We at VGU had a lot of trouble preparing to review Ni No Kuni, not because of anything overly negative, mostly because we wanted to do this game justice. Ni No Kuni is a JRPG created by Level-5, who are known for making high quality and in depth RPG’s, and renowned filmmakers Studio Ghibli. This is a set up most games dream about and obviously this game was hyped up a storm before its release. The question is however, is it as good as people think it is?
You take control of Oliver as he adventures around the world of Ni No Kuni with his faithful friend Lord High Lord of the fairies Drippy. Without giving the story away, Oliver is looking for someone in Ni No Kuni and according to Drippy; he is the chosen one, the one who will defeat the darkness of the world in the shape of the evil djinn, Shadar. However, there is a lot more going behind the scenes. Despite the story’s initial innocence it does become much more complex and a little darker in places which is honestly really engaging and you will find yourself drawn into the game and the characters plight.
Speaking of innocence, the characters in the world ooze innocence. The game throws various challenges and tasks in your way and although your characters solve them with a can do attitude and friendship which, in most games, would grate after a while. What makes this bearable is that Oliver’s character is so endearing you really don’t mind. Ni No Kuni pulls at your heartstrings early on and gets you to empathise with your characters very quickly, you will end up really caring for them more and more as you advance in the game. This makes the story twists and turns hit you emotionally even harder and this is very much appreciated in such a story heavy game.
The main area of the game is split into two main areas, the combat and the errands. The combat is very hit and miss, some players will not mind it and others may lose interest due to its repetitiveness. You mainly use familiars while in battle; these creatures are very much like Pokémon. You have to train, look after and then evolve them in order to make them stronger and more useful in battle. Each character has their preferred familiar types and when using them, those familiars get a small but noticeable boost in power so when building a team you should make sure you check which character can utilise certain familiars the most. The system is much more complex than this and will soak up a lot of your time as you play with your team and try to make them as powerful as possible and is a nice distraction from the main game.
While in combat you move either your character or their familiar around the battlefield and in real time select different actions for them to undertake such as attacking, defending or using various tricks or spells in order to defeat your enemies. As previously mentioned this system can get repetitive, especially at the start of the game, and you will just end up mashing the X button through most fights but later in the game the fighting becomes much more complex and you will have to learn how to time your defend commands well and know when and when not to make a move or you will struggle. Despite all this the combat is still very fun and full of action; the sheer amount of creatures to fight is great and the bosses are always a joy to battle.
While the combat plays a large part in the game the other equally important area is the errands available for you to do. There are hundreds of them and can range from simple fetch quests up to epic monster hunts and serve as yet another nice distraction from the main game. When you complete an errand you receive stamps on your helper card, after collecting a specific amount of completed helper cards you can trade those cards in to unlock little buffs for your party. This is a nice incentive to undertake some side mission as these buffs come in useful later on in the game and it does feel kind of nice to help restore peoples broken hearts as it makes you feel like you are actually helping the world’s people rather than just fetching them some random item.
Aside from fighting or doing side missions exploring the world will take a lot of time initially as you have to run everywhere to start off, but you soon get extra travel assistance in the form of a ship and a dragon. After this the world is fully open to you but even then it will take you some time to fully explore the world of Ni No Kuni which is by no means a chore. The whole game is presented beautifully, the world feels like it is there on the other side of a gateway spell, the characters really become relatable and the world itself just looks and feels fantastic to walk through. Studio Ghibli really have outdone themselves, the artistic style and feel on Ni No Kuni is spot on and you will constantly be surprised and intrigued by what is going on while playing throughout the game. It’s difficult to really explain without spoiling the game but everything in this game feels like it should be there, from the council of the White Witch all the way to Ding Dong Dell, the world feels perfect.
This is solidified by a wonderful soundtrack created and played by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. These orchestral scores fit the game’s mood perfectly and the music never fails to set the mood or increase the tension at the right time. Some themes can become repetitive after hearing them in a long play setting but this will quickly be overlooked when new pieces come into play. This game’s music is just as good, if not better, then any Studio Ghibli film and is well worth a listen even if you are not a fan of the studios films. The voice acting as well is very pleasing to the ears, when I first heard Drippy speak in his thick Welsh accent I started to prepare myself to switch to Japanese voices but after a while it grew on me. The rest of the voice acting is strangely very good, usually JRPG’s dubbed are almost a pain to listen to, however the voice acting in Ni No Kuni is very different. The lines are packed with emotion and are delivered in a very pleasing and sometimes comical manner, some accents will make your head hurt but overall this is one of the first JRPG’s that we at VGU actually wanted to listen to in English!
While the look of the game is very pleasing, the character models do look a bit off compared to the rest of the world sometimes. Their sharp 3D edges sometimes look very out of place on the almost hand drawn appearance of the world behind them which is a shame but this is rarely a noticeable problem, more of a bother if anything and is usually overlooked. Let’s be fair here, Final Fantasy 7’s character models looked like badly put together Lego people and players still connected and empathised with them so a little discomfort with character models can be excused here!