Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch Review

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch screenshot
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch screenshot

Ni No Kuni reminds you just why you fell in love with the JRPG. I mean, it also reminds you of why you hate the genre. There's more than enough ammunition here for the doubters to fill their boots with delicious insult pie and other such effortless metaphors. But those willing to open themselves up to it - those who give Ni No Kuni the slightest of chances - will find a genuinely enchanting experience; a game that filled me, a hoary old cynic, with a genuine childlike wonder. It's on the banned word list, but here we go: Ni No Kuni is charming.

To boil it down to its constituent mechanical parts is to do us all a disservice, but it can hardly be called a review if it just waxes lyrical about how much it made the reviewer grin like a moron. Plus it's worth pointing out that this, being a Level-5 production, is up there with the cream of the crop in JRPG mechanics. Discounting White Knight Chronicles.

The absolute central core of Ni No Kuni can be described in two distinct ways of playing: exploration and battles. There's nothing mind-bending in either, with exploration straddling the middle ground between Skyrim's open world and Final Fantasy XIII's closed corridors. Battles, meanwhile, take in a healthy mix of FFXIII (and XII), the Tales series, Star Ocean, Suikoden, Pokemon and - to mention it for the purely sake of mentioning it - Monster Rancher. Take the best elements from all of these games' fighting systems and you've got yourself a vague idea of what Ni No Kuni battles like: direct-control roaming arenas with timing-based semi-real time combat, the ability to control 'familiars' (little monsters), powerups littering the battlefield, strategic team commands and a fair few other bits and bobs. And copious consumption of sandwiches when you run out of MP, of course.

But it doesn't seem to ever stop with the layers being thrown in there - you're still getting extra features added in hours later, from metamorphosis of your familiars through the ability to tame enemies, on to cooking up strong coffee in a genie-occupied cauldron (no, really). You can play Ni No Kuni and not pay much attention to everything else going on in the background - you can follow the star on the map, grind out a few battles to level up, beat the next boss and just get on with it. You don't have to bother with anything else. But it all feels so natural that you allow yourself to fall into it, then it gets under your skin and becomes a necessary part of the game. I had to spend half an hour finding some Rings-A-Bell so I could finish making the potion I needed. It was helpful to sit reading the Wizard's Companion for an hour. Soon enough you'll find yourself switching off the navigation star (really, do that) and just getting entirely lost in the world - in the mechanics - Level-5 has created.

It's often a check-list inclusion to talk about the presentation of a game, and it's already become somewhat trite to point out that Ni No Kuni really does NEED its looks to be talked about - we've had years of staring at the screens and watching the videos to see it really does look that good, after all. But, well - it really does look that good. One more time: it really does look that good. It's unmistakeably Studio Ghibli - no more so than in the animated video sequences (mainly because that literally is a Studio Ghibli film, of course) - and everything has a rounded, slightly plump, comfortable feeling to it. You'll spot anyone evil - or a bit dodgy - a mile off because they'll be that bit pointier than everyone else.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch screenshot

But I shouldn't get sidetracked from the point I wanted to make here: when you enter the world map (there's a world map!) a couple of hours into the game (only a couple of hours into the game!) it is this visual style that pushes it over the edge. If it merely looked nice, you'd coo and carry on. Ni No Kuni looks special. It makes you take it all in, almost forcing your eyes to sweep across the vista, checking out the lands unfolding before you or the islands across the seas. In making you want to pay attention, it almost forces you to enjoy it more.

And I'd be damned by all those capable of damning if I was idiotic enough to not mention the voice acting here - specifically the English audio track. While you can, and many will, play the game with the original Japanese voiceovers, for once we have a game where the translated dub is worth hearing. Some of the vocal talent is lacking in the latter aspect of their job description, no doubt, but generally speaking it's a fine mix of English-speakers. And Mr Drippy. Oh, Mr Drippy. Introduced shortly after young Oliver experiences a traumatic experience, the Lord High Lord Of The Fairies is consistently fantastic - I found myself willing the game to enter another fully-voiced cutscene just so I could hear his fantastic (very Welsh) gob-spouting.

