I’ve been a long time fan of JRPGS – in fact Chrono Trigger is my favorite game of all time. On top of that I have been a long time Hayao Miyazaki fan since I first saw Princess Mononoke. So I was extremely intrigued that Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a collaborative project between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. Ni No Kuni breathes life back into the genre offering the same feel of a 90’s JRPG, updated beautifully for a new generation. Other studios (*cough cough* Square Enix ) take note.

In Ni No Kuni you play as Oliver, a 13 year old boy (probably suffering from a growth deficiency) who lives with his mother in the humble little town of Motorville. After a tragic event (In the first 10 minutes of the game) Oliver’s mother passes away, leaving Oliver orphaned and alone. It’s soon after as he cries over the last memento he has of this mother that he breaks the curse on a strange Welsh accented fairy named Mr. Drippy Lord High Lord of the Fairies, who tells him of a way he may be able to save his mom by travelling to his world and finding her soul mate.

Oliver travels to Ni No Kuni, where he starts his journey to resurrect his mother, but also play a role in a prophecy about a boy who will save the world from the evil hands of Shadar the Dark Djinn, all while meeting up with a cast of memorable characters  from powerful sages to anthropomorphic cats, fish people and even zombies. I haven’t played a game with NPCs this entertaining  in a while.

Instead of trying to tell the tale of some battle hardened hero, or a mystical warrior out seeking revenge, NNK gives us a heart warming tale, this tale unfortunately gets stretched over the course of  Ni No Kuni’s 40+ hours of gameplay. Studio Ghibli did their best to try and keep the story interesting over that time frame as well as keep it entertaining, however it does suffer from too much padding to help fill time. I almost died when the game told me to get the proverbial Master Sword and Tri Force in the span of 5 minutes. Playing through the story something struck me, as great as Ghibli made the script for the game I was reading more text than I was hearing the dialog.

As you enter the world of Ni No Kuni the first thing anyone will notice is how amazing it looks, the art style fits perfectly for this Ghibli production. The characters, towns and creatures you face all have that glorious Ghibli feeling to them. Roaming the streets of towns and hearing the music in the background makes you feel like your walking through a Ghibli movie the first time you see them. They keep their charm each time you revisit them.

The over world  is astounding to look at, even more so once you get airborne. Everything in Ni No Kuni pops right out of the screen at you, the lines are clean and everything is animated beautifully. Ni No Kuni does away with random encounters, as you traverse the varying terrains you will see the monsters roaming the fields waiting to engage you.If you cross their sights they’ll attack, if you’re stronger than them they’ll turn tail and run away scared. In some aspects one could say that Ni No Kuni’s  cute cell shaded visuals out do other JRPGS that try to go for hyper realistic graphics.

Ni No Kuni pays homage to its predecessors by pulling different aspects of it’s gameplay from some of the greats in it’s genre. The combat is a hybrid active/turn based system.It’s basic concept feels much like Pokemon, as you use familiars in battle, switching out between them through the course of a fight.

It  adds to that by pulling from the Tales series, allowing you to move around the battle field with the left stick. You choose your actions by navigating text menus with the D-pad and you can switch between choices in your option wheel with the shoulder buttons.You use the left trigger to change between familiars or characters, and the right trigger is for changing targets. The whole thing feels a little reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII, and while the control set up takes a little getting used it all flows well once you get the hang of it.

At first glance NNK might look the combat is simply press X but it’s far more dynamic that that. Familiars are on a timer and can only be used for a certain amount of time before you need to switch them out. You’ll be moving around the screen, blocking or dodging attacks with your familiars, then switching to your human characters to use various spells and items. If you time your strikes well you can counter enemy attacks and stagger them, or defend and hope for that Gold Glim to appear and unleash your special move.

In NNK I suggest you take an active role controlling your AI companions. They aren’t stupid, in fact I would more say they are over zealous. The AI will burn through their MP if left unattended for too long. There is a tactics option in the menu where you can tell them to not use spells, but its an arduous task to fiddle with that in the middle of combat.

Pulling even more from Pokemon as you defeat enemies in you can capture and train them to fight along side you (When you see the Puss in Boot get him). On the down side the actual capture system could have been done much better. Instead of allowing you to freely capture your legion of minions Ni No Kuni forces you to rely on prayers to whatever god you believe in to catch a new familiar. After defeating an enemy, only the ones who deem you worthy of them will allow you to capture them, making capturing creatures in the late game and arduous task.

If you do manage to beat a familiar hard enough to impress him and capture him, you’ll be subjected to the arbitrary task of feeding him snacks to boost his stats. This offers no real use, the 1 or 2 extra points of attack you may have won’t equate to much in the long run. Even with your familiars stats at the max it offers no real value for the time you have to put in feeding them.

The game never gets too difficult it always keeps it self fun. Side quests are never jarring, most can be take out pretty quickly and still offer a nice change of pace from the story. Most range from the simple collection quest to some that take some real reading comprehension to complete. As well as some bounty hunting to break up the monotony. Want to test your might? Go to the Colosseum and take on some strong foes without items. If you want to take a break from the battlefield all together later in the game there are even a slew of mini games for you to play (I spent hours playing Blackjack and Platoon).

The Verdict

Ni No Kuni is a love letter to the 90’s RPG. It pays homage to its predecessors while still remaining a fresh take on the genre for this generation. You can feel the effort that Studio Ghibli and Level-5 put into the game, visually stunning, heart warming and very fun. Ni No Kuni’s  length could be its downfall for most gamers, with so much content the average gamer may not complete it. Even with it’s handful of flaws Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a gorgeous game with a great story worth of any JRPG fan’s time.