Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Level-5/Studio Ghibli/Namco Bandai
Rating: Everyone 10+
No, you’re not going crazy. That doll just started calling you names.
While your initial reaction might be to seek professional help, maybe you should first check to see you’ve been cast as the hero in a Japanese role-playing game. Especially if the game in question is a joint project between Level-5 (the brains behind the Professor Layton series) and Studio Ghibli (the animation masters who gave us Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.)
Their collaborative energies have given us a tale of magic and monster-taming in the form of the PlayStation 3 exclusive Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
Players take the role of Oliver, a resident of the town of Motorville, who beings his journey after a series of events lead him through a gateway to a parallel fantasy world that’s under the clutches of a malevolent entity known as Shadar. In typical role-playing game fashion, you’re tasked with assembling a group of adventurers in an epic quest to save the world.
If anyone is to blame for Oliver being able to transcend space and time, it would be a toss-up between his friend’s go-cart invention and a doll brought to life through the magic of tears. It all makes sense in the game. You’ll see.
Yes, the short version sounds like the prototypical role-playing adventure. It isn’t until you’ve experienced the game’s opening hours that you realize how much its charms have grown on you, and that you’re essentially playing through a very lengthy and interactive Miyazaki film.
If there are gripes to be had, they’re in the touchy and at-times frustrating monster battles.
Once Oliver is given the ability to summon minions for use in battle, players control these creatures in real-time around the battlefield, pausing only to select a change in the summoning roster or target – sometimes.
Being able to run circles around the enemy is useful when dealing with melee opponents, but its usefulness fizzes out when baddies start dishing out magic skills powerful enough to cause a one-hit KO.
Traditional levelling-up and equipment upgrade strategies work, but both experience and money gains are so few and far between that this quickly turns into more of a painful chore than an enjoyable gaming experience.
You’ll be happy to note that you can expect to set aside at least 30 hours of your time to be able to play through Ni no Kuni’s main storyline. It’s a ballpark figure, however, as there are more than enough side activities – including a 300-plus page Wizard’s Companion to read through in-game – that can easily increase this number to a more traditional length of 40 to 60 hours.
Minor gameplay grievances aside, there’s more than enough creative energy in this jewel to make it a must-buy for any fan of the role-playing game genre.
Case in point: Ni no Kuni’s spectacular score composed by Studio Ghibli’s maestro, Joe Hisaishi, and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The music tracks are basically feature film-quality pieces under the guise of in-game music arrangements. A soundtrack so majestic that I would often set the controller down just to take in what I was hearing.
The game’s world map melody is a perfect example, as is the music you hear in the background on the language selection screen. Magic to the ears.
The voice work is a top-notch collection of English dubs with each actor giving their character a certain charm that could only come from a Level-5 production. Standout performances include the ever-peppy Mr. Drippy – Oliver’s talking doll – voiced by Steffan Rhodri. Or the maleficent Shadar, voiced by Brian Protheroe, whose vileness has a way of naturally oozing through each line of his dialogue.
Wrath of the White Witch combines the innocence of an anime feature film with a well-known “get up and try again” attitude. The game is light-handed with its morals, and not overly melodramatic in its story. It exists as a perfect balance between two drastically different forms of storytelling: a film and role-playing game.
Ultimately, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a very satisfying experience that can be enjoyed by both new and veteran players.