Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Difficulty Played: Normal (only other choice is easy)
Time: 45 hours for main game, 60 for post game
There is so much to talk about here that it’s almost hard to figure out where to begin. I guess the obvious place would be answering the question “Should I buy this game?” The answer is an emphatic and enthusiastic YES!!!!!!!!!!! There are so many things amazing about this game that you’ll have to click the READ MOAR to get more detail.
I’m going to do this a little bit different than our standard reviews because I feel that the game warrants it. Stick with me through this crazy ride that is Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
STORY AND ART
Normally story would get a minor blurb in my review stating that it was good or bad, but Studio Ghibli is involved and they deserve more than that. It’s also because of this that the story will be paired with the art, another section that I normally wouldn’t touch on. If you don’t know who Studio Ghibli is feel free to peruse their Wikipedia page, but suffice it to say they are a powerhouse in the anime world. Their blending of both cute and surreal animation and juvenile/mature content makes their movies very powerful and is one of the reasons why a huge studio like Disney has distributed them in the US before. The story follows Oliver, a little boy living a normal life in Motorville until his mother suddenly dies. During Oliver’s grief his stuffed animal comes to life and says that his name is Mr. Drippy. At this point is when the story starts to divert in to a bit more serious direction as Mr. Drippy tells young Oliver that his mother has been murdered. The culprit is believed to be Shadar the Dark Djinn, but since you watch it as it happens you know that it’s the White Witch. Upon hearing this news you begin traveling the path of a Wizard with Mr. Drippy and travel to the other world to hopefully bring your mother back to life. There is great flow to the story and character development as well as a “the story is over, why am I playing through a Lord of the Rings style Epilogue, HOLY SHIT WHAT JUST HAPPENED” section ¾ of the way through. I was hooked all the way through, even through the post game “extended” portion more than just for sheer completion bragging rights.
The art is what really compliments the story well as helping to set up the curve ball that is the darker story. SG is known for melding bubbly cute animation (not that kind of bubbly cute) with a dark and serious tone to the story. Many of their animated films are my favorite of all time and can hold up to some of the best western live-action movies made. The art style crossed perfectly in to the video game arena and I hope so see more games created by them in the near future. I do have one change that I would like to see changed in this aspect, and it’s probably going to get me made fun of a bit… don’t add the traditional animation in to the game for cut scenes. Now before crazed fans start blowing up the comments section, please hear me out on this. The game progresses quite regularly using the in game graphics and still manages to look amazing. They were able to blend the artistic styling of SG in to cell shaded 3d models so well that many times throughout the game you forget that it’s not standard animation. I say many times you forget because you’re crushingly brought back to reality the less than 5 times that the game reverts to cartoon cut scenes. The cartoon cut scenes look great, and if there were more of them I might be singing a different tune, but if you go for many hours playing in the regular game then are suddenly shown 5-10 seconds of cartoon it just feels weird and out of place. I understand that SG made their name with regular animation but it just felt way to out of balance and jarring.
I made a mild mistake and glanced at some hands on reviews of the game before it came out and was not entirely thrilled with some of what I read. Anyone that says that the combat system is borked is an idiot. While there are games where to combat is verifiably bad and you have to break yourself to play it ok, this is not one of them. I will say that if you experience problems with the combat it’s user error and you have only yourself to blame. Blaming the combat system for you sucking is like saying that that you can’t play an FPS as well as Jimmy because his mouse has a 9000 dpi and yours only has 4000 dpi… STFU and play better! Once you get the hang of canceling a current command to switch to defense or realize that you can scroll through the menu while running by using the L2 & R2 buttons (the game never tells you that) you find that the fighting system is actually very responsive and well built. The addition of small HP and MP regeneration orbs flying out of the enemy for you to pick up for landing a good hit is also a welcome addition that I don’t remember seeing in a game before. In addition to that, if you successfully block, counter, or dodge a crucial enemy attack there is the possibility that a gold supercharge orb will appear for a short time. This little orb not only replenishes all of your HP and your familiars stamina, but it also unlocks a special move that is different for each character (a great alternative to the limit gauge found in FF7).
Navigating the world is pretty simple to do and not having the standard JRPG random encounters definitely makes moving from one area to another more enjoyable. Nothing makes you hate back and forth side quests than stumbling on a random encounter every 2 seconds. You can actually see the enemies that you will fight on the map like one of my favorite games Chrono Cross, but they take the mechanic a step further by adding in having the monsters flee from you if you are more powerful than them. This fleeing makes a couple of the side quests a bit of a chore to complete but ultimately makes the game more enjoyable to play.
Speaking of side quests; every RPG is chock full of them and tries to encourage you to want to complete them for more than just the item/monetary reward you receive and very few have done as good of a job as NNK. How did Level 5 make me want, nay YEARN, to complete all of them? Merit stamps! That’s right, I said merit stamps. Every task or bounty hunt not only gives you an item and monetary reward but they also give you a number of merit stamps based on their difficulty or length of time to complete. You then collect these merit stamps on cards (10 stamps per card) that you use to make minor enhancements to the game. The key is that they are enhancements not just mere stat boosts. Some are RPG norms like enemies drop better loot or you gain more XP from winning battles, but they also add in a cool barrel roll for your dragon that gives him a little boost of speed and the ability to jump while running around the map by pressing the circle button. Why is adding a jump button important you ask? Because it has absolutely NO bearing on what you can do or where you can go but it does give Oliver a super cool skipping look when playing (trying to perfectly jump from the top of the stairs to the bottom is also fun).
I think that Level 5 knew that the stamps would bring a large want to complete all side missions as well and took the opportunity to troll the ever loving shit out of everyone who plays the game too. There is a couple that basically follows you to every new town you go to (provided that you have completed the last task for them) as they are on their search to open a shop. Standard JRPG lore will tell you that if you complete every task for them eventually you will be rewarded with a shop that sells the most amazing weapons and items ever. Here’s the thing though, the shop never opens… EVER! After you complete their last quest, the couple stands at the front of Ding Dong Dell and talks about opening the shop soon. I thought it would be lumped in with the post game additional play, since they hadn’t opened by the time that went in for the final showdown, but they just keep saying the same thing for all eternity. This made me want to throw my controller through the screen until I centered myself enough to see the humor in it, but seriously Level 5… FUCK YOU!
MUSIC AND SOUND
Normally I would not make a section for this, and even this is going to be extremely short, but the music is AMAZING! Seriously, listen to some of these!
NNK: WofWW is seriously one of the best games that I have played in a long time. It’s extremely hard to find a game that fire on all cylinders and lasts longer than 10 hours. Obviously JRPG’s aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like JRPG’s this is beautiful, imaginative, insanely cute, and amazing homage to you. This is definitely worth the $60 that I paid and the years of built up anticipation. I enjoyed every minute of restoring bits of peoples hearts, collecting familiars like Pokemon, and collecting merit stamps and will emphatically ring across the hill tops that I BEAT IT FIRST!