Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a PlayStation 3 remake of the 2010 Nintendo DS game Ni No Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi. You play as a 10 year old boy named Oliver, who goes out on a journey to another world to save his mother after a tragic event at the beginning of the game. Along the way he meets citizens of this other world who have been brokenhearted, robbing them of a key emotion which leaves them in an emotionless zombie-like state (without all of the nasty biting). To stop this from happening further, he must defeat the Dark Djinn, Shadar who is terrorising the entire world with this affliction. On this journey you’ll meet many enjoyable companions, the earliest of which, Drippy the ‘Lord High Lord of the Fairies’, adds a lot of character and humor the the game. He is also your mentor and guide helping you through tutorials and assisting you in progressing further in quests.
Mixing old school and modern Japanese role playing gameplay, Ni No Kuni impresses with an engaging battle system typical to Level 5’s previous titles as well as the much revered Pokémon series. You can fight in battle as Oliver or his companions, however this is not advised as you’ll die very quickly, until Oliver becomes more capable later on. Instead you can capture creatures called familiars that inhabit the world. These are creatures who become impressed with your fighting prowess and join your team. Familiars add a lot of variety to the battles, each with their own specific strengths and weaknesses. Some are fast, hitting enemies multiple times before they can retaliate, but will need to use buffs as their basic attacks will do little damage normally. Others act as tanks dealing out large damage and taking it, but hit infrequently and cannot assist in any other manner.
Unlike many current RPGs from Japan, the overworld allows you to travel freely around the world without preset destinations in a list, allowing for a more enjoyable sense of freedom. The world feels large at first, though most of it is taken up by water, with only a few large islands accompanied by slightly more, smaller ones. Typical of classic JRPGs, there are multiple modes of transport as you progress through the game. The best of which making traversal over long distances completely trivial, which is much appreciated after thirty to forty hours of gameplay.
Speaking of making traversal easier, random encounters seem to be a thing of the past, instead, enemies appear in normal gameplay, so if you do not want to fight said enemies you can just walk straight past them if they face the opposite direction. It is possible to take advantage of this, as walking into your creatures while their back is turned gives you around ten seconds of free attacks. Enemies will attempt to do this against you if given the chance adding an element of risk to slipping past enemies. Eventually as you level your character up higher, enemies will turn and flee. A great feature, especially while retreading familiar ground multiple times.
Revisiting locations is especially common in Ni No Kuni thanks to its bountiful side quests. Some of the better examples require you to hunt down extremely strong enemies through one of the major continents. However, side quests are a cause for poor pacing throughout Ni No Kuni. Even though they offer a large amount of content, the majority of the side quests are reused in each area. The same characters appear throughout asking you to do the exact same thing as you did before just in the newer town. The worst being a quest line that requires you to capture a certain selection of familiars to present to the client. In later parts of the game this becomes especially difficult as the familiars for which you are required to enlist are extremely rare, with low capture percentages.
Frustratingly, side quests are necessary to stand a chance of progressing properly through the game without excessive grinding. Difficulty ramps up quickly throughout the adventure if you do not keep on top of your characters levels. This is again accentuated even further by the fact that leveling familiars gives you the opportunity to evolve them into stronger forms, similar to Pokémon. Unlike Pokémon, when this happens to your familiar, their character level is reduced back to level one. Evolving only offers the potential for a strong familiar in the future. In the end, side quests feel more like a mask hiding the grind but it does its damage over the course of the game. You’ll want to progress onto the next interesting and enjoyable plot point only to be held back by constant menial tasks.
To move away from the disappointing parts of Ni No Kuni and onto what will be the unsurprising draw for most. This is an exceptionally beautiful game. Cell shading has obviously been done for years in games, each improving over the last with NNK being no exception. Studio Ghibli worked with Level 5 to create an astounding visual experience feeling close to one of their feature films. Occasionally a short fully animated cutscene by Ghibli will present itself, however most cutscenes reside in engine.
A lot of attention seems to have gone into bringing the world to life with fluid life-like animations for even the smallest things. For example when Oliver runs down stairs, instead of just approximately stepping on the steps or just floating over them with the normal run animation like in other games, he does what any normal human would do and takes little meager steps down while still keeping up his pace.
Beyond the visuals, a marvelous soundtrack underscores every moment of the experience, whether its trekking across the overworld or punctuating the ample emotionally charged scenes. The excellent sound design doesn’t stop there as every voice actor is appropriate to each character, adding humor to certain scenes. Drippy and the other fairies you’ll meet throughout have a lovely Welsh accent that is a delight to hear. It is a shame then that speech is used so sparsely leaving text to pick up the slack for a lot of the game’s dialogue.
Making leaps forward in convenience of gameplay, Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch adds up to an extremely enjoyable experience. However, it takes steps back through over abundant, uninteresting side quests that slow the game’s pace down. In the end, for anyone with any love for classic Japanese role playing games, Studio Ghibli movies, or just want a charming adventure in a wonderful colourful world, Ni No Kuni will see right by you.