Just as with the visuals, the battles, the story, the everything, it's a touch that forces you to take stock. The vocal work is so much better than in most other games you really do pay attention to it, and in paying attention to it you realise it really is bloody good - just as with the visuals, the battles, the story, the everything. And, hand on heart here, I haven't been able to get the world map music out of my head for days now. It's not even annoying. Just lovely.

The JRPG's reputation has been stomped on by the loudmouths who dislike the genre, and their scorn has been backed up in recent years by the actual games coming from the east - even the big-name ones. And that's before even mentioning Atelier Meruru. But with one massive, graceful, Welsh-tinged sweep, the combined might of Level-5 and Studio Ghibli has reinstated credibility to a flagging area of gaming. It's taken years of craft and - likely - a hell of a lot of money, but Ni No Kuni is a wonderful, wondrous experience and will keep you captivated and enchanted for dozens of hours.

And seriously - Mr Drippy is excellent. I was worried his schtick would get tired after the halfway point, but... oh I'm gushing again. Recommended for anyone, apart from those who hate bright colours and the Welsh.

Played for around 25 hours before writing this review, then immediately went back to the game to carry on because who needs to do anything else? I LOVE YOU MR DRIPPY. Debug review code provided by Namco Bandai.

9 / 10

  • Astonishingly good looking at times
  • Cherry picks the best JRPG mechanics
  • As well as it's done, it's still nothing new
  • If you hate the Welsh, you're screwed

Click above for enlarged Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Screenshots

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User Comments

Njeezy's Avatar

Njeezy@ DancingRhino

I was more bothered by people leveling straight up criticism at what I also believe to be a very good and informative review and I agree with the reluctance to post a score of 10 although I'd imagine no game is ever without it's faults.
Posted 01:38 on 20 January 2013
DancingRhino's Avatar

DancingRhino

The review is really good btw, it just sounds like a ten. Maybe some reviewers need innovation to be part of a perfect score, which I suppose is fair enough.

I kind of suspect though in some cases reviewers are scared to mark them 10. It is like putting your head above the parapet in a way, you'd be scared in case other reviews picked up on faults you didn't see.
Posted 13:46 on 19 January 2013
Njeezy's Avatar

Njeezy@ Neon-Soldier32

Stingy wasn't the word I was looking for it was more the idea that they don't give them out flippantly.
Posted 13:11 on 19 January 2013
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32@ Njeezy

But in 2011 there were around 6. I don't think VG are stingy with them; if a game's worth a 10 then it will get a 10.
Posted 12:42 on 19 January 2013
Njeezy's Avatar

Njeezy

Just a quick point for people picking at the reviewer, you realise he gave it a 9 which is a very good score right? Last year there wasn't a single game that VG reviewed as a 10, these guys are as stingy as possible with them.
Posted 08:42 on 19 January 2013
keiichimorisato's Avatar

keiichimorisato

um reviewer? does't this JRPG really need to "innovate" the genre instead of being good at old tropes? look at FFXIII, square tried to "innovate", westernize, and streamline the final fantasy franchise rather than try to do what they used to do but really well. takes a french fry one doesn't ever need to innovate it, but to do it well. in my opinion its about time a game company had the balls to go back to basics. also skyrim doesn't innovate WRPG's in any significant way, but bethesda took old WRPG tropes and do them well.
Posted 00:25 on 19 January 2013
keiichimorisato's Avatar

