Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, is the upcoming RPG from co-developers Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. Being published in the UK by NamcoBandai, our very own Tom Wallis was given the opportunity to head over to their London office to try out the game ahead of its launch.
Aesthetically speaking Ni No Kuni is astounding. This PS3 exclusive roleplaying game is being co-developed by Studio Ghibli, the world renowned animation house known for their anime movies and Level-5 famous for developing White Knight Chronicles and Dragon Quest VIII (which stylistically this game resembles more than a little).
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll steer clear of the story as possible. Suffice it to say that the opening sees the development of the relationship between the main character Oliver and his mother, which is done beautifully but perhaps suffers from minor pacing issues. Soon after an event (see, no spoilers here!) Oliver is swept into a magical parallel world (conveniently called Ni No Kuni) by his stuffed toy that recently turned into a male fairy.
The fairy in question is not what you’d expect if you’re familiar with more traditional storytelling; I lack the eloquence to succinctly describe Drippy, so instead gawp at the picture below and let me know in the comments below what you think he looks like.
What’s surprising about Drippy other than his look is his thick welsh accent. Both his accent and vocabulary serve to throw out convention as his demenour directly contrasts with the cutesy and often sentimental setting of the rest of the game. Having only been able to play the first hour or so of the game, perhaps Drippy will provide stark contrast between Oliver’s world and his own: with Drippy being clearly out of place in the opening parts of the game. Maybe this will serve to show Oliver as the fish out of water once you begin to explore Ni No Kuni? Either way, the dynamic between the naivety of Oliver and the worldliness of Drippy have made me very interested to see how the characters develop throughout the game.
Regardless of the way he looks and acts, Drippy is your guide and mentor as he teaches Oliver about magic so that he can take on the titular White Witch to free the parallel world of her tyranny.
Upon entering Ni No Kuni, Oliver begins to be thrown into combat situations. The world map (of sorts) has a number of wandering monsters that, when touched, swiftly transport the action to a separate battlefield.
Combat is an odd mix of turn based commands; a timer bar forcing you to wait before issuing orders for attacking and casting spells, and free movement around the battlefield. In the early stages of the game I felt these two seemingly contrasting ideas didn’t quite gel as I found dodging enemy attacks wasn’t really possible. However I have every faith that as more spells and familiars (creatures that you enlist to help you in battle) become available the more strategic elements of combat will be drawn out.Â And there was a sense of this strategic play even in the short time I spent with the game.
Familiars add an extra dynamic to proceedings. These small companion creatures can be summoned to fight for you, however their health is directly linked to Oliverâ€™s, so if one falls, you all do.
With Oliverâ€™s focus on casting spells and the first familiar being a melee combatant, itâ€™s clear that different combat tactics will be employable throughout the story. I was also told that later in the game you are joined by other characters, meaning youâ€™ll have the ability to summon multiple familiars in battle.
Ni No Kuni is so far looking like a more than competent entry into the RPG genre, wrapped in the breathtakingly beautiful animations of Studio Ghibli. I canâ€™t wait to get my hands on it when it arrives on Playstation 3 at the end of January 2013.
- Tom Wallis