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Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (7)

Back in 2008, when Famitsu first announced a collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, expectations were understandably lofty. Considering the pedigree of both publishing houses- the former delivering acclaimed games such as Jeanne d’Arc as well as the Professor Layton series, the later crafting widely commended films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, achievement appeared probable. The crux of success hinged on a synergistic pairing by both organizations; merely aping the motifs of Hayao Miyazaki within a conventional role-playing framework could tarnish the reputations of both companies. Fortunately, the release of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PlayStation 3 reveals a partnership that is an unequivocal success,  providing one of this generation’s most gratifying and heartwarming RPGs.

While the concept of destiny is ubiquitous in the genre- often tasking a hero with surmounting amnesia to rediscover their true potential, Ni no Kuni wisely tweaks trope. Oliver, the game’s thirteen-year old protagonist isn’t the typical plucky, valiant adventurer. When we first meet the game’s lead, he’s a well- behaved young teen whose sole lapse in judgment triggers grave repercussions. Consequently, Oliver is cast into familiar Ghibli territory, as the good-natured, solitary child is forced to navigate his way through a picturesque world, reluctantly propelled into adulthood. Identification with the game’s lead comes easily, as Oliver is compassionate and virtuous. He’s a character that is genuinely concerned with helping others around him, distinguishing him from archetypical vengeance-obsessed conquerors.

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (1)Yet, developer Level-5 exhibits a little difficulty in translating the pace of a ninety-minute anime into a fifty hour game- most notably with the game’s protracted prologue. However, once players step foot into Ni no Kuni’s parallel universe, tempo transgressions occur less frequently. The alternate reality is also elevated by an eccentric cast of captivating characters. Accompanying Oliver through his voyage is Mr. Drippy, a fervent fairy brought to life by the young boy’s tears. In execution, Drippy serves as the player’s tutor, steadily explaining Ni no Kuni’s mechanics well into the eighth hour of play. Yet, the Welsh-accented companion is more than just a mere instructional chaperon, injecting the game’splotline with both levity and endearing camaraderie. His frequent interjection of the word, “tidy” proves to be nearly as charming as the Prinny dood-speak that is common to the Disgaea world.

Coupled with ancillary personalities which offer poignant juxtapositions between the real-world and Ni no Kuni’s (which literally translates to “A Second Country”) alterative reality, frequent tugs at the heart strings are common. More importantly, the typical role-playing roles are rendered with care, endowing shopkeeps, quest issuers, and other NPCs with a bit of depth. In perspective, it’s a minor addition, but one that makes the game’s universe such an enchanting place to visit.

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (5)Much like the game’s characterizations, Ni no Kuni’s mechanics elevate typical role-playing tenet. Combat builds on the rudiments of Level-5’s White Knight Chronicles series, offering turn-based strategies which depend on a bit of real-time action for success. At their core, battles require players to choose from basic policies (such as attack, defend, item use, or initiating special strike) while evading assaulting enemies and picking up the bits of health and magic that splinter off struck foes.

While players may tackle opponents directly as Oliver, generating small guardians known as familiars can help reduce the young boy’s burden against darting, random adversaries. Recalling Pokémon’s training regimen, players are tasked with the taming, cultivation, and contentment of these creatures. From feeding familiars, outfitting them with stat-boosting equipment, and even ushering them through metamorphic transformations, there’s a satisfying amount of depth in this component, which helps augment Ni no Kuni’s two-pronged attack of exploration and battling.

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (3)Regretfully, there are a few blemishes with the battle system. Even on Ni no Kuni’s easy difficulty setting,clashes are bound to confound role-playing newcomers. It’s admirable that encounters are persistently perilous and remove much of the tedium of gratuitous grinding. However, the combat interface requires attentiveness- with an ill-timed defense or errant button press often leading players to their last save point. While boss battles are enjoyable, often requiring an analysis of enemy weaknesses, elemental exploitation, and the utilization of familiar aptitude, instances of frustration are bound to be felt.

Expectantly, Studio Ghibli’s visual contributions promote Ni no Kuni past its role-playing peers.Beyond the customary aesthetics of plump, cheery-looking protagonists and slightly angular antagonists, the game is filled with lush flora-filled environments, quaint towns, and fantastical enemy design. Although the distinction between cutscene and in-game model is perceptible, Ni no Kuni reduces most of the rift, allowing gamers to become immersed in the game’s plotline. The title’s most impressive feat might be its overworld map, which exhibits a detailed, expansive draw distance, with nary a fluctuation in framerate.