keiichimorisato@ stupidget

yes there really is a VAST difference between JRPG's and c/wRPG's. some of the difference are like how the stories are written (both WRPG's and JRPG's have its cliches that people either hate or enjoy like elder scrolls Tolkienesk fantasy, JRPG's are decidedly japanese in its story they take Tolkien style fantasy and then infuse it with japanese quirkiness) how combat is handled there are no random battles in this game, you can clearly see the enemies on screen, but other than that its the same as an early final fantasy game. JRPG's tend to be very linear in story telling while WRPG's tend to be more player oriented, JRPG's tend to put more focus on the players and character interactions, WRPG's don't (at least not nearly as many as JRPG's) most WRPG's encourage the player to explore and trek their own path, JRPG's kinda have you going from town to town based on where the story tells yo to go, and gives to illusion of exploration (most JRPG's are as linear as FFXIII just it doesn't feel like it because of the "over world" or "field map") in the end give this game a chance you might like it if you don't return the game to gamestop and get your money back or spend it on another game.
Posted 00:20 on 19 January 2013
SelfSuicide's Avatar

SelfSuicide

Sony could do with a few more JRPG's in the pipeline; bring back the glory days of the PS2 when we were spoilt for choice. Roll on the 1st already.
Posted 20:50 on 18 January 2013
stupidget's Avatar

stupidget

I'll be honest I've never played a JRPG. I've only played a few RPG's for anything in excess of 5 hours, namely Oblivion (completed) , Skyrim (80+ hours) and Dragon Age: Origins (completed) . What I've loved about these games is how I've got utterly engrossed in the story and an actual feeling for the characters. I never got on with FF and found FF 11, 12 and 13 rather tiresome. It may be that I gave up too early on them, but, what I want to know is, is there a VAST difference between a western RPG and a JRPG? Ni No Kuni looks amazing and looks like something I could get my teeth into and the fantasy element appeals, but, I'm put off slightly by the potential grinding and random battles.
Posted 17:19 on 18 January 2013
CharleSketch's Avatar

CharleSketch@ EverTheOptimist

Yeah, the demo should be there on the PS store, it's been out since December last year. It's a great demo: it introduces you a bit to the story, gives you enough chances and time to try the game out and see just how fun and complex the battle mechanics can be, and lets you listen to both english and japanese audio tracks.
Posted 22:19 on 17 January 2013
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32

What a welcomed return.
Posted 20:46 on 17 January 2013
EverTheOptimist's Avatar

EverTheOptimist@ CharleSketch

Is that demo on the PS3 store? This looks great but I've never really played JRPG game. I'm worried I'd end up shelling out and not liking it. Definitely looks worth a try!
Posted 19:12 on 17 January 2013
draytone's Avatar

draytone

Good point Dancing Rhino, why isn't this a 10?

Do games have to reinvent the wheel before they are awarded a 10? Because the welsh voice isn't a valid negative point at all.
Posted 18:53 on 17 January 2013
CharleSketch's Avatar

CharleSketch@ DancingRhino

I didn't got the chance to see the first two hours, but if you check the demo out, one of the parts makes things much more fun and interesting and a tad more difficult. My guess is that it goes uphill from there, but I could be wrong.


Fantastic review! I've been keeping an eye on this game long before it was out in Japan. I remember my excitement when I found out it was getting a world-wide release, and as painful as it was seeing it get delayed time after time, it's great to have it finally here.
Posted 18:40 on 17 January 2013
DancingRhino's Avatar

DancingRhino

The review reads like a 10.


And I like JRPG mechanics: if they are done well you can't get much more satisfaction in gaming than leveling up.

My only small worry about this after watching some of the tuesday playthrough is it might be on the easy side. But that's a personal taste thing. I bet this'll be one of the best games before the next gen comes.
Posted 17:28 on 17 January 2013

Game Stats

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
9
Out of 10
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
  • Astonishingly good looking at times
  • Cherry picks the best JRPG mechanics
  • As well as it's done, it's still nothing new
  • If you hate the Welsh, you're screwed
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 25/01/2013
Platforms: PS3 , DS
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: RPG
No. Players: One
Rating: TBC
Site Rank: 111
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