Game: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Publisher/Developer: Namco Bandai/Level-5/Studio Ghibli
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Welcome to a new regular weekly video game feature where I'll be taking brief looks at upcoming games available for demo on console systems. This week we start with one I have been on pins and needles for since I first heard about it, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
The game is Studio Ghibli's first foray into gaming. If you don't know what Studio Ghibli is, they are a Japanese animation studio responsible for the greatest children's movies in the entire world. My Neighbor Totoro alone is worth everything Disney has ever put out, and Grave of the Fireflies should be required viewing upon being elected to high office. The question is, could they do for gaming what they did for film?
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Ni no Kuni is a turn-based RPG of the very old school. Random encounters on the world map send you into a different battle screen exactly like a pre-X Final Fantasy. Once there, though, things are a little bit more modern. You can summon Pokémon-like fairy warriors to fight on your behalf, or you can use your main protagonist and his magic abilities. You need to be reactive, as bosses will build up big attacks that you need to defend against. Where every other RPG these days leans toward pulling turn-based systems more toward real-time action, Ni no Kuni does the opposite, with pleasant results.
The real joy of the game is the art. Not since Okami has a game been so beautiful. You actually feel as if you could control the inside of a Miyazaki movie, and the screen shots just don't do the magic of that justice. Here, I know, it looks a little bland, but once you have it screaming out in HD from your PS3, you will experience an interactive cartoon in a way you would otherwise need access to hallucinogens to accomplish.
It's hard to get a grip on the story from the demo. We know that our hero is a recently orphaned boy named Oliver whose doll comes to life when touched by the tears he sheds for his dead mother. It's classic Ghibli stuff, and the doll-now-fairy-king Mr. Drippy fits in perfectly with the whimsical but powerful figures side characters that make up so much of the studio's output.
Ni no Kuni is promising a unique and wondrous experience, and playing it for just 40 minutes made me both nostalgic for the PS1-era Final Fantasies as well as spellbound by the possibilities of the new. For my money, it's going to be one of the best games of 2013, though my money is still on BioShock Infinite for the top spot.