Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch ReviewJoe Green
Is Studio Ghibli and LEVEL-5's Collaboration The Greatest of This Generation?
Ni No Kuni offers RPG and anime fans the chance to experience a game world fashioned by the greatest of development teams from each genre. The gameplay, storyline, combat-system and visuals have been crafted by the renowned RPG developer LEVEL-5 and moulded by the style and characterization of the inimitable Studio Ghibli. Who else could introduce the Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Drippy: an outspoken, brash and very funny little Fairy with a lantern on his nose and voiced by a Welshman?
Clearly, Ghibli's presence is felt in everything which Ni No Kuni has to offer; from its quirky, highly stylized characters and visuals, to its underlying moral concepts. Heart is at the source of Ni No Kuni's storyline, and is represented by every selfless action taken by the game's central character, Ollie. The game takes a strong focus on epitomizing the theme of Good, as you restore the broken-hearted' inhabitants of the game-world. This sees you using the spells he learns to take heart, such as courage, enthusiasm, kindness or love from one character with an over-abundance, and giving it to another who is missing a particular piece. It's a charming concept and representative of everything which makes Ni No Kuni a unique RPG experience to play and a joy to watch.
This experience is seen in some of the most artistically stunning and highly stylized visuals of any game this generation. Pixel count and detailed textures ignored, Ni No Kuni offers players the chance to witness the style of the much loved Studio Ghibli in 3D motion, at their control. Due to excellent craftsmanship of the simple, colourful and unique Ghibli visual style, it often seems as though you are playing an anime. This in itself, will be of particular note for any fan of Studio Ghibli.
Yet, despite the strong points of praise to be found in the above, they each sadly hold a disappointment. Whilst the ability to use Ollie's magic to restore the hearts of those in need is a charming concept and one which represents a change from the overzealous brutality seen in many modern videogames, it doesn't offer a fun gameplay experience. The act in itself, involves you reading a scroll of narrative, to then be specifically told who has either an abundance or lack of each required heart piece and then be prompted to use the spell without need for thought as to when it should be used or importantly, which part might be found or missing. It is the game's insistence on holding the player's hand which will find you becoming frustrated.
With Ni No Kuni's fascinating visual style and characterization, comes the disillusionment that anime-style cutscenes are few and far between, only to be unnaturally cut short when they do appear. A true FMV cutscene will be shown for sometimes 5 seconds worth of narrative, only to be broken short by a regular cutscene, often without vocal narration either. It detracts from the experience and allows the player to lose immersion in the storytelling. The half-hearted use of voiced narration and complete lack of it at other times, strikes as lazy for a game which has been five years in the making.
A similar position can be seen when it comes to the game's combat and pacing. Ni No Kuni's combat is very similar to both the Tales and Pokemon series. It offers the chance for real-time combat in a tight moving arena, similar to Tales, and the ability to fight with collected monsters much like Pokemon. This should surely be a strong point, however after a slow start, the combat mechanics never greatly improve. The satisfaction in collecting monsters is diminished by the randomness of your ability to do so. After defeating monsters, the game will randomly decide whether that monster becomes affectionate towards you and therefore capable of being caught.
The fast-paced nature of the Tales games is weakened by the fact actions are not performed instantaneously and therefore not allowing for quick timed attack/defence. Finally, the ability for your monsters to develop and learn new skills is completely wasted by the lack of mana afforded to use them. Unlike many other RPG's, mana is not rejuvenated over time or even easily, but is instead dropped semi-periodically and not often enough by monsters during and after your attacks. As a result, I always found myself resorting to a monsters basic attack to save the precious commodity and thus rendering their special abilities useless in most ordinary fights. AI controlled characters, on the other hand, are incapable of using them with any degree of moderation and can either use it all needlessly, only to be left with none for important battles, or not at all.
In the end however, the above frustrations are only that and nothing more, as they do not truly break what is already a winning formula. They do however stop the game from being considered a classic of this generation and ultimately, claiming the crown of this generation's greatest RPG collaboration. Whilst not the great-est, Ni No Kuni is great. It offers fans of either RPG's or anime, the chance to explore a fun, quirky and unique world. If you have access to a PS3 and consider yourself a fan of either genre, you would be crazy not to give Ni No Kuni the chance to restore that missing piece of your heart... just expect a few frustrations on your journey.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.