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

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Title: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (21.7 GB)
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Level-5 / Studio Ghibli
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is also available on Nintendo DS.
The PlayStation 3 disc based version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 311 of the podcast.

Gameplay: 5
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a role-playing game set in two universes that are related to one another.  As you progress through the game you will jump back and forth between the two worlds.  This interconnected element really brought a lot of purpose to me while playing it.  RPGs are not my main type of game, but because it followed a different story telling device I was really able to get into the game and stay engaged.  Now some might not consider this a key aspect of gameplay, but this made me feel more part of both worlds which enticed me to keep playing.

Like most RPGs, you start out with one main playable character, Oliver, one NPC, Drippy, and one familiar in your group. The familiars are creatures that you can control in battle, that have special abilities and can only be out for a limited amount of time during each encounter before they need to rest.  This forces players to learn how to use each familiar and not become too reliant on just one familiar.  As you progress, you add other characters that have special skills as well as more familiars.

As you make your way through the game you can travel between two worlds as well as within each world.  As you move from place to place in the other world you will see random enemies patrolling sections of the map.  If you are careful you can avoid some of these random battles.  Random battles just popping up are one major thing that can turn me off from RPGs, but this system was really refreshing.  While not all random battles could be avoided it was still nice to be able to try and avoid them if you wanted to.  One complaint I do have about the game is that I wish that I could zoom in a little more on the maps or that they could have a large key to let me know what some of the things were.

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When it comes to fighting, Ni no Kuni really shines as a game.  When you start a battle, as long as you weren’t surprised by an encounter, you have to decide who the leader of the group will be.  The leader sets up the basic strategy of your team for that battle; besides the usual stuff of being able to use attacks, magic/special abilities, deploying familiars, etc.  This is really interesting and adds a lot of strategy to battles; besides the other characters’ strategy you also determine the leader’s strategy.  This is important to do because during battles you can switch on the fly between characters in your party.

Once a battle starts up you control one character or deploy one of the familiars associated with that character.  Each familiar can only be on the battlefield for a limited time before they need to rest.  Once the familiar starts resting the timer starts recharging so you can switch back to them at a later time during the battle if you want to. Besides being able to switch between your character and associated familiars you can switch between the characters in your party, which is very easy but takes a little getting used to.

The reason for this is that battles happen in real time, and you can move around the battle area in a 3rd person mode.  There are no turns here, just fast paced action.  When you are controlling your character/familiar you can target your enemy as well as select your action.  When you select an action like attack or cast a spell you also need to pay attention to how you are facing your enemy.  Some enemies have armor on their back and attacking from the back will be less effective compared to attacking from the front.  Each action takes some time to recharge before you can use it again.  This requires you to be very aware of your surroundings at all times.

1Since things don’t happen the second you select them you need to make sure you have time to cast that healing spell before you get hit otherwise you could easily lose a battle.  You also need to keep an eye on your teammates so that they don’t fall during battle.   I can’t tell you how many times I lost a battle because I wasn’t paying attention to my teammate’s health or magic levels and they ended up dying.  As frustrating as this may sound, I never felt frustrated by the game.  This level of thought and attention to detail before and during a battle reminds me a lot of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), or even a sports game.

One other game mechanic I wanted to mention is the collecting of emotions, for lack of a better word.  Throughout the game you will run into situations where you find an NPC who is lacking in spirit, like enthusiasm, that you need to help out.  First you need to find a person who has extra enthusiasm and collect it via a spell, then go back the person who is lacking it and give it to them.  This was a strange mechanic but something I really started to like.  It ties into the emotional involvement of the story and game in a way that I hadn’t seen before.

Like most RPGs there are items to collect and side quests to go on.  While I don’t want to go into much detail on these tasks because they are fairly common, I do want to say that I highly recommend saving anything you find along the way and not selling it because you don’t think it is important.  I wasn’t able to make as many items as I would have liked to because early on I sold items that I didn’t think I needed or thought they might be optional because the game didn’t really explain them to me.  I will also say that if you get stuck on something spend a little time leveling up your characters through battles.  The nice thing is that characters and familiars level up fairly fast so if you are stuck at something you should be able to overcome it with just a little work.

Visuals:
Ni no Kuni is a JPRG and looks like what you would expect from an anime game.  All the characters are beautifully drawn with bright vibrant colors.  Each section of the world looks and feels really different, and when you are traversing the world you can see clouds moving overhead with their shadows casting down below you.  I would go so far as to say that it is one of the most beautiful games on the PS3.  Just look at the screenshots and tell me that this is not a beautiful game.

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One other aspect of the visuals I would like to touch upon, mainly thanks to Rey for pointing it out to me since he is more into RPGs than me, is that Studio Ghibli co-produced this game with Level-5.  Studio Ghibli is a famous Japanese animation film studio, and playing Ni no Kuni is similar to playing a Ghibli movie.  This just adds another immersive element to a great game. For an example of their recent film work, see Josh’s review of From Up On Poppy Hill.

Audio:
The soundtrack to the game is wonderful.  The musical score is something that I could listen to when I wasn’t playing the game, which says something because I normally don’t like video game music.  I would put this soundtrack up against most movie soundtracks.  The cut scenes were voice acted for the most part, though there were times that the game just showed the subtitles.  I don’t know if that was my copy of the game or just a result of localization, but it didn’t take me out of the game experience too much.  I will say that sometimes the subtitles were very hard to read due to the background color.

Conclusion:
I’m not a person who is big into RPGs, but I was really impressed with this game.  While some of the usual trappings of an RPG are there (grinding to level up your characters, random battles, a lot of items to keep track of) how Level-5 deals with each of these issues really had me coming back time and time again to play the game.  The story was very captivating to me and the idea of the connected worlds and going back and forth dealing with issues really hooked me.  The combat system as well as the ability to try and avoid random battles was a very welcomed addition for me.

I really can’t say enough about the battle system, normally that is the main turnoff to me.  Even though KOTOR was a turned based system, Ni no Kuni really reminded me of that game.  Having to keep on my toes throughout a battle was something that really made playing a RPG easier for me.  For anybody out there who is not into RPGs like myself I would highly recommend that you try out this game, hence the occasional non-RPG game references.  It has elements of other game types that help make the transition for those non-RPGers out there, while also having enough for the hard core RPGers out there that this is not only a great game but easily in contention for game of the year.

Score: 
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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  • I love watching this game. It’s just so beautiful to see in motion. But it is one I could never play. Not a JRPG guy. But glad to see it did well. Looks like a really solid game.