Review: Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch
Declan Skews takes a close look at Studio Ghibli’s first role-playing game.
A child of its genre; Ni no Kuni seems to have it all: a heart-warming storyline, some kind of Pokemon-esque creatures, grinding, magic, battles every few seconds, sky-pirates, and yet more grinding. Ni no Kuni is like an imperfect but none-the-less beautiful stained-glass window, its myriad aspects working in harmony to tell a vivid tale. The sheer number of JRPG tropes found within Ni no Kuni is impressive.
A strong case could be made that Ni no Kuni’s greatest achievement is melding all these elements together into a coherent system, just as a powerful argument could be made that the story alone is enough to carry the game.
Ni no Kuni’s rich, but flawed tapestry of a story follows a young boy named Oliver in a quest to save a world inextricably linked with his own, and ultimately to save his mother from the clutches of a cast of villains who wouldn’t be out of place in a 1990s Disney cartoon movie.
Charming though it may be, the story is riddled with plot holes, and is often not quite as smart as it tries to be; not only are most of the twists in the story telegraphed well in advance of their occurrence, they tend to rely heavily on a “well isn’t that convenient” approach to story arc development. These points, in addition to Oliver’s weak character and seeming inability to master even the most basic of deductive skills, begin as only mildly irritating but swiftly become tiresome.
As a character, Oliver stands out as an anomaly within Ni no Kuni because the vast majority of the supporting cast are fabulous and most of them would be a credit to almost any JRPG. Oliver’s close fairy friend, Mr Drippy, is one of the most entertaining side-kicks in recent memory, whilst Shadar, a prominent villain, is similarly adept at his role; providing an ever present threat looming on the horizon without ever being over-bearing. Meanwhile, the rapport between the other playable characters, Esther and Swaine, elicited more than a few chuckles.
If the characters of Ni no Kuni are good, then the world is absolutely fantastic. The love poured into the crafting of Ni no Kuni’s world is clear from the start, and this helps to make the experience a truly memorable one. Finding all the nooks and crannies of Ni no Kuni will require a similar eye for detail that was used to create them, and it feels as if great pains were taken to make sure that no area within Ni no Kuni ever became, or felt irrelevant.
Mixing ample secrets, a strong focus on side-quests and an expansive lore has provided the Ni no Kuni world with a depth that serves to lift Ni no Kuni from a position as a highly charming tale into an adventure which can at times vie for a place among the best examples of its genre.
The side-quests of Ni no Kuni are very well designed, and usually avoid feeling onerous or repetitive, despite largely following several basic templates. The most common form of quest is helping to heal the “brokenhearted”. These are people who’ve had a piece of their heart; their personality, stolen by Shadar. This could be their enthusiasm, kindness, courage and so on. The trick is to find someone with an abundance of whatever is missing and to transfer the missing emotion to the person in need. By the end of the game, these quests can be fairly major undertakings in their own right as the player scours previously visited cities (there is a teleport spell that makes this much easier) for that one particular piece of heart.
Other side-quests are things like bounty hunting, fetch and delivery quests, a simple treasure hunt of sorts, a coliseum as well as a range of activities and freeform quests that don’t fall into neat categories. The casino is one of the highlights of the freeform activities, and the alchemy may be a massive time sink for some players as they collect various ingredients to complete recipes or to experiment with in the hopes of happening across a useful concoction.
Inhabiting the world of Ni no Kuni are a huge variety of beasts, most of which can be tamed and become familiars which can then be used in battle. Familiars are essentially Pokemon; they are encountered in the wild, battled, captured, and then trained to be useful additions to the players’ battle party. After reaching the requisite level, all familiars can be evolved into more powerful versions of themselves. Each familiar can be evolved up to twice with the second evolution being a choice between two final forms, each with a distinct purpose in battle.