Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

ninokuni

I love Hayao Miyazaki, and I’ve seen most of his movies at least twice. So when I found out Studio Ghibli was developing a game meant to look like his movies, I instantly pre-ordered it. Unfortunately, I’m not a very big fan of JRPG’s. But, so far this game delivers the magic that makes those anime films shine, and I’m more than willing to deal with the genre’s quirks. This is one of those rare games that has me hooked, and I’ll have to try to balance playing only a little each day while still trying something new to post here.

Amount Played: 2.5 hours

Impressions

Starting Up

The first thing you get to do is install game data to the hard drive. It only took 10 minutes, which was enough time for me to grab a snack to enjoy during the inevitable opening cinematic. I appreciate that they use the hard drive because it probably means faster load times. You will need 3.8 GB free to install it, and I’m not sure what happens if you can’t. You are also forced to choose your text language from five options, and you can not change this unless you delete and re-install the game data (not the same as your save data). The audio language is chosen later, and can be switched between English and Japanese at any time.

The final choice you have to make before starting your adventure is whether to play on Easy or Normal difficulty. The only difference is probably the difficulty of combat, so if you’re just playing to enjoy the story, you might as well choose Easy to save yourself a few hours of combat in the long run. The game’s total duration is estimated to be about 35 hours. Then you are treated to some opening credits just like you’d see in a movie. This isn’t exactly unique for a video game, but it is perhaps more appropriate for this game over others. This sequence shows snippets of different characters at various stages from the game, but they are not long enough to be spoilers.

Dialogue

I didn’t realize there would be so much dialogue, but it is just the beginning of the game, and there is a lot to learn. The pacing might be too quick for younger audiences, but I’m sure I was able to retain everything I learned. If you do forget something, the learning process continues through the first hour of the game, and any time you need to do something for the first time, your companion reminds you how to do it. Every line of dialogue waits for you to press X before continuing to the next. Text writes onto the screen one letter at a time, but you can press X to show the complete sentence if you wish to read ahead. Not all the dialogue is voiced, so you will be using this feature a lot. There is also a setting to adjust the message display speed; the slowest setting is on par with how quickly a 12 year old might read, and the fastest is nearly instantaneous. There is still a ton of voice acting, and in English it is very well done. I opted for the dub instead of the original Japanese with subtitles because the game is so pretty to look at, I don’t want to miss a thing.

The World

At first it feels like you just walk from one cutscene to the next, but you eventually get transported to the real game world where there are many more things to do. There is a little bit of exploring, mostly find to treasure chests scattered throughout each zone. There is a mini map, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. It even displays a star where your next objective is, and you can turn that off in the settings. This isn’t the sort of game I wish to wander around aimlessly in, though it wouldn’t be too bad because it is so linear. Also, the star doesn’t track side quests, which you’ll have to hunt around for to solve on your own.

As you progress, you unlock pages in the Wizard’s Companion book that give detailed drawings and info on spells, beasts, landmarks, lore, and more. The game keeps track of zone completion percentage and the number of chests you’ve discovered out of how many there are in a given area. The digital Wizard’s Companion book in-game is very nice and presented in high definition. It’s easy to read on a 42″ screen, and there is a zoom feature that should make it legible at any size. Still, I’m upset for not ordering the collector’s edition with a physical copy of the tome. The content is amazing, and this will probably become one of the most sought after game art books.

Combat

There’s a lot of space to run around when you’re outside the city walls. You can see animals wandering around the landscape, so there are no random encounters. Instead, you start a battle by running up to a creature, which triggers the screen to go “woosh”, and it’s on.

I was afraid this would be like Final Fantasy, or even worse, Pokemon. Even if the mechanics in those games didn’t bore me, they’ve been done to death and have no place in a quality PS3 release. Combat in NNK isn’t either of the two, but is somewhat a little of both, though that may just be a convention of the genre. The key differentiator is that you can physically dodge by running around with the left thumbstick. Also in real time, you use the D-pad left and right buttons to select your ability (attack, defend, cast a spell, use an item, or run away). When you select an ability with X, it lasts 3-5 seconds, but can be cancelled at any point by pressing Circle, so you can run around to evade if need be. Running around will not help you avoid magical attacks though, so you need to Defend instead, which if done at the right time can grant you a bonus attack. Throughout each battle, there is a chance for green and blue orbs (called “glims”) to drop on the battlefield, which you can run to and pick up to restore HP or MP. It’s also worth noting that the particle effects on spells and at other moments are bright and beautiful.

After a battle you don’t have to loot anything, and you have just one second to run around and collect any remaining glims. It would be nice if they flew to you, but they don’t. Then you have to sit through a 3 second screen that shows you what you got out of the battle (XP, gold, and items) before you can continue. The return to gameplay only takes about one second more. After some battles, you’ll see the level up screen as well where you can view the increases to your stats, though you do not participate in their allocation. The stats are: HP, MP, attack, magic attack, accuracy, defense, magic defense, and evasion.

Quests

Quests in town don’t give you rewards straight out, but instead you get Merit Stamps that can be redeemed for useful things like new shoes to run faster or a passive boost to increase the number of glims that appear in battle. I love this twist on fetch quests; I finally have a reason to care that someone needs two herbs and a bottle of water that can’t simply be bought from a vendor in town. Some missions simply require you to find something that a person lost. To complete other objectives, you need to use spells on people and things around the world. So far I’ve only used a healing spell on an injured child, but I hope there will be more complicated tasks that require me to choose the right spell.

Pros

  • It’s exactly what I imagined an interactive Miyazaki movie would be.
  • Lots of hand-drawn cinematics as well as in-game cutscenes that look close enough to regular animation.
  • Combat is both familiar and fresh.
  • Captivating story just like every other Miyazaki production, but this one stars a boy.
  • Mobs have hilarious names like Baatender and Teeny Bopper.
  • Bottomless bag and various equipment slots for you and your familiars.
  • No need to backtrack through dungeons.

Cons

  • The music can be a tad extreme at times.
  • The post-battle menu is not optional and stil takes three seconds to “skip” through.

Video

This is the E3 2012 trailer that got me pumped for the game.

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One comment

  1. i’ve read some really great reviews for this game. I honestly haven’t played in JRPG’s since pokemon but based on the emotional content that i hear this game delivers i might actually get this even though it’s completely out of my comfort zone.

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