Game: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Publisher/Developer: Level-5 and Studio Ghibli/Namco Bandai
Describe This Game in Three Words: It's Almost Perfect.
Plot Synopsis: A young boy named Oliver has just lost his mother. Orphaned, his tears free the King of the Fairies, named Mr. Drippy, from his prison inside a doll she made for him. Drippy informs Oliver he is the prophesized Pure Hearted One who will rid the land of Ni no Kuni from a dark djinn called Shadar. In doing so, he may also be able to save his mother. And so a grand adventure begins.
Up Up: For almost a year I have been dreaming about Studio Ghibli's first video game as they are arguably the greatest animation studio in the world rivaled only by Pixar. Teamed with Level-5 they've delivered an experience that is almost unbelievably like actually being inside a Miyazaki film. Using every inch of the processing power of the Playstation 3, you find yourself part of one of the studio's epic stories almost immediately.
While it's pretty, it's the gameplay that really sets the title apart. Nintendo might as well stop any plans they had of trying to make a really grand RPG out of Pokemon because they will never top this. Oliver can fight on his own, but the real approach is the familiar warriors he conjures out of his heart to do the stabbing. These are warriors, mages, all kinds of classes, and they mimic Pokemon battles right down to types being more effective on some types than others. Battling is a pure joy, though returning to a more traditional turn-based system does take some readjustment.
Ni no Kuni also boasts an almost perfect balance of linear and non-linear play. Slow at first (It's an hour before your first fight) and not really rewarding of exploration, you do finally get into the worship of Inconsequentia, Goddess of Side-Quests after the fall of the second boss. Errands and bounty hunts are available in a nice measure, neither the overwhelming number from Xenoblade or absent. It's truly a game that allows for a languid, enjoyable RPG experience unlike anything since Secret of Mana.
Down, Down: That's not to say there aren't notes. In the beginning Mr. Drippy as your guide is just shy of Navi in terms of obnoxiousness. He sort of reminds you why so many Ghibli characters are mute. True as well, the game is punny to the point of sometimes feeling insulting. Calling the cat king, "Your Meowjasty" gets old real fast.
Then there's the fact that selling items is just a wee bit too cautious. You have two, "Are you sure?" screens when unloading old equipment, a completely unnecessary step. Much of the backstory of the game is presented in pages from your Wizard's Companion. While fascinating, it requires you to treat the PS3 like a tablet to read and is very awkward. If this was on the Wii U it would have been brilliant.
The pacing of the game also suffers a little from too many cut scenes and overly long explanations. That's the danger when you make a playable cartoon.
Left, Right, Left, Right: It's pretty standard RPG controls, but with a bit of a twist sometimes. Battles use a circular menu that isn't very intuitive, especially since you'll mostly be navigating it when you're suddenly in danger looking for items or a spell.
B, A: Weirdly, the game follows pretty closely the plot of Stephen King's The Talisman. Seriously, Oliver is more or less a perfect stand-in for Jack Sawyer, and there's even the concept of twins in both worlds. Both boys are trying to save their mothers, both have to seek answers across the two worlds, you honestly have to wonder if it was on purpose.
Also, Joe Hisaishi's score for this game is the greatest video game soundtrack ever. Period. No further discussion is required.
Start?: Yes. Buy Ni no Kuni and you will never look back. It is just plain magical.