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Ni no Kuni Review

Developer: Level 5 | Publisher: Namco Bandai
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 01/22/13 | Genre: RPG

The Role Playing Genre holds a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, I had to buy most of my games and wait until Christmas or my birthday, both in December, to get new titles. Due to the financial investment of my hobby, I wanted to get the most gameplay for the cheapest amount of dollars. The solution? 30 to 100 hour epic Role Playing Games featuring deep stories and enough gaming time to keep me occupied until I could get my hands on the next RPG. Fortunately, this genre of game was normally one of easiest to purchase because they were all so much fun. Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Suikoden, Vandal Hearts, Earthbound, Pokemon, Fallout, and more were all games I played at various stages of growing up.

Now that I am a dad, I want to pass along the joys of Role Playing Games to my kids. The one year old is not quite ready to sit or play a RPG but the older one, who is now 4, is at a point where he wants to play and watch me play. This generation of RPG just doesn't seem to have the same magic of games of my youth. Sure, I can always boot up one of the old games and show him, but the graphics grab his attention and imagination. Finally, there is a game that I can use as RPG Propaganda for my child--Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Developed by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli and Published by Namco Bandai, in North America, this PlayStation 3 title does the best job I can remember since Final Fantasy VII of reminding me why I fell in love with RPG's in the first place. Even better, my son is hooked watching, having me act out the lines of text (he can't quite read yet), and gets quite angry if I play ahead without him. 

Visually, Ni no Kuni is a pure joy to see onscreen. The universe is living and breathing in pure animated bliss. It is like an actual Studio Ghibli movie is being controlled by your PS3 controller. Each character moves like a Saturday morning cartoon. The look of Ni no Kuni is what led my four year old to be captivated by the game. Cinematic scenes, that are fully voiced cartoons, makes me imagine of a day that Disney’s Animation studio would produce a full videogame instead of a non-interactive movie. Though the entire game is not full voiced, I read to my son, who is just learning to read, during the non-voiced sections. He felt like he was watching an interactive book unfold in front of him.  All of the adventures our heroes undertook became his adventures. He would wake up each day recounting the tales of the last play session and eagerly awaiting completion of the next set of quests.

Though fully voice acting rarely occurs in any game--especially an epic Japanese Role Playing Game--Ni no Kuni would have become an even more immersive experience if the extra expense went to accomplish this. It is the one element of the game I found most disappointing. Perhaps this is a ridiculous thing to expect or even ask for but I just did.

Music is beautifully orchestrated and captivating. Each area greets you with tones that rival the score of the most epic summer movie blockbuster or music from an Oscar winning composer. Though the music also pulsates through each battle you fight, comprising of encounters you run into while exploring the world, you will pay far less attention, during these times, than at others. Unlike 99% of the other Role Playing Games, especially RPG’s originating from Japan, the battles here mean something. If you stop paying attention, even during mundane, random battles against Enemies ABC, you may find yourself dead. Death has some potential death penalties as well. To continue after death, you can take a gold loss, to pick up where you were, or go back to your final save. So save, save often, and pay attention during battles.

Players will find that Ni no Kuni does a fairly good job of easing the player into the combat. You will start off with one character, Oliver, being guided by the King of the Faeries, Drippy. Then the game will introduce a Familiar. Familiars in Ni no Kuni are very similar to monsters you collect in Pokemon. Just like in that title, you will eventually collect several familiars, work to level them up, and try to unlock all of their skills.

While using a familiar in battle, which is the preferred method of most combat encounters, you will control that single Familiar. These all have their own skills and abilities equipped and you will have to defend, dodge, and strategically look for openings to jump in and fight the enemies.

Players will then earn a second Familiar to swap in and out with, a second party member, and then a third party member.  Each new element introduces new challenges to the combat like setting AI strategies for your companions. You will need to set if you want them to only attack the Party Leader’s target, never use magical abilities, burn up MP healing wounded allies, etc. While not nearly as powerful as the strategies you could set in other games, in the genre, it would be impossible to control all three party members at the same time. Okay, so maybe not impossible but annoying enough to not be any fun.

As it stands, the mix of real-time, challenging, combat results in a battle system that is more fun than anything I have played since some of the earlier Final Fantasy titles.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a magical journey that delivers some of the best voice actors, engrossing music, challenging combat, and an animated adventure that you won't forget. This is the best Role Playing Game of this generation and is worthy of mention among the all-time great titles ever released.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 03/01/13
ESRB Details: Rated for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Simulated Gambling. This is a role-playing game in which players control a boy attempting to save his mother from an evil witch. Players complete quests, search for hidden treasures, and engage in turn-based battles with fantasy creatures (e.g., robots, dragons, animal-like monsters). Characters can use swords, firearms, and magical attacks; enemies fall over and/or disappear in puffs of smoke. The game includes some comical sequences: characters ejected as offspring from a moaning creature; a character picking its nose; dialogue such as “wet me pirate pants!” Character cards sometimes depict/reference alcohol and tobacco (e.g., text reading “…wine that ferments in their stomachs”; a creature smoking a pipe). During the course of the game, players can occasionally wager in-game currency on blackjack and slot machines. The words “damn” and “hell” appear in dialogue.
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