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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

In our original Ni No Kuni review, our Editor-in-Chief, Matt Sainsbury, awarded the title a perfect score in his glowing review. The intention of this second opinion review isn’t to criticise the game or the differences in our opinions of it, but to share the experience from another perspective. Just like in life itself, it’s the little things within Ni No Kuni that matter the most and it’s an experience that will never leave me for the rest of my days.

Throughout the history of gaming, each year we have a few standout titles that achieve greatness. Every so often though, there are those certain few titles that rise above greatness - into the realms of masterpieces; timeless classics that are cherished and loved by the majorities. While it’s subjective and depends on the genre that these titles fall into, for RPG’s, these are the likes of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts. These games excel in nearly every manner and are blended with memorable characters and grandiose storylines, even though they’re different in certain aspects. These are the games that I cherish – games that continue to live on in my memory.    

Ni No Kuni is an absolute masterpiece, just as the titles I’ve just mentioned before it. It’s not a masterpiece simply because the ever talented, Studio Ghibli (the team that brought us Spirited Away and Ponyo) was involved in the project, nor that the JRPG masters Level-5 were involved. It did not become a masterpiece because the astonishing soundtrack was composed by the famed composer Joe Hisaishi or that this brilliant arrangement was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra either. No. It’s a masterpiece because the team came together as one and shared each of its unique talents, experience and passion to bring this wonderful world to life. Finding a way to turn a two hour animated theatrical film into a 40+ hour videogame that retains the immersion and emotional levels found within a typical Studio Ghibli film is a daunting task. But this team has done it and Ni No Kuni deserves your attention.

The emotional storyline grips your heart within the first hour of starting your long journey. For the sake of spoilers, I’m shying away from speaking about even the slightest details of the game’s plot – it’s absolutely wonderful and not to be spoiled. The game’s protagonist, Oliver, is an adorable young boy who’s a little unsure of himself, but has a heart of pure gold, courage and determination like none other. You simply can’t help yourself from letting Oliver tug on your heartstrings – it isn’t possible. As the game progress and you gain new mates to take along with you on your travels, each of them has a unique personality and story that always builds to the game’s charming atmosphere. Every new character you meet, each new world you explore and every town you spend time within – each one holds its own sense of style, personality and mood – always building into the amazing experience that is Ni No Kuni.       

Stunning animations and visuals that feature a watercolour styling that only be achieved by the talented Studio Ghibli and its brilliant soundtrack sets the game’s mood into perfect balance – it’s is pure bliss to the senses. You’ll spend hours conversing with denizens within the word’s unique locals, but it’s also here where you’ll see just how great the writing is too. It’s one thing to have great translation from the original Japanese text, but here the translation is beyond excellent. Not only do different towns (and townsfolk) have their own unique style, but they feature their own unique twist on language as well. For example, the cat people within the game pronounce words that start with “pr” as “purr,” This means that “perfect,” becomes “purrfect,” This is but one small example, but it’s just these little minute details that are so cleverly implemented that brings this world to life so stunningly well; the world of Ni No Kuni is a magical place and it comes to life just as the Pride Lands of Africa come to life in Disney’s The Lion King.

The fine details make an impression in nearly every aspect: incredibly fluid character animations, superb voice acting – even the dialogue is kept to short, snappy conversations that stay on topic, yet still written in such a way that the narratives flow smoothly. Even the CG animations are cleverly clipped within written dialogue segments instantaneously for additional dramatic effect. The battle system is a mixture of fast paced real-time action and menu based combat that’s surprisingly easy to grasp hold of at first, but it gradually grows into a system that finds you managing multiple fighters onscreen per battle. Not only can you take Oliver into battle (as well as his other companions), but there’s a Pokémon-esque feature built into the game as well. These lovable creatures are called Familiars and they assist you in battle. But these are also the same enemies that roam the overworld, which means that you can actually start collecting familiars too. Each of them can be levelled to harness new powers and abilities, and you can even feed them regularly for additional stat bonuses as well. I had no idea that I’d find a “gotta catch ‘em all” theme here, but I did and I’m absolutely addicted to it.

From a gameplay standpoint, what’s here is standard fare for a typical JRPG: linear storyline, tonnes of side quests for additional resources and items, and a high random encounter rate. While you can see enemies on the overworld, they will chase after you upon getting too close to them. Once your levels get too high for them though, they’ll start to run away from you – significantly lessening the encounter rate for that area. Upon entering new areas though, expect to find yourself battling quite extensively. For some Westerners this could be an issue, but each area finds a whole new batch of enemies, or should I say: familiars? Not only can these familiars be tamed, their names and designs are always creatively crafted to coincide with each other, which is oftentimes quite humorous. When you come across a kitten called Purrloiner that’s standing on two feet, dressed in pirates’ garbs and wielding a sword – you just have to have him. Once you do and you level him up until he morphs into a Puss in Boots, well… you just can’t help but to love this game.

Ni No Kuni is nothing short of extraordinary.  It’s one of those rare few pieces of entertainment that will proudly stand through the test of time. From its emotional narratives that will find you giggling like a child one minute and holding back tears the next, to its outstanding visual and auditory presentations – Ni No Kuni is a pure masterpiece; a timeless classic that will live on within in you for the rest of your days.




- Christopher Ingram
Find me at Twitter: @Slapshot82  



Review: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
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