Fans of Japanese role-playing games have been in desperate need of something worth playing for a long while now.
Decent games that make their way stateside have become increasingly few and far between. Not to mention the proverbial growing pains the genre as been dealing with over the last few years. Finding that balance of innovating the system, while retaining core gameplay seems to be tough to accomplish. Despite these problems, I’m happy to report that a new game has cracked the formula.
The PS3 exclusive, ‘Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch” casts you as Oliver, a young boy living in the bustling little town of Motorville. Tragedy strikes when Oliver’s mother suffers a heart attack, leaving him in a dark place. He soon is transported to a parallel fantasy world, where he sets out on a mission to stop an evil demon, save the world and bring his mother back to life.
Before I mention anything else, I need to address how positively gorgeous the visuals are in this game.
Level-5, known for the Dragon Quest series of RPG’s, have teamed up with animation giant Studio Ghibli. Led by famed director Hayao Miyazaki, the studio is responsible for some of the most beloved animated classics to come out of Japan. The game evokes an animation style akin to films like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” or the more recent, “The Secret World of Arietty.” Fully animated cutscenes blend with in-game models to create a world that is simply a delight at which to look.
The story itself is very Ghibli-esque, as well, subtly asking the question,“‘is this fantasy world real, or is it just a mechanism for Oliver to deal with his grief”? The plot can feel a tad generic at times, but it kept me interested, and threw a few curveballs at me along the way.
Gameplay is reminiscent of the classic RPGs of yesteryear. Explore the world map, find a town, fight your way through a dungeon. It’s familiar territory (after our recent drought, however, I found it welcome). The battle system is an active turn-based variation. You have free roam of the battlefield, while actions like attack and magic have reload times. There are a few welcome twists to the formula, however. Much of the time, you won’t be fighting with your main characters, but rather with “familiars,” small creatures you obtain throughout the game, first through story points, and later, by capturing them. Think Pokémon, but with more action.
To me, one of the most important aspects of a game like this, is how much there is to do. In this respect, “Ni No Kuni” goes above and beyond. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the world, tracking down certain familiars, crafting new items through alchemy, and going out of my way to accomplish the numerous side-quests.
It’s hard to see flaws in a game that’s this beautiful to look at, but I did find a few issues. Occasionally, my familiars would get stuck on each other while trying to make their way to the enemy. Teammate AI is fairly lackluster, as well. There are parameters that let you customize how your party will behave, but they are unfortunately pretty undeveloped. These are almost non-issues, though, as they don’t break the game most of the time.
While “Ni No Kuni” probably won’t recruit any newcomers to the JRPG genre, it serves as a love letter to gamers who have been clamoring for a return to form, while implementing some fun new ideas.
The gorgeous visuals, addictive gameplay, and sheer number of ways to fill your time, add up to create a masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed.
• Zach Walters writes game reviews for Planit Pl@y. Email him at email@example.com. Visit his blog at PlanitNorthwest.com/blogs/geekfeed.