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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch review

Excellent
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AT A GLANCE
  • Charming cast of characters and familiars
  • Dazzling hand-drawn artwork and character models
  • Plenty of side quests and extra content
  • Skews toward the simplistic
  • Mr. Drippy's occasional quips
  • Oliver's tragic travails

If you're a fan of Japanese animation or animated films in general, you've likely marveled at My Neighbor Totoro or dabbed at tears during Grave of the Fireflies at some point in your life. Storytelling just doesn't get much better than the delightful Studio Ghibli films, starring wistful adolescents with heartfelt wishes and plights that could reach even those with a heart of stone. Now, a collaboration between the evocative animation studio and Professor Layton developer Level-5 has found a successful balance between interactive media and film. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a sparkling gem of an RPG, thanks to engaging gameplay and stellar presentation.

Beginning in the American pastoral Motorville, players follow Oliver, a young boy whose forced to travel to another world to save his mother. It's an intriguing set-up, one in which Oliver must grow up prematurely, accepting his role as "the pure-hearted one" in order to defeat the dark Djinn Shadar. In typical Studio Ghibli fashion, the situation takes a decided turn toward the bizarre, with Oliver's stuffed animal, Mr. Drippy, turning animate and the two venturing forth to a parallel world in a bid to rescue his own world from its impending doom. The story's unexpectedly heavy and is a bit to take in, but you'll find yourself with a smile to match Oliver's once the journey gets underway. Ni no Kuni's gentle pace feels ethereal and believable; it's poignant in a hallmark Ghibli way.

"The story's unexpectedly heavy and is a bit to take in, but you'll find yourself with a smile to match Oliver's once the journey gets underway."

More than just a good story, Ni no Kuni boasts robust action-oriented combat, exploration, and a Pokémon-esque "Familiar" system that allows players to find and recruit bizarre creatures to aid in battle. Aside from Familiars and what they bring to the table, standard, comfortable Japanese RPG tropes are found here in abundance. Dungeons are ripe for excavation, towns are reliable safety-and-restocking places, and leveling up comes with sweet surprises and automatic upgrades. You can move about the field during battle, so strategic movement and positioning in the heat of the moment can drastically lessen damage dealt by enemies and keep you in the clear.

Familiars spice up what could have easily been just another exercise in Dragon Quest-like combat. Monsters ranging from anthropomorphic cats to less-than-attractive Totoro-like imps wander about the overworld, acting as adversaries and allies. You're able to acquire hundreds of Familiars from 14 different genuses, each outfitted with special abilities, attributes, and affinities that govern their effectiveness in battle and when combined with other monsters.

"Familiars spice up what could have easily been just another exercise in Dragon Quest-like combat." 

Oliver can travel with three different Familiars, each with its own set of armor, weapons, and items. Their leveling system is just as well-rounded as Oliver's, and raising Familiars becomes a game on its own as you spend most of your time mixing and matching monsters in Oliver's stash. It's addictive stuff, and part of what will keep you glued to Ni no Kuni long after your quest has been completed--especially when you factor in the complete control you're given over these adorable little scamps' actions.

Bounty hunts and a crafting system are available for players looking for some extra credit between traveling across the lush forests and through a lavish overworld. Bounty hunts pit players against stronger Familiars for a delectable challenge, and alchemy can be used to further develop Familiars to keep them ready for battle. In addition to these augments, Ni no Kuni sports heartwarming side quests that follow Oliver in his attempts to cheer up and empower townsfolk. There's plenty to do--you just have to go out and look for it between major plot points.

It's easy to forget you're playing a video game at times thanks to the excellent English voice cast (though you may choose Japanese audio if you prefer), landscapes that wouldn't look out of place in a stylized painting, and a breathtaking score by way of Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic. Every aspect of Ni no Kuni's presentation is gorgeous, and the constant reminders of such high-quality construction are certainly appreciated.

"Of course, with a game clearly aimed at players of all ages, you'd be correct in assuming it's a bit simpler than necessary."

Of course, with a game clearly aimed at players of all ages, you'd be correct in assuming it's a bit simpler than necessary. The grinding is kept to a minimum and battles move at a satisfying pace, but in the end it's not a challenging experience. The focus here is on the dazzling visuals, the heartrending plight of Oliver, and the magical world he's found himself whisked away to. The total package more than makes up for its slight discrepancies when it comes to more “hardcore” RPG sensibilities, and as it stands there's plenty of content here so that you won't be bored over the course of the 35 hour-plus game.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is stunning, gripping, and touching in all the right ways. Studio Ghibli could have drawn from any film in its well-established stable, but crafting from the ground up with Level-5 resulted in what is one of the best RPGs available on the PlayStation 3. Children, adults, and the young-at-heart alike should find common ground with Oliver and his plucky sidekick Mr. Drippy. Like magic, you just have to believe.

