Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PlayStation 3)
Co-produced by Japanese development studio Level 5 and renown anime company Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch finally makes its way out of Japan, after having been released back in 2011.
Full of charm, magic and arrestingly beautiful Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch transports its player to another world full of wondrous characters, all while challenging the conception of what western players expect from a JRPG.
Aside from some minor shortcomings, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is quite possibly the best role playing game to come out of Japan in years – despite itself being more than twelve months old.
When I started playing Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch I thought I knew exactly what I was in for, having played JRPG’s for over two decades you start to expect the same experience each time albeit with different characters. It was only after a few hours that I began to realise Ni no Kuni was going to offer me something different.
Level 5 haven’t radically changed the modern day JRPG, if anything they’ve tackled many of the reoccurring issues that plague the genre. The result is a generally smoother, more fast-paced experience that sadly, does have a few of it’s own issues.
The most prominent change to the basic JRPG formula relates directly to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s story – an irrefutably charming tale of a thirteen boy who sets off on an adventure to save his mother. If it sounds a little different to your usual JRPG’s “end of the world, save the fragile princess/prophecy child”, well it’s because it does. And damn is it a breath of fresh air.
Ni no Kuni‘s story centres itself around Oliver, the aforementioned thirteen year old boy who tragically looses his mother to a sudden heart attack. Distraught and alone, Oliver’s tears magically bring his stuffed toy, Mr. Drippy, to life. Mr. Drippy reveals himself to be Lord High Lord of the Fairies, and that he comes from ‘another world’. The fairy pleads for Oliver’s help in saving this other world from the evil Shadar. While Oliver refuses at first, he eventually accepts on the realisation he can save his mother, by seemingly helping her in the other world.
What follows is a tale that takes Oliver from a relatively normal life in a 1950’s style American town to a magical kingdom of wonder and amazement. Along the way he learns he’s the pure-hearted hero who is destined to defeat the evil threatening the world of Ni no Kuni and to bring light to it once more. Now, I’ll admit this may sound a little similar to other JRPG’s, but rest assure it plays out differently than what you might expect. In an attempt to not ruin too much, the plot succeeds in not falling into any of the narrative pit-falls JRPG’s are generally know known for, even if there is just a dash of horribly cliched writing peppered throughout.
During key points of the game Oliver will be required to jump back to his own world – the 1950’s like American town aptly named Motorville – to resolve whatever issues that prevent you from progressing further in the ‘other world’. What I liked most about the ability to shift worlds is it keeps the story interesting and well paced. While it’s more or less a thinly veiled sort of ‘fetch quest’, a tool used to further pad the game’s length – it’s overly enjoyable and one that meshes well with the game’s world of magic and wizards.
Speaking of, magic is essentially at the forefront of everything in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. After all, Oliver’s progression as a character is all about him becoming a more powerful wizard in order to defeat Shadar. To that end, you’ll constantly come across pages from the ‘Wizard’s Handbook’ throughout the game, pages that will not only teach you new skills for use in battle, but also one’s you can use in the over-world to solve problems. It’s secondary use is to serve as the games codex, filling up with lengthy tales of wonder that help flesh out the world of Ni no Kuni.
And then there’s the idea of the heart-broken, characters who have had pieces of their hearts taken by Shadar. What’s more charming than a game that requires you to bend the shattered pieces of another’s heart? A lot of the problems you’ll be called on to resolve is people who’ve had there heart broken, a job fit only for a wizard. Pieces of heart can be obtained from mostly anyone you encounter in the game world, highlighted by a flashing green indicator.
Aside from mending hearts and solving minor puzzles using magic, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch also boasts a wealth of side-squest to keep your occupied. Heading down to the local job-board is certainly recommend, since completing quests grants you stamps. Collect enough stamps to fill your stamp card and you can unlock new bonus – such as faster running speed and the ability to easily sneak past enemies on the map.
All of this, the story, magic and having to mend people’s broken hearts all come together to create a truly spellbinding experience; a heartwarming tale of a young boy’s journey through a brave new world full of adventure and wonder. And although a lot of your time is spent exploring the two different worlds, solving peoples problems with magic and mending hearts, you’ll spend just as much time duking it out with the weird, wild and sometimes downright cute monsters that inhabit the world of Ni no Kuni.