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (0)Following contemporary custom, the game offers the option of either Japanese or English voiceover. While purists almost always prefer the native tongue for JRPGs, here the decision isn’t as clear-cut. In essence, Ni no Kuni’s localization is what gamers have long demanded for- subtitles and voice acting that respects the original writing, yet is still lively and absorbing in translation. Longtime Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi’s contributions (as performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra) are all emotionally stirring, providing an enriching accompaniment to the opulent on-screen visuals.

While the last two generations of consoles produced a collection landmark role-playing titles, the era has yielded few obligatory entries. In many ways, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch evokes a period when turn-based battles made hearts palpitate and earnest narrative was capable of causing heartache. It’s a reminder of the power of the genre, the possibility of future collaborations, and worthy of a  half-decade development cycle.

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch (2)

ScoreA-

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

43 comments

  1. Wow, epic freaking review man.

    This almost makes up for the lack of a DmC review.

  2. I’m slightly surprised by that minus at the end of that “A” grade but after reading the review, it seems fair.

    I have my preorder waiting for me (I couldn’t get in on the Wizard edition) and asked for two days off from work.

  3. reviewers a bit hoity toity, but good write-up. Makes me want to play the damn thing.

  4. I tried the PS3 demo and thought the combat was awful. Dragon Age 2 levels of suck. Did they fix this at all?

    • It’s a role-playing game, so they walk you though the combat system and gradually add more parts to it. Demos can’t really convey that.

      If fact, I don’t really like JRPG demos. They ruin story and only show you a very small bit of a much larger experience.

  5. Ni no Kuni why did you only get half of your title translated into english? haha the game looks fun!

  6. I’ll have to read later. I’m really interested in the game but the 49ers/Falcons game in on. This review is too long too read during a commercial break.

  7. good review. Why aren’t you on metacritic. It is because your write in english? :)

  8. I’ve read some of the jrpg reviews here before and i’m pretty sure the people who write here are biased. They barely ever give an jrpg less than a “b” and when do they it is really shitty.

    no saying ni no kuni is bad just i think you are talking it up too much. i watched spirted away and it wasn’t all that good. ok but not any better.

  9. A- game but an A+ review! Cannot wait for next week!

  10. “While the last two generations of consoles produced a collection landmark role-playing titles, the era has yielded few obligatory entries.”

    You’re going to make your friends at NIS cry with words like that!

    Great review. Would have liked to see it get an “A” but I understand there’s some problems.

  11. Not my kind of game put I liked reading the review. The Pokémon-like system sounds cool to me.

  12. “to be nearly as charming as the Prinny dood-speak that is common to the Disgaea world.”

    At first I thought this was a NIS game but it’s actually Namco. Good to see another publisher stepping up. I hope it’s profitable for them.

  13. great review as always, Robert. Did you see that Shipwreck from CAG liked it but was falling asleep with the game?

  14. I’m amazed at how close the game looks to a Studio Ghibli anime. Really gorgeous!

  15. Nice seeing a review before release day. Good work!

    and as for the review itself- top notch. For once no one can complain about IGN. Good review, good score.

    • Yeah, but I just got Game Informer and they 7.0ed it. They really tore it up.

      Funny things about the mag is that most reviewers talking about maintaining distance from PR reps to remain objective. GI posts pics of them hanging out and drinking together. Holy Geoff Keighley, badman!

  16. Reading this review was torture. I can’t wait until Tuesday. So glad to hear that NnK came out well. I remember when the demo came out, the haters got vocal.

  17. Playing as a good little 13 year old boy seems super boring and just a little too pedo.

  18. This will be my first purchase of 2013!

  19. Does Namco stick you for DLC as well?

  20. Is there a limit to the number of familiars you can own?

  21. Good job posting the review before the release date. Keep it up.

  22. Being a obedient little boy doesn’t sound fun at all. I’d much rather be the kid from Bully. How come Rock* never made a sequel?

  23. Olivers voice seems all over the place. Sometims he’s English sometimes American. (saw a twitch.tv feed). I can’t get over that.

  24. This was actually one of the better (if not longer) reviews I’ve read for NnK. I wasn’t thinking about getting this, but now I’m a bit tempted.

  25. In waiting outside my Gamestop right now. Got the call last night. Woohoo!

  26. $54.99 on PSN. Thanks, Namco!

  27. So far this is my game of the year. I don’t see anything changing until at least October.

  28. No surprise that Robert loves this one. Seems like a game made for him.

  29. Precisely how long did it take you to compose “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of
    the White Witch Review – Tech-Gaming”? It also has an awful lot of very good
    advice. Thanks a lot ,Milford

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