Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a massive game. So big, that we are bringing you our impressions of the first twenty hours of the game while you wait for the full review. Rewinding back, Ni No Kuni began its life in Japan as a DS game developed and published by Level 5 in 2010. The PS3 version of the game released a year later to similar reception, though not the same enthusiasm in terms of sales. The game stayed put for well over a year as we anxiously awaited Namco Bandai’s localization of the PS3 version of this JRPG treasure.
The first thing that will strike anyone that sets eyes upon Ni No Kuni; the art direction is simply stunning. The efforts of Level 5 were supplemented by Studio Ghibli, one of the premiere Anime studios that brought us the Mayao Hiyazaki classics, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Spirited Away”. The cutscenes are fantastic, and would not be out of place next to any of Studio Ghibli’s other work. The style of the rest of the game pulls directly from the cutscenes, giving us a lush, bright, colorful cel-shaded look. It is truly a sight to behold, and one of the best looking games on PS3, from the overworld to the dungeons to the cutscenes and everything in between.
Like many of its forebears, Ni No Kuni suffers from a bit of a slow start in terms of gameplay (plot-wise, there is a significant event not twenty minutes into the game). The game’s mechanics are slowly spoon-fed to the player, stacking small step after small step to lead the player to the point where they can become autonomous. This includes menu options, elements of the battle system, usage of different types of stores and items, and types of quests offered. Twenty hours in, I am still not sure that I am “allowed” to all of the things that are possible in the game. This can be slightly frustrating at times for JRPG veterans, as many things are the same as they have always been. But there are times where one can find the tutorials to be helpful, as the game does introduce a few elements that are on the roads less travelled by.
Ni No Kuni is not Pokemon. This comparison has been made in countless discussions about the game, but I just do not see it. Last time I checked, Pokemon did not have a real-time battle system that allows you to directly control, reposition, defend, and attack with the monster in your party. And I have certainly never seen Red run out there and smack a Bulbasaur in the face with a magic stick. If anything, Ni No Kuni is the Pokemon game that we have clamored for over a decade and have never gotten. As you progress through the game, monsters will join your party. They become the bread and butter of the way you play your battles.
While Oliver is a powerful mage, you will be relying on these monsters to do the dirty work for you, as they feature a variety of abilities and strong physical power that Oliver does not have. These monsters share the main character’s HP and MP meters thanks to the fact that they are tied to Oliver’s own heart. If one faints, everyone faints. To add more complexity to this, the monsters have their own stamina gauges; if one of them is pushed too hard, they will get to tired to continue and will have to switch out and recharge. This allows for hectic and fun lengthy battles, where the player will be forced to move from monster to monster and find different ways to survive and deal damage while the more appropriate monster recharges. Boss battles in particular are a lot of fun, and plentiful too.
Within the context of the first twenty hours of the game, players will have the opportunity to fight numerous bosses, collect multiple monsters, upgrade their equipment, and travel to several diverse locations. The game begins in Oliver’s home world of Motorville, a small suburban landscape that seems a bit old-fashioned in terms of technology and way of life. Once he is transported to the next world, he finds things to be quite a bit different. The kingdoms that comprise the other world are very fantasy-like, and each reflect the environment around them; the first is lush and green, near a forest; the second, very Aladdin inspired, located in a desert; and so on. This is all disjointed with Oliver’s frequent trips to and from Motorville, where he travels to find clues about events in the other world. This really helps to highlight the sense that we are bouncing back and forth between two dimensions, and it works really well. Within these kingdoms, players will find plenty of story missions, side quests, and explorable dungeons to loot. Each kingdom will require multiple sittings, which is a treat because it allows them to be thoroughly explored.
Despite the slow start, Ni No Kuni is an extremely engaging game. The story is well-told, the gameplay is compelling and different from other games in the genre, and it is just plain gorgeous to look at and admire. It is expected that there are at least another thirty hours to dig into, and we cannot wait to share the rest of our thoughts on the game. Look for the full review soon!