Developer: Level-5, Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: January 22, 2013
ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and up
Ever since Level-5 and Studio Ghibli announced that they were working together on a video game, I had been waiting anxiously for its release. I wasnâ€™t even sure if it would have been released outside of Japan. Thanks to Namco Bandai, however, it did (they even went as far as to give us a special edition with the exceedingly gorgeous Wizardâ€™s Companion), and Iâ€™m forever grateful that we did get Ni no Kuni, because itâ€™s one of the best games Iâ€™ve played in a long time.
Ni no Kuni throws us into a world of magic and fantasy that we are familiar with in Ghibli films. This world is in need of saving from the dark djinn and White Witch, and thatâ€™s where our protagonist, Oliver, comes in. It may be a bit clichÃ© that Ni no Kuni is the tale of a random young boy thatâ€™s declared as the â€œchosen oneâ€ that will save the world, but thereâ€™s a sort of charm that exudes from it that you canâ€™t resist.
Our tale begins in the sleepy little town of Motorville, where Oliver leads a normal and happy life with his mother. His life is suddenly turned upside-down following an accident, however, and he learns that he is a wizard that must save a mysterious other world. Oliver, Drippy, Esther, and Swaine work together to mend the broken hearts of those in the magical world and ultimately prevent it from being destroyed. Their travels bring them to a wide variety of lands where they meet all sorts of interesting people and creatures. While I do wish that the exciting parts were spread throughout Ni no Kuni rather than being stuffed together at the very beginning and near the end, itâ€™s worth playing until the very end. I guarantee that youâ€™ll get that sense of achievement and contentment of just finishing a great game with a heartfelt story.
Studio Ghibliâ€™s involvement with Ni no Kuni definitely helped it form into a unique gem. The in-game graphics are perfect; itâ€™s as if youâ€™re right in the middle of an anime. The animated cutscenes, too, are the usual gorgeousness you would expect from Ghibli (though I wish there were more of them throughout the game). And then thereâ€™s the absolutely beautiful soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi. Each and every track in the game is perfectly arranged and orchestrated. The main theme is especially powerful and heartfelt. Hisaishiâ€™s work in Ni no Kuni makes me wish the Wizardâ€™s Edition had included a full album rather than a few select tracks!
Ni no Kuniâ€™s battle system can be described as something like a mash-up of PokÃ©mon and a Tales game. While you can control and attack with Oliver, Esther, and Swaine, youâ€™ll mainly be battling with little creatures called 'familiars.' There are tons of familiars throughout Ni no Kuni that you can tame, nickname, train, feed, and metamorphose. Each familiar has a first and second stage, and then two final stages that you can choose from. The large variety of familiars allows for lots of personal choice and attachment. There are so many cute and awesome ones, which makes it incredibly difficult to have just a select few on your team!
Each member of your team can carry three familiars at once, and they are sent out in battle one at a time (where they can only be out for a certain length of time and then must â€œrechargeâ€ their stamina bar). While familiars all share the same HP gauge as their owner, each has their own stats, spells, and strengths and weaknesses. When your familiar is ready to metamorphose after gaining plenty of levels, you must feed them a â€œdropâ€ that matches their sign. Then they revert to level 1 (while still keeping some of their old stats). Repeat the process one more time, and then youâ€™ll be able to choose from two different forms for your familiarâ€™s final stage.
While the familiar system has a lot of depth and uniqueness to it, the battle system could use a tad more work. Ni no Kuni feels like an action RPG with turn-based elements, and that becomes a cause for some problems in many battles. Oftentimes your actions and attacks are cancelled when an ally or foe performs something with a cutscene. When this happens repeatedly and even right after the other, it can become incredibly frustrating. Thatâ€™s one of my biggest gripes with battling in Ni no Kuni, along with some other minor things. Though it actually is a rather fun and interesting concept, and I did enjoy battling very much, I think it should have been a pure real time action RPG, a la the Tales series of games.
Just the main story alone will take you a good 30 hours or so to beat. It obviously doesnâ€™t stop there, of course. Thereâ€™s a bevy of side-quests for you to partake in that offer not only more time to spend with the game, but lots of incentives. This includes money, great items and weapons, and merit stamps. The more merit stamps you get, the more completed merit cards you have to turn in for special perks. What kind of perks? Being able to move faster, higher chance of taming a monster, and finding very rare items after battle are a select few.
The side-quests, or â€œerrandsâ€ as theyâ€™re referred to in Ni no Kuni, vary in type. Many will have you mend the broken hearts of people across the world, which is as simple as finding the appropriate piece of heart from someone and giving it to the brokenhearted person. Other errands include bounty hunts to kill rogue monsters and taming specific familiars to show to a familiar enthusiast. The latter type of errand gave me a bit of trouble at one point, as it took me literally hours to tame one of the familiars he wanted. Oh well; such is life for a completionist!
Errands extend to post-game as well. They arenâ€™t the only thing that will keep you busy after saving the world, however. There are also other things such as catching and metamorphosing every possible familiar and gathering the remaining pages of your Wizardâ€™s Companion. Not to mention achieving Ni no Kuniâ€™s trophies â€“ some of which are deliciously challenging. All of this is sure to please any completionist.
I canâ€™t stress enough how much I love Ni no Kuni and how much I want you to play it. Everything comes together into a spectacularly beautiful and charming package of a game. Not just a game, but also an unforgettable experience. An experience that made me feel so happy for once and helped me learn to love video games again. Regardless of how strongly it will potentially affect you in particular, Ni no Kuni is one of the best games out there and itâ€™s one you should play sometime in your life.
+Top-notch graphics and animation courtesy of the legendary Studio Ghibli
+ Familiar system is great and has quite a bit of depth to it
+ Phenomenal orchestrated soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi
+ Plenty of side-quests throughout and post-game
- Battle system needs a bit more fine-tuning
- While the story is fine, it isnâ€™t the most original and full-fledged one out there
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
Ni no Kuni is not only one of the best JRPGs of this generation, it's one of the best games, period. This wonderful marriage between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli deserves to be played by everyone.