games continue to employ more action based combat systems. Western role playing games are almost exclusively action based, with some titles being able to be considered other genres like shooting. Even jrpgs such as Final Fantasy have moved past the older style battle systems where the player has full control over what each character can do including healing, attacking, defending, and using items. Ni no Kuni mixes action with turn based mechanics to create a battle system that utilizes monsters (familiars) that you can collect, morph, equip, and control in battle. Generally speaking, the battle system functions as it should, and does a fine job of showcasing all the elements of the system to the player. You can actually play the game either on easy or normal, and you can change the difficulty during the game. Both modes offer a bit of challenge, especially during the boss battles. Grinding through battles can actually be pretty fun. Considering how many battles you'll actually have during the game, it's nice to see that Level 5 kept the battle system engaging even after you've competed over a thousand of them.

While the battle system is fun, it does have one major flaw: the AI of your partners is nowhere near as effective as the player can be. This becomes highly problematic whenever extreme circumstances arise. Is your entire party low on health? Healing up can be a hassle when your allies blow through their magic power. Even with the ability to set the tactics for each of your allies, they never truly do the best they possibly can. This will always be a problem as long as players are forced to rely on AI in their party. Several boss battles throughout the adventure could require a bit of grinding to make up for the poor decision making of your party members.

Monsters to collect and evolve…I mean morph

The familiars that you will find throughout Ni no Kuni not only serve as your friends in the adventure, but they also serve as the main bulk of your actual “party” in terms of the battles. While Oliver has a set of combat spells he can use, the monsters you collect can actually have weapons and armor equipped to them, and will use abilities to support their allies or do damage to other familiars. Oliver, with the help of his party members, can actually tame new monsters after defeating them in battle. The capture rate early on in the game seemed pretty fair. Every few battles I was able add a new familiar to my arsenal. Later on in the game, and especially towards the end, taming new familiars was few and far between. This became very tedious during side quests that required you to tame specific familiars and show them to the quest giver (I hate you derwin).

As familiars gain experience, they'll eventually reach a level where they can be morphed into a new form. Morphing a familiar will reset their level back to one, but once they begin leveling up their stats will be much more improved over the previous form. Familiars have three forms, with the final form resulting in a choice between two final forms for the player. Generally, the forms are split by type strengths and weaknesses, abilities, and stat points. When approaching the final level, you can expect it to take quite a few battles to get your familiar leveled up to a usable status. This means that you'll have to be careful when morphing multiple familiars at once so you can still have a functioning party. There is also very little change from the first to last level in terms of appearance. Normally how your familiar looks when you first acquire it is how it's going to look when you fully level it. Overall, familiars were a fun idea, and the amount of available monsters allows for plenty of post game play.

Recommendation: Buy it

Ni no Kuni is a game that was a long time coming. For some reason, jrpgs have had a huge problem having any significant impact on consoles in the West. Final Fantasy 13 was successful in terms of sales, but was an extremely polarizing title. Ni no Kuni is able to include all of the themes common in the genre, while still including a likable cast and fun battle system that is able to be enjoyed by a variety of gamers. If you own a ps3, and enjoy role playing games, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a title that must be in your collection. Even if jrpgs aren't normally your thing, Ni no Kuni is a fine example of all the good things that jrpgs represent.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/25/13, Updated 03/01/13

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

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