Tuesday, 26 March 2013

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

Ni No Kuni has already been out for two years, at least overseas it has. It was released back in Japan in 2011 and was extremely well received, encouraging co-developers Level -5 and Studio Ghibli to localize the game and bring it overseas.

The same, charming gameplay and story has been a hit here, with the game easily being one of the best RPGs to come out in recent years with a unique combat system, well designed plot, and a variety of endearing characters you encounter in this “coming of age” story.

I won’t delve too much into the plot for the sake of letting you experience it first for yourself, but our protagonist, known as Oliver has to deal with some big changes in his life. The story primarily deals with Oliver helping Drippy, “King of the Faeries” who has turned into a doll. He deems you the chosen one and it's up to you to help him overthrow both the villainous priest Shadar, as well as the White Witch, the main enemy of the game. This means travelling to various cities, taming many beasts and learning numerous magic spells, eventually filling in your guidebook known as “The Wizard’s Companion” completely. It's a title that is vast in scope, and by traditional RPG standards an extremely lengthy game with plenty to see and do.

The combat will surely draw nostalgia out of many people, evoking comparisons to Pokemon. Players can capture and train various creatures known as “Familiars”, and equip them with their own weapons and armour as well as various abilities that they learn.

Their skillsets aren't nearly as deep as Oliver or any of his other human party members, but there are plenty of unique monsters you can make teams with. The downfall with this system is capturing familiars is that each one has a flat rate of success. There’s no way to enhance it and as such your recruitment is left entirely up to chance; weakening them doesn't have any extra effect. That said it’s still an interesting party system, as you have three human compatriots to use, as well as their own three familiars that can be used at any time. The familiars do have a stamina meter though and once it expires you’ll need to swap them out to recover, but they can enter the fray again shortly after.

You also gain various sweets you can feed to your familiars, and they all have different preferences. Feeding them different sweets will cause stat gains in different areas, with their favourite treat garnering higher gains.

The combat is more “active” then a traditional RPG: you can evade basic attacks by walking away from an enemy, and using defend or attack commands at the right time rewards you with increased damage, or even a chance to stun the enemy and do a large amount of damage to it.

Your main companion, Drippy will drop various orbs during combat as well that restore health and mana, with the occasional yellow orb that allows for a very potent attack to be unleashed dealing heavy damage to a boss. This active amount of micro management will definitely be a bit of an issue for traditional fans of JRPGs who are used to turn-based combat, but personally I felt it kept the combat from becoming stale and it kept me on my toes, something I didn't really expect to occur with a JPRG of all titles. It’s an acquired taste but once you have the hang of it, it's a lot of fun.

Ni No Kuni’s biggest draw is definitely its graphics. Studio Ghibli went a long way in working with Level-5 to provide the assets, and as such each character and creature you run into just feels nice to look at. It's
an extremely eye catching title, but not in the sense of graphical standpoints like Metro 2033 or Crysis. It's something that I think fans of Studio Ghibli movies will especially enjoy, but the graphics won’t be a turn-off to anybody. This is just one of those titles you have to see in motion to fully appreciate. Screenshots do not do it justice.

There is plenty of side content in the form of Errands that Oliver can perform. These tasks are varied, ranging from finding missing children, to helping a caravan with their skeleton problem, to bounty hunts for a particularly troublesome monster. The latter tends to be an upgraded version of the familiars in the area, and they provide a nice bit of challenge compared to earlier encounters. Completing these tasks earns Oliver stamps that go on his errand cards. He can either turn them in after he fills out one, or save up multiple cards for better rewards, such as increased dropping of restorative orbs, or the ability to sneak up on wild monsters easier, allowing for pre-emptive strikes more often.

Despite the delayed journey to the West, Ni No Kuni is definitely a title you should at least give a chance. There is a demo up on PSN that you can go ahead and download, and once you get used to the combat system and mechanics of the game, you’ll be treated to an adventure like no other.

- Scott Sullivan

The Good:
- Vast and charming adventure
- Endearing character design, unique graphical style
- Lengthy 50 hour adventure, with more if you plan to see everything in the game.

The Bad:
- Catching familiars relies entirely on luck, no way to improve it
- Combat system may be a turn-off to some.
- Like all JPRGs, prone to having to grind here and there.

Score: 8.5 / 10