A Familiar Feeling

It’s not every day that an animation studio teams up with a game developer to combine the two media into one project, but that’s what happened with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Developed by Level-5 (The studio behind White Night Chronicles and the Professor Layton series), with animation work by Studio Ghibli (creators of animated movies including The Secret World of Arrietty, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away), Ni No Kuni is an RPG that combines a classic anime style with the elements of old JRPG titles.

Ni No Kuni starts off a bit odd, introducing you to Oliver, the 12-year-old citizen of Motorville, as he meets up with his friend to test out a new car (it’s a fictional world, just go with it).  Personal tragedy soon strikes and in Oliver’s sadness he accidentally releases a Fairy Lord from his curse and discovers his true status as a magician, capable of visiting another world. From there the story builds into a mix of the traditional RPG tale, with the occasional twist or homage to other stories and games.

There’s also a really nice build to the actual mechanics of the game as well. When I first started playing, I was worried that the game would be too guided, seeing that my first objectives were clearly marked on my map with a big gold star. This doesn’t really end up being the case though, as you soon learn how to fight, and then it doesn’t matter if you know your destination, as the act of getting there becomes the challenge. As you progress you’ll gain access to the deeper and more complicated abilities and tools, allowing you to fight and and experience the game in a more complex way.

Progress really seems to be the heart of the game. The more time you spend in Ni No Kuni, the more you get out of it. The visual style is striking right off the bat, with an art style that looks like an anime while maintaining a very unique style in comparison to cel-shaded titles, but the further you travel, the more beautifully detailed and stylised the world becomes. The soundtrack kicks off with some simple melodies as you roam the streets of Motorville, before growing into the grand orchestral score you’d expect of an RPG.

I’ve heard a lot of people mentioning parts of the game in reference to other titles, such as the battle system being like Pokemon, and the world travel being like Final Fantasy. I feel the battle and Familiar system (companion monsters who fight for you) is very different to Pokemon, despite the handful of similarities (the ability to tame enemies, and the ability to transform high level Familiars into other forms). The battle system uses simple commands, like most turn-based RPG’s, but you’re also able to move freely around the environment, which opens up some opportunities to dodge attacks. The mechanics can take a bit to master, but you get plenty of time to get a handle on it before the game starts throwing multiple characters and advanced spells at you.

One of the highlights of Ni No Kuni is it’s world (or worlds). If you need a break from the 30+ hour storyline, there’s plenty to see or do around the world. You’ll find a selection of side quests, which are usually fairly simple but keep you busy and help you unlock a whole range of abilities to make life easier. Each of the towns is also home to a range of NPCs who help bring everything to life, and provide you with elements of their personality, which you’ll be needing in abundance for both the main story and the side quests.

Ni No Kuni is a masterclass in game design. It brings back elements of the JRPG genre that has been lacking lately, but makes it interesting and accessible to people who haven’t grown up playing the likes of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It’s clear and straight-forward enough to keep players from getting too lost, but provides plenty for the player who chooses to explore a different path. The graphics are impressive and the visual style is stunning. The soundtrack is bold and epic, while the voice-acting matches what you’d hear in an animated movie. For me to find a fault, id have to intentionally pick apart the game to find the smallest of flaws. If you’ve been searching for an exciting game that takes you away from the real world, consider your journey at an end… Ni No Kuni is just that.