Review: ‘Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’on February 21, 2013 at 8:00 am
Disclaimer: The world “Whimsical” and all its associated forms gets thrown around a lot. And yet, there is no word that better encapsulates “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch”. So, I’ve devised a “Ni no Kuni” Swear Jar. Every time I specifically refer to the game as “whimsical” or containing copious amounts of “whimsy”, I’ll throw a quarter in. Read along, and watch me throw my money away… to myself.
Whimsy: It’s something that resides in many fantastical worlds. It’s something that stirs up the imagination, lights up the eyes, and makes everything feel magical. Some games contain whimsical parts but “Ni no Kuni” is a game that was built around the very concept of whimsy. It’s absolutely overflowing with the stuff. You know the scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where those giant doors open and the kids first lay their eyes upon all of the fantastical candy concoctions in the factory? “Ni no Kuni” makes you feel like that for fifty hours.
Of course, Level-5, the developers of “Ni no Kuni”, are no strangers to creating whimsical worlds. They’ve dealt with the concept quite a bit in games like: “Dark Cloud 2” with steampunk whimsy, “Dragon Quest VIII” with medieval whimsy, and “Professor Layton” with retro-European and accordion whimsy. While all of those games are great, none of them were developed with help from Studio Ghibli and that’s what makes “Ni no Kuni” rather special.
Studio Ghibli, if you’re not familiar, is a world-renowned Japanese animation studio, famous for such films as: “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Porco Rosso”, “Princess Mononoke”, “Spirited Away”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, and many more. They specialize in creating imaginative and fanciful worlds and their signature is all over this game. This is the first time Studio Ghibli has ever helped create a video game, (With the exception of a game called “Magic Pengal” on PS2, but their part was minimal.) so the idea actually playing a Ghibli film was almost intoxicating. I won’t lie, that sold me on the game before I even got my hands on it.
To further enhance the Ghibli-ness of the game, the music is composed by Joe Hisaishi. He has composed the music for many Ghibli films. It sounds fantastic, perfectly scores your quest, and only continues to keep up the illusion that you’re playing an interactive Ghibli film.
You play as a 13-year-old boy named Oliver from a picturesque slice of 50’s Americana called Motorville. Everything in Oliver’s life is normal until an incident occurs and his mother suddenly dies. Heartbroken and alone, Oliver cries into a stuffed animal; which comes to life and introduces himself as Mr. Drippy, a rebellious fairy with a lantern pierced through his nose, a thick Welsh accent, and a predilection for saying exactly what is on his mind.
Mr. Drippy reveals to Oliver that there is another world (Another World is the rough translation for “Ni no Kuni”.) parallel to his own and every person in Oliver’s world shares a soul with someone from the other. Mr. Drippy tells Oliver that the Dark Djinn, Shadar, has captured the soul of the Great Sage, Alicia, who happens to be the soul mate of Oliver’s mom. If Oliver can help free Alicia, then there might be a chance that Oliver’s mom will be saved in the process. Reluctant, Oliver eventually relents into travelling to the other world to begin his adventure.
I don’t want to go too far into things, but Oliver learns that he is the Pure-Hearted One. Capable of fixing the broken hearts Shadar leaves in his wake and foretold to save to world. Oliver has to learn all of the magic that he can so he can become strong enough to realize the prophecy.
The story is all standard stuff, sure, but the quality of the writing and localization, along with the strength of the world you inhabit make it so you never have to worry about losing interest. You’ll come across cliche after cliche and many players will know what is going to happen long before it actually does but it simply won’t matter. “Ni no Kuni” doesn’t pride itself on weaving a dramatic and complex plot. It simply wants to take the player on an adventure and, in that regard, it succeeds brilliantly.
This is largely due in part to how meticulously detailed the world is. This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful games ever created. Every single environment is lovingly crafted by people who actually seem to like what they do. You can tell a lot of care went into crafting the world and the characters that reside within. Exploring all these areas and just existing in this game makes it so you never really want to leave.
Forests are dense and lush and cities look like they were hand built, laying down one brick at a time. Fauna is bright, varied, and colorful. Even the way Oliver walks up and down steps and the way Mr. Drippy occupies himself in the background are things to behold. Honestly, I’m not going to be able to do a very good job explaining just how good this game looks and how good it simply feels to be in it. It’s just special that way.
When I first started the game, I ran around Motorville for half an hour doing absolutely nothing. I was just taking it all in and observing the small touches that were included to help flesh out the environment. Then night came, and I did it all over again just to see how everything had changed.
I also have to give it up for the world map; many RPGs, admittedly, do a very poor job with this. That’s why most have either gone without or have gone with an open-world. However, done right, “Ni no Kuni” shows that world maps are not outdated or obsolete in the slightest. Besides the fact that it looks amazing, the map actually functions as a part of the game. It contains tons of hidden treasure to dig up, items to gather for alchemy, powerful bounties to hunt down and defeat, and lots of hidden areas to discover.
The other thing that helps make up for the run-of-the-mill story, is that Oliver also comes off as a very likeable protagonist. He is a kid with an unending reserve of positivity and hope. Usually, that can get annoying–especially since Oliver uses words like “Neat”, “Jeepers”, and “Golly”– but “Ni no Kuni” is filled with so much whimsy and infallible optimism that Oliver ends up fitting right in. The incredible thing about this is that it manages to be this way without coming off as overly childish. It doesn’t feel like a game for kids but can very much bring out the kid inside you.
It also helps that Mr. Drippy acts as ballast to balance things out. He’s snarky, quick-witted, and isn’t shy about expressing his opinion of a situation. Essentially, he is there to inject the thoughts of the player into the game, because he usually says what I’m thinking. He just says it like a Welshman while constantly using words like “Tidy”, which I find I’m accidentally starting to say in real life. However, his attitude doesn’t come off as harsh or rude, rather it’s like some playful jabs coming from an old friend. He is the best and most well-rounded character in the entire game.
Hmm, all this and I haven’t even touched upon the actual game play yet… yikes.