First Impressions – Ni no Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch For PS3
As perhaps the first major physical release of 2013, and one of the titles to open the floodgates of this year’s chaotic release schedule, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has an unenviable task ahead of it. Despite having the might of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro; Spirited Away) behind its animation, and the fact that it is developed by Level-5 (Professor Layton series; Dark Cloud), Ni no Kuni faces the tough task of becoming recognisable and desirable when compared against such titles as Devil May Cry, Dead Space 3 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. With a demo recently released on PSN, should Ni no Kuni find a place on your radar?
The first impression you’ll have of the game (and it’s no real surprise) is that the visuals are gorgeous –and also a little weird. Oliver, our protagonist, and Drippy, his guide, look as if they’ve just stepped out of a Studio Ghibli movie, and the world of Ni no Kuni is just as beautiful, from the forests in the first section of the demo to the lava in the second part. What struck me most, though, was the brief glimpse you have of the world map, which looks almost as if a drawing has been torn straight from a children’s story book. It’s almost hand-drawn in its charm, and there’s no way that I’d get bored looking up where I have to go next. The music is also rather majestic, as composer Joe Hisaishi continues the fantastic work that he’s previously contributed to Studio Ghibli’s animations.
The Ni no Kuni demo consists of two different sections: The Deep Dark Wood and The Mountain of Fire. You’re allowed to spend up to 25 minutes in each section, which gives you a chance to explore the environment, experience a number of battles, and get a basic feel for the game. As part of The Deep Dark Wood (which seems to take place early in the game), players battle the Guardian of the Woods – a giant green creature who is made partially out of trees. Following the battle you have a brief interaction with Old Father Oak, who seems like he will play a large part in Oliver’s journey. The Mountain of Fire quest tasks Oliver and Drippy, along with a new companion, Esther, with climbing to the summit of Old Smoky (a volcano) within three minutes, in an attempt to prevent it from erupting. This section is placed later in the game, but still appears to mark the first time Oliver encounters Shadar in person, who looks to be the main antagonist, particularly at this stage of Ni no Kuni. From the brief introduction to the plot served up at the beginning of the first demo section, Oliver is seeking to find his mother, who has somehow become lost within Ni no Kuni, and Drippy (Lord High Lord of the Fairies who also happened to be gift from his mother) seeks to aid Oliver in this quest.
As a JRPG, one of the primary portions of Ni no Kuni is the battle system, and whilst the demo doesn’t offer up too much of an opportunity to get a good grasp of the mechanics, what is presented seems interesting – if a little unoriginal. The main focus when you battle is the use of Oliver’s Familiars, which seem to operate in a similar manner to Pokémon in that you release them upon your foes, control them in battle, and assign different attacks to them. These Familiars are able to run around the 3D battlefield and attack enemies from different angles, which allows for the utilization of both strategy and the targeting enemies at certain weak points. Various orbs, known as Glims, are dropped by enemies upon the battlefield, with green and blue Glims refilling the health and mana meters, and gold Glims (which are rarer) allowing for special attacks. Both Oliver and his Familiars are able to level up, although I wasn’t given enough time with the game to fully explore the repercussions of this beyond the standard stat increases. As you progress in the game and gain new companions, the AI takes over controlling the additional members of your party, saving you from needing to jump from one character to the next. The AI seems to do a good job of managing attacks and tactics as well, which is a relief.
Outside of battle, Ni no Kuni seems to offer a lot of collectibles for the player to hunt and collect, including Tales of Wonder (The Squirrels and the Bramble was unlocked in this version, although the demo didn’t allow me to read it), components for the Wizard’s Companion, and various sections for the Telling Stone, which seems to operate as some form of in-game manual and database. There are also a number of spells that can be unlocked, although I again wasn’t able to look into these in any real depth.
The demo of Ni no Kuni doesn’t really allow players enough time with the game to get a solid grip of its mechanics or narrative, but what is shown to us is certainly promising. Not least of which are the visuals: Studio Ghibli’s style comes across magnificently here, with main characters, bosses and even miscellaneous enemies all comprised of a beauty that would feel right at home in one of Studio Ghibli’s movies. Drippy seems like an interesting guide, and his vocal quirks, which emulate a northern English accent, will make for entertaining reading as the game goes on. The apparent variety in environments will be sure to keep the players’ attention, as it ensures an interesting passage through the world of Ni no Kuni. JRPG fans seems to have a lot to be excited about with this release, and those looking for an art style different from the usual greys and browns might find Ni no Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch a sight for sore eyes.
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