More Info

Release date: Jan 22 2013 - PS3 (US)
Jan 25 2013 - PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, DS
Genre: Role Playing
Developed by: Level-5
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling, Tobacco Reference, Mild Language

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24 comments

  • SDHoneymonster - June 15, 2013 9:55 a.m.

    Only real complaint I have about this wonderful game is that it starts to drag big time towards the end of the story, Return Of The King style. You reach what you think is the natural end to the tale, only to find you have another few hours to go. In a time when people complain about how short some games are it seems silly to do so about one being too long, but the final stretch of the game struggled to keep me engaged. Still a wonderful game though, and some people will of course say that the more of it the better! Well worth buying, with some of the most memorable characters, locations and music (oh God, the glorious music) I've seen in games.
  • Balaska - February 2, 2013 4:37 a.m.

    I wouldn't say Ni No Kuni scews towards the simplistic, there is plenty to do and lots of customisation. Don't confused perfectly explained and easy to understand with simplistic. Also loving this game, I no longer care about some grizzled meat head ushering forth buckets of gore from hideous enemies. Also, worth it for His Meowjesty King Tom alone.
  • jackthemenace - January 27, 2013 2:20 a.m.

    Huh, I hadn't realised there'd been a demo; I'lll definitely give it a go. I'd been watching this curiously, and I could tell far in advance that it was going to get good reviews, but I wasn't sold on it, and now I see why- the familiar system sounds annoying as hell. It was bad enough in Kingdom Hearts 3D and Disgaea and stuff, and I wish developers would just leave it to GameFreak and give us proper, RPG characters like Bioware does.
  • TanookiMan - January 23, 2013 8:55 a.m.

    Given the generally positive reviews I've been reading, I'm surprised this didn't sell better in Japan. I heard it didn't do too great there.
  • dcobs123 - January 23, 2013 5:31 p.m.

    Too busy playing Monster Hunter probably.
  • ZenRobot - January 23, 2013 1 a.m.

    this review reminds me of one of those book reports i would write when i hadn't really read the entire book.
  • ThatGamerDude - January 22, 2013 9:50 p.m.

    Nice Review. I just bought the game but I haven't played it yet. I should probably get to that!
  • winner2 - January 22, 2013 8:15 p.m.

    I hadn't thought about it much, but I might pick it up at some point. I've never been one for anime that's so "nice" and fairy tale esque, more of a ghost in the shell kind of watcher, but I guess I'll give it a shot.
  • dcbernman - January 22, 2013 6:21 p.m.

    I want the PS4 to come out already so I can get a PS3 for cheaps and play this ><
  • JMarsella09 - January 22, 2013 4:22 p.m.

    Well that's settled.
  • slimjim441 - January 22, 2013 4:05 p.m.

    10 minutes into the game so far, and I can't even words. :P
  • taokaka - January 22, 2013 3:17 p.m.

    After the countless brilliant reviews I've seen for this game I need to go preorder immediately.
  • garnsr - January 22, 2013 2:48 p.m.

    I didn't like the demo that much, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to go back to super grindy JRPGs any more, but this sounds more my speed these days, more exploration and ambiance than fights that take hours.
  • Cyberninja - January 22, 2013 2:54 p.m.

    I didn't like the demo either so I plan on getting it the moment it has a sale.
  • profile0000 - January 22, 2013 2:46 p.m.

    Picked up my copy earlier today. I'm having a great time with it so far, but yes, it does feel like it leans more towards the "simplistic" side.
  • shawksta - January 22, 2013 2:22 p.m.

    Awesome to see it did well, hope it does well and doesn't get ignored cause "Waaaah its cartoonish" that would be a pathetic shame if it did
  • ObliqueZombie - January 22, 2013 2:19 p.m.

    "Skews towards the simplisitc." It's Studio Ghibli! That's the charm. But all in all, good review and very small bad points. The demo was stellar. I can't wait to pick this us.
  • Moondoggie1157 - January 22, 2013 1:49 p.m.

    Loved the demo, and now this review is giving me even more reason to pick it up. I'll definitely be buying this new.

Showing 1-20 of 24 comments

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