Wednesday 20 February 2013

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

“The ‘Tales’ series meets Pokemon in a thrilling culmination of engaging gameplay and wonderfully told story. Ni No Kuni is a captivating tale that is a clear resurgence of the Japanese role-play genre.”

Very few can dispute that the video game industry has certainly begun 2013 with a bang. With a host of top quality titles hitting shelves it’s difficult to decide where to invest your money. Fortunately for PlayStation 3 owners, this is a no brainer. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an exceptional Japanese role-play game that will capture your heart and imagination in its vast world full of wonderful characters.

Ni No Kuni’s wonderful tale centres around a young boy named Oliver, whose destiny is to save the world. The story can never be that simple though with Oliver forced to travel into an alternate world not only to fulfil his destiny but to save his mother who sacrificed herself to keep him alive. The opening segments of Ni No Kuni really put in context Oliver’s untroubled and carefree life prior to his adventure, and Oliver’s transformation into a powerful wizard is enjoyable to watch and partake in.

Although Ni No Kuni is a little slow to take off, once you meet the Lord High Lord of the Fairies Mr. Drippy, your journey really begins. Entering Mr. Drippy’s world opens an expansive and wonderfully designed landscape for you to explore and for this glorious story to unfold. The terrific voice acting and hilarious dialogue ensures that not only are the conversations between Mr. Drippy and Oliver amusing, but the same applies to each and every character you meet and engage with.

Eventually you are given the opportunity to explore the gameplay and just like any other solid J-RPG, this side of the coin certainly does not disappoint. Ni No Kuni strikes a balance between turn-based and continuous combat (the action pauses when you change characters or alter tactics but when you choose moves or attack combat is ongoing). At first you can fight with just Oliver as he bashes little monsters with his wand or casts a variety of different spells. Very quickly though you are introduced to Ni No Kuni’s core gameplay mechanic, Familiars. Resembling Pokemon (amazing right?) Ni No Kuni allows players to capture monsters known as Familiars and use them to do battle. They range in type, element and all those awesome variations you’d expect along with different moves and even evolutions! Each character can hold up to 3 Familiars and one can be used at a time per character in battle. When you send out a Familiar you take control of it and begin attacking. With so many to capture you’ll be hunting for the perfect team to compliment each of the characters you meet along the way and make the most dangerous and effective teams.

Naturally as you progress through the game you gain new allies that expands your party and allows you to carry and use more Familiars. On top of that characters learn powerful new magic to help supplement the battle as well the Familiars themselves evolving into powerful new creatures that aid against the game’s more powerful foes come nearer to the end game.

As fantastic as this system is, there are few issues that keep this from being a true joy to behold. Ni No Kuni does force some hefty grinding on you and the difficulty curve between some foes and areas is quite painful. When Familiars evolve they are actually degraded all the way back down to level 1. While they boost back up quite quickly it’s still a nuisance because for that period of time your new Familiar is pretty much useless. Fortunately all Familiar’s receive experience points even if they don’t battle so you can just have one sitting in your party of 3 taking in all the exp. without worrying about getting slaughtered by higher-level enemies. It’s also frustrating that unlike the Pokemon games, some Familiars are just plain useless, even after they’ve been levelled up and evolved, so make sure to try and choose your Familiars carefully, even though a bit of guess work might be forced upon you.

Despite these minor issues it’s a whole load of fun getting into battle and micromanaging your groups of characters and the Familiars they are using. Combat is often frantic, tactical and challenging, meaning you will have to earn victories as you progress though Ni No Kuni.

From a technical perspective Ni No Kuni is absolutely remarkable, but could you expect any less from a game visually developed by Studio Ghibli? The highly credited Animated Movie Company have really outdone themselves with the stylistic treat that is Ni No Kuni. The visual style is a joy to behold from each and every character to each and every environment. It doesn’t matter if your traversing a volcano or a quiet meadow, beautiful and vibrant colours loom out of your screen and are supplemented by a wonderful orchestral score that will stay with you long after your time with Ni No Kuni.

Unfortunately there’s no guarantee Ni No Kuni will be leaving your PlayStation 3 any time soon thanks to an outrageous amount of content available throughout. On top of the well-paced story there are a host of optional side-quests for you to partake in. These are cleverly designed with each quest providing you with a goody and a set of stamps for your stamp card. Once you collect 10 stamps you get 1 token and you can exchange tokens for abilities like extra health orbs appearing during combat or the ability to sneak up on enemies more effectively for a surprise attack. As a result you’re almost inclined to 100% as many side quests as possible before you move on from city to city to ensure you have an advantage for the rest of your journey. Just as the prizes differ so do the missions – players might have to perform a menial task like finding 3 pigeons for a little boy in a city to destroying an enemy with a bounty on its head. Oliver also has the ability to take excess nature from townsfolk like happiness, restraint and courage and a lot of side quests will ask you to pass on these natures to help those in need.

Ultimately little can be said to really fault Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. The Japanese role-play game genre has certainly been waiting for a revival of sorts and the only shame here is it’s only available for PlayStation 3 owners. This is a remarkable journey that successfully provides the three key components one hopes for in a role-play game; story, gameplay and content. These are all here with plenty more and you’d be foolish not to join Oliver in what will undoubtedly turn out to be one of 2013’s most exciting journeys.

8.5 | Gameplay |

Ni No Kuni boasts a wholly entertaining and engaging combat system that unfortunately lacks a little bit of balance when it comes to leveling up and progressing through the game’s difficulty curve. Despite this small issue that forces players to grind a little bit more than you’d hope, action is varied, tactical and plenty of fun. Outside of battle everything you do and everyone you interact with is an absolute joy.

10.0 | Presentation |

Studio Ghibli have presented Ni No Kuni in an absolutely stunning way. Even the most minute details are filled to the brim with vibrant colours and personality. Every character you meet and every environment you explore will have you oo’ing and ah’ing your way through Ni No Kuni.

8.5 | Replay Value |

With so many different Familiars to capture and train along with a whole host of side quests available, you’ll be playing Ni No Kuni days after you completed the 40 hour or so story line.

9.0 | Final Thoughts |

The Japanese role-play genre needed a solid revival and from that perspective one could not have asked for a better title to do the trick. There’s simply nothing un-enjoyable about Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – every second you spend with this game is absolutely thrilling.

Igor Kharin.
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