Though previous console generations were dominated by the JRPG, they have taken the back-burner in recent times. Many of them don't even appear on the main consoles anymore, instead being distributed on mobile and handheld devices. They've become so scarce on the console that when one does pop up it's hard to ignore. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch aims to set itself apart from your typical JRPG by trying something different. Ni No Kuni is a collaboration of efforts between Japan's favourite animation studio Ghibli and one of the most popular JRPG developers, Level 5.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch begins with you taking control of an innocent kind hearted child named Oliver. You start off picking up some groceries for Oliver's mother, who is a single parent. Along the way one of Oliver's friends persuades him to sneak out after hours to try out a new motor vehicle he just finished working on. This all leads to an accident that ends up claiming the life of Oliver's mother.
After days of weeping, Oliver's tears awaken a fairy, which informs Oliver of an alternate world which has been blemished with evil. The Welsh speaking fairy (named Drippy) tells Oliver that everybody in Oliver's own reality is bound to somebody else inside Drippy's world, and hence there may be a way to save his mother after-all. Not only that, but Oliver's kind hearted nature makes him capable of being the savior that Drippy's world needs to cleanse it from evil.
Oliver agrees to follow Drippy into his reality and then assumes the role of a Wizard. This is where the adventure really begins. And thus comes my first gripe with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch. Once you finally step into the world of Ni No Kuni with Drippy, you assume that it will be non-stop intense adventuring from here on. However the story develops very slowly at this point, and there's an abundance of tutorial material that assumes you are stone stupid. The worst part is that you don't have the option to skip any of the tutorial material. I found it very irritating, as many times I would be ready to battle and begin tapping away on the X button, to find that instead of firing an attack I'm actually scrolling through Drippy's paragraphs of tips. These tutorials would have been more tolerable had they spaced them out more, instead of trying to cram all of this knowledge in so early into the experience.
Once it gets going the gameplay is pretty sweet, and if you've played a JRPG before you'll feel at home with it. The game features a semi turn-based battle system. There's a timer between your attacks and you can only perform one attack at a time, but you also have the freedom to move around the battle area and collect HP and MP orbs. The real treat of Ni No Kuni's battle system is the ability to gain creatures that fight for you called Familiars. Of course this isn't exactly an innovative idea as we've seen it in games like Pokemon, but regardless Ni No Kuni handles familiar collecting well and there are literally hundreds to look for.
Questing is an integral part of all RPG's, and Ni No Kuni is no different. The quests during the first 5 hours of the game are very basic, but eventually you'll find yourself taking part in epic quests that aren't even part of the main story. One feature I liked was being given a reward card by the king in the first town. Every time you complete a quest for somebody in the town you receive a stamp on your card, and once you receive the maximum amount of stamps you can turn it in for a reward. It's incentives like this that keep you going in any game.
Ni No Kuni allows you to save the game from the main menu as long as you are not in a dungeon or cave. Once you get into one of these no save environments things get intense as waypoints will be few and far between, meaning you'll lose your progress if you die. However, the game does give you the chance to pay up if you don't want to lose your progress. This feature may seem god sent at first, but if you're in an area with very difficult enemies then you can imagine how dying too frequently can be costly.
Visually there's no denying that Ni No Kuni: Wrath of White Witch is a gorgeous creation, but nothing less was expected from Ghibli. The game is literally like a living breathing anime presentation, and I can often feel myself leaving my seat to be fully absorbed by this captivating fantasy world. Playing the game really feels like you are escaping reality to enter an alternate life, and it's not just because of the eccentric Japanese storytelling.
One thing I pay close attention to in JRPG's is the soundtrack, because they are well known for having well composed music in their games. Ni No Kuni definitely has some very pleasant music to go along with the magical setting, but I wouldn't put it up there with say a Final Fantasy soundtrack.
If you're a long time fan of the JRPG genre then Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is certain to tickle your fancy. If you're a fan of studio Ghibli but perhaps haven't played any JRPG games previously, the amount of hand-holding at the start should help ease you into the experience. However if you have no prior experience with JRPG's or studio Ghibli then I doubt this will be the game to turn you into a believer. Either way Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is definitely one of the most standout JRPG's this generation by far.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 version of Ni No Kuni.