Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a prime example of a video game that players wouldn’t simply stumble upon if it weren’t for the raving reviews. It’s the first game in recent memory that I turned to other reviewers for advice to drive my purchasing decision. Upon first glance, it looks like a childish JRPG with a colorful palette, but nothing else really going for it, at least nothing that stands out to grab the consumers attention. The name is off putting and even the box art is bland and boring. Until I saw the shocking number of positive reviews, Ni No Kuni was just another stupidly named game I wasn’t about to give a second of my time.
I’m not sure what drove me to give Ni No Kuni a chance, but I’m glad I did. Throughout my playthrough I found myself constantly pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The fact I was so easily ready to pass this masterpiece off as another half-hearted JRPG causes my heart to ache in the worst way.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PlayStation 3)
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Released: January 22, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 [Buy Now]
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the story of a young boy named Oliver and a fairy named Mr. Drippy. They travel between parallel worlds in an attempt to save someone dear to Oliver and restore order to the magical world he finds himself adventuring through. The story has everything you’d expect from a JRPG – everything from airships to cheerful creatures with a complex existence. I really want to go into more detail about the story, but I believe it’s best to experience that first hand. You can always Google more info on the story if you wish, but I’ll be damned if I ruin the beauty of Ni No Kuni for the unsuspecting passerby.
As much as I hate to say it, I had a hard time getting into it at first. This is likely because I didn’t know what to expect going into Ni No Kuni dry and with next to no knowledge of the game. The first hour or two of Ni No Kuni were hours that didn’t feel wasted, but they certainly felt different. It’s hard to describe without spoiling the game for potential newcomers, but I think it’s safe to say that my first impression was that of a diehard Dragon Ball Z fan finally sitting down to watch a light-hearted Hayao Miyazaki anime movie. If you grew up on Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Naruto, you’re going to have a hard time adapting to an anime or game with a slower pace and feeling.
Of course, Ni No Kuni is an acquired taste. It’s a game you will either love, hate or respect from a distance. It’s never a pain to watch, but depending on the type of gamer playing it, it could ultimately be their worst nightmare. As someone who hasn’t legitimately enjoyed a JRPG since Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, I still find myself constantly blown away by the shear amount of devolution that went into the creation of Ni No Kuni. I believe Ni No Kuni is to video games as Howl’s Moving Castle is to anime. Honestly, I found myself looking up Hayao Miyazaki to see if he had any involvement with the game. He didn’t, but the similarities and inspiration are there. Ni No Kuni just might be the game that’s able to close the “games are art” argument once and for all.
Combat in Ni No Kuni is a blend of real-time and turn-based combat. It’s certainly interesting, but it takes a while to get used to and the number of distracting tutorial pop-ups during your first few battles certainly interrupts the flow. During combat, the always energetic Mr. Drippy will hop around and toss life and mana orbs on the battlefield, so players will never find themselves tapped dry for very long.
There’s a whole creature collecting metagame as well. While there’s certainly some Pokémon comparison, the way you go about capturing these creatures, called familiars, is quite unique. You can’t tame familiars right off the bat and have to wait until a certain party member joins your entourage of two. Once she’s in the picture, her harp can sway the hearts of familiars after you’ve beaten them in combat. If you’re not quick enough to play the tune, they will run off. Familiars can even evolve into more powerful creatures through “metamorphosing” when fed certain gems. When they metamorphose, they get stronger, look different and can learn more tricks. But there is a catch to this feature. When your familiar metamorphoses, they revert back down to level one. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, though. Once trained back up they are even more powerful than they were before. It’s a slight nuisance, but one that’s quite worth the trouble.
The soundtrack consists of an original score by Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Joe Hisaishi has composed scores for My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. If you found yourself in love with the soundtracks from those animated masterpieces, you will fall in love with the soundtrack of Ni No Kuni. If there’s one problem I have with the music, it’s the combat music. In most cases it’s not a problem and not even noticeable because most fights end long before the track starts to loop, but during extended battles the distinct sound of the track ending is enough to kill the immersion. When you’re going to loop music, it needs to be seamless. Sadly this is not the case with the combat music in Ni No Kuni. With that said, it’s not really a problem, just a notable nuisance I found myself growing tired of encountering.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is not a game for everyone, but the people it is for will find themselves in complete awe at the charming atmosphere, beautiful music and level of depth that’s not seen in most modern JRPG’s. Even if Ni No Kuni doesn’t look like a game you think you would enjoy, I strongly suggest you reach out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. It just might be the game that has you falling in love with a genre you’ve long grown tired off.