So I’m ready to call it here and now: I am officially handing over the title of Emperor of the JRPGs to Namco Bandai Games. This publisher has consistently been producing strong work for home consoles for the past two generations, and unlike many other publshers, the quality really has not slumped in the slightest in those years. I’ve now got my hands on Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and after spending hours with the title I am ready to render my verdict. Should you play this JRPG co-developed by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli?
The Tales series, Namco Bandai’s most recognizable franchise, may not be the equivalent of Final Fantasy, but dammit it really should be at this point. Heck the Tales games have actually on the whole been far better than of the recent console and handheld releases to carry the Final Fantasy moniker; in my opinion Tales of Graces flat knocks the stuffing out of FFXIII in just about every regard. And now I think the JRPG genre crown needs to pass from the old ruler, Square-Enix, to the new, Namco Bandai Games. In that vein let me say that Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is probably one of the crowning achievements in JRPG history, right up there with Final fantasy VII and Namco Bandai’s own Tales of Symphonia; not only is this game flat amazing on almost every level, it also further proves that the JRPG formula still has quality to offer in this day and age.
First of all Ni no Kuni’s graphics are absolutely stunning. I have rarely seen the PS3’s hardware render such a lush, bright and colorful world as the one seen in this game. The whole game looks like it was drawn in watercolors and then rendered in three dimensions. The effects are amazing from just about every perceptible angle. The character and creature designs are classic Studio Ghibli, with the wide eyes and strange, creative creatures that are a hallmark of the studio’s pedigree. Either way it looks phenomenal, and everything from the character animations to the design of the overworld map has Studio Ghibli’s distinct and recognizable style to it.The score deserves note the music is suitably epic the score runs the gamut from dour and depressing to epic exploration themes for the world map. This games is amazing and deserves recognition in it’s own right.
The gameplay is a strange crossover mix between Pokémon and the more traditional Tales battle system; while the battling is done in mostly real-time with menus for special attacks, the fighters (for the most part) are not the main characters, but the small creatures they’ve captured called familiars. (Note to Nintendo: if you ever are going to do a proper Pokémon console release then this would be the way to do your battle system.) There are many other gameplay elements beyond just the battle system. The familiars can be fed with sweets to boost their various stats;there is a large emphasis on item creation to get the best equipment this follows a standard alchemy formula of mixing various items together to produce new ones. There is also a large emphasis on item creation to get the best equipment. Heck there’s even a casino where you can go and waste some time gambling if you feel like it. The game’s elements are surprisingly deep and involved, which is a great thing to see, considering its childish look and feel.
The characters are interesting, too. The main character is a young boy named Oliver who, after the tragic death of his mother, has Mr. Drippy, the Lord High Lord of the Fairies, come to him and tell him that he is The Pure-Hearted One destined to save his world from an evil being known as Shadar. Oliver is also told that saving Mr. Drippy’s world could possibly bring his dead mother back to life. And so with that Oliver proceeds on his grand adventure to save another world.
Oliver plays out very much like your stereotypical 13 year old kid; there really are no romantic sub-plots or anything like that, and he is just straight up trying to bring his mom back to life. His catch-phrases can get a little on the annoying side after a while but he’s ultimately an interesting and kind enough character, so I can let that slide. Mr. Drippy would normally be the character dragging down a game like this, as he is the forced comic relief of the story, but I treat him much like Iago from Aladdin: yeah, he can be annoying, but he’s got a good enough personality that he’s forgivable for it. The other teammates are Esther, a blonde creature tamer about the same age as Oliver, and Swaine, an older thief, who’s probably too old to be traveling with kids without raising a few eyebrows. Both are good characters in their own right who do much to bring out more in the story and certainly make it more endearing. The only notably weird thing is that while all the other character’s sport prominent British accents, Oliver himself is American this can be a little distracting but it’s not too bad. The other two characters work well as the thief who can steal items and is very useful for those purposes. And the young monster tamer is the main means of how you go about gaining new familiars
Ni no Kuni is a triumph of design and narrative, proving you can still do these things, and do them well, even in the age of the gray-brown first-person shooter. Ni no Kuni deserves all the praise it can get, and makes the strongest case for Namco Bandai, at this point, to be the name associated with the JRPG market over Square-Enix. Heck even if the rumors were true, at this point I would probably trust Namco Bandai to remake FFVII more than I would Sqare-Enix; at least they don’t seem to have that company’s crippling fear of money and success. Here’s hoping that Namco Bandai continues to publish fine quality work like this, and here’s also hoping that Tale of Xillia is just as high quality as the rest of their recent releases and can stack up to the high bar set by Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
Reviewed by Brandon Meijers