Ni No Kuni (Another World) tells the story of a boy named Oliver who becomes a magician so he can reclaim his mother from death and save the world by defeating the Dark Djinn, Shadar. Alongside Studio Ghibli (the creators of Spirited Away, Ponyo and Castle in the Sky), Level-5 have crafted a wonderful narrative which is the one of the best of this generation for the spectrum of Japanese RPG’s. The characters are fascinating and likable and really in depth in terms of story and personality. Also, the world is so inviting to explore and as the narrative drives forward, you will want to carry on as you visit new areas in the world. The beginning of Ni No Kuni can drag on for a few hours and at one point, this reviewer became aggravated but after this short spell, Ni No Kuni will grab you and it will not let you go until the end.
Oliver’s adventures involve an in-depth battle system which is appealing to both newcomers and old school roleplaying fans but Level-5 have faulted on the artificial intelligence of your allies. In the game, there is a mesh of both action and turn based RPG game mechanics. You can move around the area of the battle but you have to select your moves by a turn based system. You can avoid attacks by moving out of the way or you can defend attacks. By defending, you can also get perks like HP/MP boosts in the form of green/blue orbs or if you’re lucky, a super attack in a gold orb. When obtaining these, you can deal heavy damage or give statistic/health boosts depending on the familiars/companion you use. On the topic of familiars, these creatures are beings you fight and obtain throughout the game very much like Nintendo’s popular Pokemon franchise. In Ni No Kuni, familars can level up, learn new abilities and be synthesized into higher versions of themselves but unlike Pokemon, familiars go back to level 1 when they evolve so you have to decide whether or not to keep the familiar you have or change their form. This reviewer suggests changing the familiar’s form rather than keeping the one you have because in the end, it will have higher statistics than what it used to have.
What Level-5 should evolve, within a later patch, is the party’s artificial intelligence. At times, you will face a strong enemy which will require your team to defend against powerful attacks but you cannot rely on them to protect themselves. This ends up with many deaths of your fellow party members and will lead to many failures in the game. They also tend to not follow your direct commands (through the tactics menu) and they cannot heal you when they run out of magical power (MP). At one point, James Dahl, a fellow editor of PlayStation Euphoria tried to have his party do nothing and they were still fighting! Ni No Kuni does throw in a few new mechanics to help this issue around 15 hours in called the “All Out Attack” and “All Out Defense” but these still fail to solve these issues. How Level-5 could have improved the A.I is by taking inspiration from the Kingdom Hearts series. In the original two games on the PlayStation 2, you were able to allocate items to party members such as potions (restore HP) and ethers (restore MP). With this, you were able to rely on your party to keep themselves healed. On Ni No Kuni, however, this is not the case when your party’s MP meter falls to 0. While this system could be added to the series in a possible sequel, Level-5 could improve the A.I’s reactions to your commands by patching the game.
For those who do not like to grind (levelling up characters in repeating sets of battles), however, Ni No Kuni may not be for you as with each boss battle, the player will need to level up and finish side quests to proceed. There is an easy difficulty option however and this will reduce this annoyance for people who just want to experience the story or are new to the genre but the player will still need to grind to match up with the upcoming boss fight but in a much more miniscule way. RPG veterans will absolutely love grinding in Ni No Kuni as they get the satisfaction of overcoming the skirmish. The game has a great balance between grinding and difficulty so for newcomers or veterans to the roleplaying genre, the game is definitely worth trying.
To heighten play time, you will have the option of doing favors for the communities in the world and with each mission you accomplish, the player will collect merit stamps. These missions include bounty hunts for specific familiars or collecting lost items. In addition to that, Oliver has the ability to give characters certain characteristics that they have lost from the evil Shadar such as enthusiasm, courage and belief. How Oliver does this is to find someone in that world who has that quality that the other character is missing. These stamps total up and as you reach 10 stamps, Oliver will receive a merit card to be used on bonuses such as a discount in stores or being able to sneak up on enemies easily.
What Level-5 should get a stamp for is the wondrous world of Ni No Kuni. The in game graphics take much inspiration from Studio Ghibli’s designs and movies of the past. Plus, the towns in Ni No Kuni feel vibrant and exciting. At one point, you are in a seaside town and then you are in a fairy village which are both brimming with color and architectural design. The one complaint this reviewer has about many RPG’s of this ilk, however, is that many NPC’s (Non-playable Characters) all look the same. In a desert town called Al Mamoon, for example, you will see the same kid in blue shorts running around or standing about three times. Plus, you will see that same character NPC design in another town. Unfortunately Level-5 have recycled character models for their towns and there is no excuse for that, now that we are past the PlayStation 2 era. Despite of the recycling character models, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli have created what could be the most beautiful roleplaying video game world to date.
What also is beautiful, is Ni No Kuni’s music composed by Joe Hisaishi, the mastermind behind the sound tracks of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. With the help of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Hisaishi has brought Ni No Kuni’s landscapes, story and characters to life and the theme of the game definitely immerses you into Oliver’s huge adventure. The voice acting by all the cast, also, is top notch and with the humorous “Lord High Lord of the Fairies” Welsh sounding Drippy played by Steffan Rhodri, the game shines in terms of voice talent and personality. The localization of these characters was dealt with extreme diligence by Namco Bandai as there are plenty of Welsh/British sayings that many North Americans probably wouldn’t understand (but will probably laugh at/try to copycat). In regards to IGN’s comment on the voice cast of Ni No Kuni, Colin Moriarity stated that “Oliver’s voice acting is perhaps the most disappointing” but this reviewer thinks differently. Oliver’s voice acting during the beginning of Ni No Kuni torn at the heartstrings and this doesn’t happen very often to this reviewer. Also the voice actor maintained to establish an excellent performance throughout the game’s narrative. Remember that this voice actor was a child at the time of recording, not a woman, and for that age, this young thespian did a remarkable job for such a large role.Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the best Japanese Roleplaying Game on the PlayStation 3 without a shadow of a doubt. The story is well told by a stellar voice cast, the graphics are some of the best on the platform with Level-5 taking inspiration from Studio Ghibli’s stunning art style and the gameplay, despite its artificial intelligence woes, is addicting but satisfyingly difficult for both newcomers and veterans of the roleplaying genre. Thank you Namco Bandai for localizing this game. It has been a pleasure to play Ni No Kuni and I hope for more flippin‘ fantastic games from Namco Bandai in the future.
Thank you Namco Bandai for supplying us a review copy for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.