There are some things in this world that are seemingly just meant to go together.
When news of an epic RPG from Level 5 (the makers of the Professor Layton games) featuring none other than Japanese hit-factory Studio Ghibli, the jaws of just about everyone who saw Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro hit the floor. The gorgeous styling of Ghibli rendered playable in HD? How could anyone say no? Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is, quite simply gorgeous.
The opening scene is wacky prelude of strange creatures galloping past you before credits hint at the exotic locations you’ll visit on your travels. Cut to a typically stellar Ghibli animated scene and you’re right into the humble beginning of Oliver’s story, the little boy you control throughout the game.
Sad after the recent passing of his mother, Oliver wishes her to come back so much that his doll magically comes to life and reveals himself to actually be Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies. Drippy is kind enough to sit Oliver down and explain that he is from a parallel world and that a dark mage named Shadar has been conquering people’s hearts, and spreading war to the point where Shadar transformed him into a doll and sent him into Oliver’s world. Got that?
Good, then you’ll have no problem fulfilling the prophecy of ‘the Pure-Hearted One’, which Drippy believes is Oliver, being the person who can save both worlds from the powerful Sahadar and maybe, if everything goes just right, save Oliver’s mum too. When a game makes such a tonal shift as this one, it can be easy to be thrown off. Luckily, Drippy is a character with so much personality and humour that you’ll quickly get on the same page with him. And what a page it is.
While in Drippy’s world you’ll navigate through all different kinds of beautiful landscapes from bustling forests to vast deserts, roaring mountains and deepest oceans. The game employs a Final Fantasy style battle system as you control Oliver who can attack monsters both physically and using magic with a time constraint on each form of attack. It takes some getting used to, but as always, Drippy lends a helping hand when each new aspect of the battles emerge.
The most interesting of these is the ability to use small creatures known as ‘familiars’, essentially borrowing from the Pokemon franchise as you can choose which attacks they can use (thankfully without having to completely discard any of them) as well as how they grow into more powerful creatures. Once more human characters join your party you can set their battle strategies individually, but these can have varying levels of success.
While trying to save both worlds as well as your mother’s life, the many inhabitants of the bustling towns you explore also need your help in the form of various item fetching or spell casting tasks. Minors characters smattered throughout the game are frequently endearing and you really care for the people you save, often through mending their broken hearts. The rewards of these quests sometimes provide a boost to your equipment or Wizard’s Companion, a list of all the possible spells you can learn, familiars you can catch and is essentially a colossal in-game manual. However, this manual is (once again) so wonderfully crafted that you can easily spend half and hour with the game paused, looking through a catalogue of everything the world has to offer.
Ni No Kuni really is an incredible game. Giving players an immense world to explore crammed with atmospheric music, crazy characters and lavish cut scenes that make you fell like you are really playing through a Studio Ghibli film.