Published on December 13th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
As a huge fan of turn-based Japanese RPGs, when Ni No Kuni was announced in the west I was the most excited I have ever been for a game, I mean, it’s made by Level 5, who helped create one of my favourite ever games on the PS2, and the story and characters are of Studio Ghibli design, the very same who brought us Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.
Ni No Kuni is a turn-based action RPG on the PS3 and DS, however only the Playstation version has been released so far, and is published by Namco Bandai. Turn-based action games are fairly rare, Kingdom Hearts and Tales of games, being the most famous ones that spring to mind, the combat in this leans more towards the RPG side, with limited necessity for advanced movement and action mostly revolving around basic attacks and magic instead of various moves.
The game features a spell book which is used frequently throughout the game for reference, in the UK a special edition was released which features a hardback version of this book, however due to many issues involving its release, I shelved it for a while.
After release there were some rather mediocre reviews, many people who haven’t played RPGs since the 90’s were hyped for the game and most were left unsatisfied, so lets unravel some of this, in the opinion of a cynical RPG fan.
It begins with a young boy named Oliver who lives in a town called Motorville, that looks a lot like Pleasantville and undoubtedly is set in our world. However, Oliver’s life is turned upside down when his mother tragically dies leaving him all alone. Until he cries on a stuffed toy which morphs into a small creature and tells him that there is a way to save his mother, by saving another version of her in another world, namely, his world. However, the soulmate of his mother has become trapped by an evil entity known as Shadar who plagues the other world, so he must learn magic and become a great wizard if he hopes to defeat him.
The game is astoundingly beautiful, it is no doubt the greatest asset, there were minimal graphical errors and throughout it was a picture of perfection, it’s cel-shaded so it will probably look fantastic in about 10 years too. The world map is detailed however the camera is zoomed out, so the immersion is unfortunately lost on it, however, towns and dungeons are up close and personal, and creatures are featured in game instead of being random encounters which feels more believable.
Everyone knows it looks great so lets no linger on the painfully obvious.
The battle sequences are somewhat cluttered, there are lots of characters running around and lots of niggledy piggledy things to keep your eye on and to be thinking about at the same time. This can be rather difficult in boss battles when characters get in the way or you can’t focus on enemy attacks due to cast spells and maintaining your team, which you spend a lot of time doing because your allies’ AI has a death wish.
At first it is very hard to get used to but is rather fun when you have, however the lack of action does mean that it isn’t as intrinsically fun during battles as perhaps other action RPG games. The difficulty is higher than your Final Fantasy but is overall about average in other Japanese RPGs. Bosses seem to dip in difficulty while enemies wear down the MP and HP of you and your characters unnaturally fast, making the replenishment upon levelling much needed.
Tutorials in the game aren’t… well, in the game. They usually consist of text boxes which are very tempting to disappear when they pop up, which leads to you being a little clueless about how something works. At the same time, the game also gives you too much information, with all the next objectives being clearly marked on the map and a piece of text at the top telling you what you have to do, one of the game’s features, restoring people’s lost hearts is made further obvious by them telling you which emotion they are lacking, instead of letting you figure it out for yourself. There is an option to get rid of the map markers, but it’s hard to feel the desire to turn them off, knowing they are there and are default. The random characters in towns have a flashing circle identifying that they have a quest for you, this means that you end up associating villagers with either being useful or useless, so I didn’t speak to many NPCs.
The world feels rather small and the game lacks a lot of scope both in the world building and in the story, there seems to be something entirely unepic about it, and with some of the characters coming across as one dimensional the whole atmosphere is a bit stoic and rigid. The story has no real flow to it, with many characters existence being entirely pointless outside of game related things like quests or boss fights, eventually it picks up towards the end, but the ball gets dropped again leaving the ending note a little bit unfulfilling.
Ni No Kuni is a good game, the numerical values ascribed to it aren’t low, but there are many problems, mostly small which all add up to a bigger picture which is a little disappointing, where Dragon Quest dominates the video game market, so does Studio Ghibli with animé, both have the same feel to them in their respective mediums.
But this is a video game, and Studio Ghibli have made it clear that this isn’t an area they have experience in.
It doesn’t feel like an epic adventure, it just feels too… gamey.
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