Written by Twisted Ideas
Ni no Kuni is a collaboration with Level 5 Inc. (Professor Layton) and Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away), one of the most famous Japanese animation studios. Originally a DS title then on the PS3 in Japan, Ni no Kuni has finally been localized to the NA and PAL regions. With a game based around a young protagonist in a world of magic is Ni no Kuni banking on the name of Studio Ghibli or do they have something magical.
Oliver is a young boy who lives a normal everyday life with his friends and family. In another world Oliver is considered the pure hearted one who is destined to save the world. The White Witch who fears this prophecy attempts to end his life. Oliver is saved but the tragic cost of his mother’s life. Oliver who is sad and alone sheds tears onto his doll Drippy is freed from his curse and turns out to have been a fairy. Drippy teaches Oliver about Another World and his destiny as the pure hearted one to become a Great Sage. Initially reluctant, Oliver agrees when he finds out that they maybe a chance to save his mother.
Ni no Kuni is a JRPG with an a real-time battle system. During battles, You are able to control a single party member or any of their familiars that they possess while the rest of the party is AI controlled. Each character and familiar have their own attacks, stats and resistances to fight against enemies. You have a wheel of options when fighting but when an option is used it will have to cooldown before it can be used again. Some commands such as Attack and Guard can be canceled by pressing Circle but they will receive cooldown. Orbs occasionally drop from enemies when effectively attacking or defending. Green glims restore HP, blue restores MP and gold give you access to a character or familiar’s Miracle Move which could be a very powerful attack or support skill.
Familiars in action
Familiars are the biggest part of the battle system. Most main characters have little combat potential and even Oliver isn’t effective early on because of his limited MP and spells. Each party member and their three familiars share health and magic so if one falls then that part of the team falls. Familiars fill in the combat gaps in the party as they can be either physical or have spells for elements they cannot use. Familiar’s stats can be raised by feeding them, they could be taught spells by giving them gems and when they reach their appropriate levels they can evolve. All familiars have stamina that drains when active and recovers when not. If their stamina reaches zero they cannot fight until switched out and full recover. Later on in the game a character joins your party who can tame familiars. Occasionally during fights monsters will be infatuated with you allowing them to be serenaded.
Outside of combat Oliver can perform spells. Some spells are more practical such as healing or warping while other are used during specific puzzles, story or sidequests. Later on you are able to perform alchemy to combine items to create something new and stronger.
Errands and bounty hunting become a big focus of the game. A story called Swift Solutions will give you notice of new hunts and errands posted. Hunts will spawn powerful monsters somewhere in the world. Errands are requests from the people. Completing any of these will give you merit stamps on your Stamp Cards. If you collect 10 stamps your card can be used to earn bonuses from Swift Solutions such as more experience or higher drop rate from monsters.
Graphics and Sound
Ni no Kuni uses a cel shaded look with the traditional Japanese animation style and cartoon flair. The human character designs are typical but creature and the non-human characters designs unique and likeable. Most JRPG’s have over designed creatures that lose a lot of their charm. The creatures in Ni no Kuni are reminiscent of Pokemon because of the simple yet approachable designs.
Yes, The little guy at the bottom has a lantern on his nose.
The music of the game has an epic feel and some tracks are perfectly scored to set the mood. Characters are voiced and are given British accents unlike most localized games. For the most part the lip syncing is spot on. The quality of the voice actors is high.
The biggest problems of the game is how long it takes to get started. About 3 or 4 hours of the game (depending on how distracted you were by errands) you will finally get your second party member and the ability to tame more familiars (at a low chance) opening up the combat. There is a lot of hand holding prominent at the start of the game and continues throughout. They feel the need to explain every little control and mechanic, there are waypoints constantly and most puzzles have the answers blatantly revealed to you. There are at least two tutorials that actually says they have to wrap it up as they are afraid of losing the player.
Another problem is taming familiars. They are 100% random and while not necessary to complete the game some sidequests require specific creatures in order to complete. Some creature can be difficult to find on top of the luck involved in taming.
One of the more interesting things about the game is that how challenging it is. Half of it is the strength of the monsters but the other half is how draining fights can be. Dungeons consist of randomly respawning enemies that are difficult to avoid. It’s balanced so that fights aren’t easy but probably won’t kill you. Healing items are very crucial because MP will not last you for too many fight because of healing and the fact you cannot control what skills the AI will use. This was both refreshing and frustrating because most RPGs rarely force you to have to go through your item bag throughout the whole game.
Despite being part Studio Ghibli doesn’t beat you over the head with themes. What has carried over from the studio is the world of magic, the music and the writing. I was surprised to find who good the writing was in the game. Not only the main plot was interesting but there were several strong short stories riddled throughout the main game. They had touching, dramatic, saddening and heartfelt moments that just draws you in. Often times character’s back stories linger throughout the game as meat for the main plot. Ni no Kuni’s “baggage” isn’t what drives the characters but what they have to overcome to become a stronger person.
There was a lot of attention to detail in the Wizard Compendium if you take the time to look through it. They have alchemy recipes, lore of the world, fairy tales and even its own alphabet. This is also a game where you might consider taking out a pen and paper to write notes for translations, alchemy recipes and hints for the puzzles in the game.
Ni no Kuni is an ambitious game that takes a while to get started. For RPG fans there are dozens of hours of content to be experienced. The main quest is very long and rich with story and characters. There are tons of sidequests are very rewarding that will draw you in for even longer. The game is somewhat difficult but there is an easy mode if you just want to experience the game. If you are not a person who has the patience or time for a RPG game then this isn’t game for you. For those who have both after getting past the slow start you will be rewarded with a fantastic and one of the most complete JRPGs I have played in a long time.