Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on Blogcritics.
Namco’s new RPG, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a celebration of Anime and Japanese role playing games like no other. The largest anime convention in North America, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, Calif. isn’t until July, but Ni No Kuni is an event unto itself. Developer Level 5 is best known for its work on the Professor Layton series, Dragon Quest VIII, and Dark Cloud has teamed up with the world’s best known anime filmmakers. Studio Ghibli is responsible for the Academy Award winning Spirited Away and other well known films like Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, and Grave of the Fireflies.
The first thing you need to know about Ni no Kuni is that it’s a throwback JRPG and a really huge one at that. Except for the level of quality in its presentation, there is little groundbreaking in this game. Unfortunately, due to the amount of content, the game isn’t able to maintain that quality throughout the game. There is some great animation and well done voice work, but that is only offered at key moments. That means there is an awful lot of reading, which along with classic JRPG mechanics is bound to turn many gamers off.
If you’ve watched any amount of anime at all, you’ve most likely seen a Studio Ghibli film or one that was heavily influenced by it. Something like the anime version of Pixar, many of their titles are family friendly. Ni no Kuni fits that bill perfectly. The premise for the game is something like the movie The Neverending Story’s combined with Harry Potter. Set in the town of Motorville that looks like an anime version of a Norman Rockwell painting, players take the role of a young boy named Oliver. Oliver lives in a house with his mother and is well known around the village.
Ni no Kuni gets things moving along pretty quickly and an accident could have put a tragic end to the story pretty quickly. There is some magic in this world though and with some intervention, Oliver and this tale avoid an early conclusion. Instead of Oliver dying, the consequences of his careless actions are paid for by his mother. His grief and tears specifically, bring to life an old toy that offers hope to save his mother’s life. There is another dimension, named Ni no Kuni tied tightly with this one which may offer a solution for Oliver and desperately needs his help regardless.
This parallel dimension mechanic isn’t new. It’s been used in The Legend of Zelda games since the Super Nintendo and as recently as the latest Devil May Cry. Bioware’s throwback western RPG Dragon Age: Origins also had a similar concept called “The Fade.” In Ni no Kuni, the ability to travel back and forth is one of the first gifts given to young Oliver. Except for this aspect, the game feels an awful lot like the latest home console version of Dragon Quest. The rest of the mechanics will all feel very familiar for JRPG veterans.
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