By now, you’ve probably finished the games you received as holiday gifts and found that the new pickings in January are pretty slim. Except there’s this one game with a weird name: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
|NI NO KUNI: WRATH OF THE WHITE WITCH
(Namco Bandai for PS3)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 9.2
Pros: Amazing story; deep role-playing game; tons of things to do; Mr. Drippy!
Cons: Fighting minor monsters is repetitive; game’s story suddenly changes from voiceovers to readable text; cut scenes seem a little long.
Don’t be put off by the title. Otherwise, you’ll miss one of the most delightfully fresh experiences I’ve seen in a role-playing game in some time.
First, this Japanese invention has a story that is pretty unique to games. Yes, you have to save the world. But the tale is different. You play Oliver, a kid pretty much like every kid, who resides in a perfect town from the 1960s called Motorville.
One night, Oliver sneaks off to play with his pal’s new kit car. While he happily races for the first time, his mom awakens to find he’s gone. Moments later, when a tire comes off the racecar, Oliver crashes into the river. Though his mother arrives just in time to save him, she suffers a heart attack and dies. It’s really quite sad.
But not so fast. Later in his room, Oliver accidentally revives a strange, comedic being with a lantern on his nose called Mr. Drippy. Drippy tells Oliver that his mother has a kindred spirit in an embattled parallel universe. If they find Alicia The Sage, the kindred spirit, Oliver just might be able to revive his mom.
LOTS TO DO
So begins a wondrous role-playing game that looks and sounds like an anime movie that could win an Oscar. That’s because the animation studio that made the movie classics “Ponyo” and “Spirited Away” was involved in putting the game together. And the rich, energetic soundtrack that feels a little like it’s from the Potter movies is played by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.
There’s a lot to do. But the characters, including Mr. Drippy, show you how to handle your tasks during the first two hours or so of play. It’s not just a boring tutorial, though.
You play through some fascinating stuff and one semi-tough, dinosaur-like boss who guards the deep, enchanted woods full of greens and blues and waterfalls. By the time it’s over, you’ll have leveled up at least to Level 5.
You have a pet, one you can name, to help you out in battles. Plus, like a Tamagotchi toy, you can feed him in his Creature Cage to make him stronger. Sometimes after leveling up, he’ll even change into a new form. You also have a wand and book of spells that help you through this massive world.
MEET CHALLENGES WITH FRIENDS
As you travel the roads of this world, you find that a nasty being called Shadar has left a lot of the residents heartbroken. Sometimes, you have to take part of the Enthusiasm from a resident whose heart is intact and give it to someone who’s heartbroken.
You’ll also receive pages to the big spell book that you carry around at all times. Sometimes these pages add spells. Sometimes they’re really interesting short stories about the residents of the world, like some strange squirrels.
One thing you don’t want to do is become defeated. That sends you back to the last checkpoint and takes all the money you’ve earned for defeating monsters.
You can avoid this. You have a small group of friends to help you in battles. You can select a leader who might be your most powerful character. Beyond having strong characters with the right powers for the battle, keep an eye on your health meter and constantly use the defend option when a boss uses his most potent power.
At first, you have to walk everywhere in this huge land. Later, you can find portals that move you from area to area easily and speedily.
SOME DRAWBACKS, BUT STILL
The game has some of the common RPG issues that can slow your enthusiasm. The battle scenes with minor monsters are very repetitive. I know you can’t add a different enemy each time you fight. But seeing the same strange-powered snakes and birds again and again takes you out of the game.
Yet you have to do that to level up. It’s called “grinding.” Here’s a quicker way to get more experience points: Find the shy Toko in the northeast map area called Ugly Duckling Isle. Sneak up to him. He’s hard to beat, but you’ll get 2,000 XP for the job. Much later in the Ivory Tower, you’ll find Tokotocold for a huge 25,000 XP – if you can defeat him.
Other drawbacks? When a non-playable scene moves to a playable level, your TV goes black for a second. Also, sometimes you hear a character talk and sometimes you have to read what they say. Make up your minds, game makers!
While the characters look cartoony and the enemies sometimes don’t look evil enough, you can always see the heart and soul that went into Ni No Kuni. Butterflies flit about in lush woods. The forest is so deep and green, you can almost smell it. And Mr. Drippy has personality even when you don’t hear his whip-smart words.
The upshot? If you want a deep game that keeps going for 40 hours (even without the side quests), Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a sure bet. I know this is early in the year, but it’s a definite contender for the Boysie Awards.