Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
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Game Reviewed: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Level 5 and Studio Ghibli
Category: Role-Playing Game
ESRB Rating: E10+
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You know movies like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and more recently, The Secret World of Arietty? Those are all products of Studio Ghibli, an anime studio created primarily to publish Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films. Ghibli’s films are the only Japanese animated products to gain large popularity and acclaim in the United States, since anime is generally still (wrongfully) perceived as some weird nerd thing. Their popularity springs from their whimsical nature, creative premises, and most of all, their jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation.
That is who has paired with Level 5 (developer of games like Professor Layton and Rogue Galaxy) to create Ni No Kuni. And needless to say, Ghibli’s involvement is far and away the best thing about this game. Due to a process called cel-shading, the entire game looks like a beautifully animated movie, and Ghibli’s composer, Joe Hisaishi, has written a score that perfectly blends the grand scale of great film soundtracks with the memorable and themed nature of great video game scores.
Ni No Kuni is about a young boy named Oliver, whose mom dies from a heart attack after saving him from drowning. In his grief, his tears awaken a fairy who had been trapped in his favorite stuffed toy (it makes more sense that it initially appears to, but that’s spoiler territory), who informs him that he is the “pure hearted one,” destined to save another world from destruction. Not only that, but that world is connected with ours, and everyone in our world has a “soulmate” in the other, who is linked to them magically; Oliver’s mother is no exception, and if they can save the Great Sage Alicia, they may be able to bring back Oliver’s mom as well.
Given that the story is aimed at children, we’ll have to see how well the game’s content suits them.
What Parents Need to Know
Fighting is a huge part of the gameplay. However, it looks fittingly cartoony, with fantastical creatures using various stylized abilities to bloodlessly defeat other attacking monsters. It is not graphic in the least.
One major character introduced about halfway through the game uses words like, “damn,” “dammit,” and “hell” fairly regularly.
Some female characters show a bit of cleavage. That’s as bad as it gets.
Being a fantasy game, Ni No Kuni is full of magic and stuff. Oliver is a wizard of great potential, and casts a large number of spells throughout his journey. The monsters you tame and fight with (called familiars) have a number of “tricks,” ranging from elemental magic attacks to healing spells to simple martial maneuvers. Many enemies use dark magic against you, but this is never expanded upon or used by the main characters; it’s just bad spells cast by evil people.
One area you visit has many ghost enemies, including some friendly skeletons that later open up a casino you can visit.
As mentioned in the last section, there is a casino the player can visit. It has a few traditional things like card games, as well as some mini-games that can earn the player some extra money (assuming they succeed, of course).
A Child’s Perspective: I had my 8-year old nephew play the first couple hours of the game to see what he thought. As I was afraid, he just skipped over most of the written dialogue (the game isn’t entirely voice acted), despite his reading skills being above his grade level. He was slow to grasp some of the basics of fighting, such as watching his health bar and healing himself when necessary, but the basic controls were well within his understanding; I imagine if a kid has played more RPGs before that age, they wouldn’t have a problem with it.
When he was done playing, he was very excited about it, and proclaimed that it was his new favorite game ever (though he says that a lot), and current plans are for me to play it all the way through with him once we’re done watching through Avatar: The Last Airbender. So he definitely liked it.
As expected, this game is aesthetically gorgeous. The visual design is brilliant, with creative monsters, beautiful landscapes, and a graphical design that makes the entire game look just like a Studio Ghibli film. The music, as previously mentioned, is wonderful; I am genuinely impressed that Joe Hisaishi made the transition from composing for film to composing for video games so smoothly, considering the different demands of the medium. The gameplay is imperfect, but very entertaining, and really keeps you on your toes (a nice feature in a battle system that is, at its heart, turn-based).
The only issue I really have with it is that it is too simple for adults in some areas, but too complex for kids in others. The battle system is functionally simple, but there are many complex mechanics that I fear a child would not be able to comprehend enough to effectively utilize. Beyond that, there is so much reading necessary that an adult would likely need to be on hand to help the child understand the full story (though on the upside, if your child is of the appropriate reading level, it would be great reading exercise for them). On the other hand, however, most side quests hold your hand and lead you around so simply as to make them kind of boring, and the story often focuses on smaller stories about random characters in the world rather than taking the opportunity to develop the main cast (which, incidentally, was the major storytelling weakness of Level 5’s previous cel-shaded game, Rogue Galaxy).
All in all, I’m glad I played Ni No Kuni, and I really think this is the kind of game that parents could enjoy along with their children. If you want a pretty good story with fun gameplay and great visuals, go ahead and pick this one up. And if you want to play through a game like that with your kid, you couldn’t do much better than this.