Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Preview

While 2013 is a year of exciting releases, Ni No Kuni is easily my most anticipated title announced for next year. Studio Ghibli, Level 5 and Namco Bandai have created a truly moving JRPG with beautiful visuals, wonderful voice acting and that special something that makes Ghilbli films so timeless. I was recently able to play through the first three hours of the final game, barely scratching the surface of the story and being brought to tears in the process.

To be open from the start of this preview, there are a good chunk of story details in those opening hours that I’m not going to talk about. I don’t want to spoil the brilliant level of quality that the story maintains during the opening when you finally experience the game yourself. 

The story is about a thirteen year old boy called Oliver, whose mother dies suddenly after saving him from drowning. His tears over his mother’s death bring a doll she made him to life, revealing him to be a magical creature named Drippy, the lord of the fairies. Using a magic book given to him by Drippy, Oliver travels to the world of Ni No Kuni (Japanese for “The Other World”), which runs parallel to his own, in the hopes of being able to bring his mother back to life.

While the scene showing the death of Oliver’s mother is relatively short, the build up to it is fantastic. The preceding story segments give a reason for Oliver to feel an incredible amount of guilt over her passing, along with allowing the player to learn very quickly the type of woman his mother was and why she is someone we should care about. The scenes that follow, which show Oliver mourning his mother’s passing, are some of the most moving and well acted moments in any video game I’ve seen, due in part to the stunning job done by Oliver’s twelve year old voice actor. In a room full of people previewing the game I found myself with tears streaming down my face. The scene was that moving.

Ni No Kuni is a marvel in terms of its localisation, it not only feels natural and syncs up in the Ghibli cutscenes, but also adds a great deal of localised humour, puns and generally intelligently written dialogue. From the Gladiataur (a centaur with gladiator style accessories) to the city of Hamlet inhabited by pigs, the En Guardian Trophy achieved by defeating the guardian of a forest to King Tom the cat being referred to as His Meowjesty, the localisation team have gone above and beyond in their attempts to take the game’s localisation into the upper tier of quality.

The game’s English voice acting is superb, featuring a cast of regional British voice actors, including having a 12 year old boy voicing the main character Oliver, rather than a woman in her thirties (like many video games casting young boys). The result is a very natural sounding cast, that keeps away from stereotyped English voices and allows for a wider variety of character types to be portrayed. The voice acting is being handled by the same company responsible for the English version of Xenoblade Chronicles and the level of expertise involved really shows. The game also features a Japanese language option for those who prefer it, but there are very few games with this calibre of British voice acting, so I would recommend giving it a chance.

The only unfortunate thing is that the voice acting is there in the Anime cutscenes and in some in-engine scenes, but much of the game’s dialogue is text with that JRPG bleep bloop style “hey, this is people talking” noise. This may not have been avoidable, but it doesn’t change the fact that the high quality of the voice acting highlights its absence all the more.

Another thing to note is how brilliant the game looks in motion. Besides the beautiful and authentic Ghibli Anime cutscenes, the game’s in-engine art style is 100% classic Studio Ghibli, with a beautifully diverse colour palette and simple yet creative character designs. The quality of the lighting and shading effects is also amazing. When Oliver is running around, the way his cape flows and the light bounces off of it is amazing to see. It may seem simple, but it really helps the whole world come to life.

You’ll want to play Ni No Kuni with a good quality pair of headphones if possible, because you’re not going to want to miss a moment of the beautifully orchestrated soundtrack, which is stunning. It does a brilliant job of using the full scale of huge powerful sounds when appropriate, but at times dropping to just the quietest of twinkling melodies in the background, allowing the additional area audio of forests of other locations to come to the forefront of the audio landscape. Composed by Joe Hisaishi and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic orchestra the soundtrack is memorable, sets the scene perfectly and serves as a brilliant compliment to the action on screen.

The battles are in real time and allow you to free roam the battlefield. At the start of the battle you have the choice of which of your party members you wish to directly control (during my time with the game I only had access to Oliver, but I was able to locate the second party member who is playable in the Volcano section of the current PSN demo) and whether to fight as the character or one of their Familiars. Familiars are collectable creatures which you can summon to fight on your behalf, name, independently level up and tailor to suit your situation.

There is a lot of optional depth to the battle system. You can either choose one character to fight with, selecting your favourite attacks and trying to win that way, or choosing to increase the depth of mechanics you can swap which character or Familiar you’re controlling at any time, use a mix of physical and distance attacks, change what strategy the characters you aren’t directly controlling will use, cancel your attacks midway through their activation and juggle the amount of time each Familiar can be summoned for, along with each characters HP and MP. While most of this switching up and depth was unnecessary against the monsters I was encountering early in the game, it was enjoyable being able to switch up my play style on the fly.

In summary, my time with Ni No Kuni made a big impression on me. The opening three hours have convinced me that the battle system has enough depth to support the game’s length, the story is pulled off at times with the kind of emotional impact that The Walking Dead game has been praised for recently and that this is 100% a Studio Ghibli game. I was completely immersed and eager to keep going through those opening hours and could see myself playing this game in massive twelve hour long sittings, desperately devouring the story as fast as possible. If you enjoyed last year’s Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii and the way it paced its story then Ni No Kuni will be right up your alley and if you’re a Ghibli fan already then getting this game looks to be a no brainer.

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