A knockout combination of Level-5 Games and Studio Ghibli brings us a truly breathtaking adventure that puts a unique spin on the genre whilst still remaining true to its JRPG roots with classic story-telling, open ended worlds, memorable gameplay and an amazing musical score.
In true Ghibli style, Ni No Kuni tells a heartfelt story of a young boy, Oliver, who loses his mother in an accident after she saved his life. Distraught, the young boys tears bring to life a stuffed toy who takes him on an adventure to a parallel world where releasing his mothers soul mate might return her in his world. In addition the people in this parallel world or Ni No Kunia are in need of a hero, one whom is pure of heart to free them from the oppressing terror of The Dark Djinn Shadar. Thus begins Oliver”s magical journey as he learns the ways of wizardry, making friends and helping those in need in the hopes to eventually confront Shadar and rescue his Mothers parallel self, all the while under constant surveillance of the mysterious White Witch.
The games start appears rather linear as you learn the basics of the game, and while it may be a slow start it is quite necessary, especially once Oliver enters Ni No Kuni as there is a lot of information to process. In addition, it gives you plenty of time to appreciate the game for what it is and take in the beautiful visuals in front of you. As you progress, the game opens up to a beautiful open world map, with a multitude of dungeons, bounty hunts, side quests and possibilities at your fingertips.
Battles take place in real-time in an open space and can be quite frantic, though save for a few difficulty spikes now and then, not uncontrollably so. Using a combination of timed strategy (attack, defend etc.) and the use of Familiars (a physical manifestation of ones soul into a creature which can be used in battle), means that combat doesn’t become stale a positive considering in true JRPG style, the amount you encounter are numerous. The familiars, who share HP and MP with the party member who summoned them, can be tagged in and out at any point during the battle therefore allowing you to match up elemental types, and strengths against your opponent. (E.g. fire is effective against woodland/grass creature). Resting the familiars is also necessary as their strength slowly deteriorates over the course of the battle. You are also required to feed and take care of them when not in battle, boosting their skills and statistics.
The first thing to catch your eye and maintain that feeling of awe throughout the games entirety is the stunning visuals the game delivers. Almost seamlessly combining smooth cell-shaded graphics along with Ghibli’s world famous animation style cut scenes and designs are not only a treat for the senses, but an imaginative and unique form of storytelling. While it would be nice to see more of the animated style cut scenes, the game works well to blend the two together. Forests are lush and designed in a way that the combination of foreground and background features allows you to feel completely immersed while dungeons and other such environments are just as interesting, without being overdone. The games cell-shaded style is smooth, and movements are wonderfully fluid. Sure, sometimes the lighting is a little inconsistent but its easy enough to overlook in such a beautifully animated game.
Fortunately, the games beautiful visuals are backed up with an equally as lovely sound track composed by Joe Hisaishi whom is known for composing the scores of several Studio Ghibli feature films. With Hisaishi at the helm we are privy to an enchanting orchestral score, which ranges from deep bellowing tones to soft pan flutes each perfectly matching their allocated time in game and during cut scenes to make the most of the performance.
Ni No Kuni also allows the player to decide whether or not they wish to use an English audio track or the original Japanese with subtitles. While most would go with English for ease of understanding, the real magic for some lies in the Japanese audio which truly brings the story to life with well delivered lines, particularly with Oliver’s emotional scenes and expressions. In the end though, the choice of audio really comes down to personal preference. On a side note, there are scenes with no voice acting at all and while this is not uncommon in the genre, it would have been nice to have seen some additional voice work.
Ni No Kuni is reminiscent of the old days of video games, a time without DLC or online play. A time when you could just spend hours on an RPG, and be happy to focus on the narrative, exploring everything the world had to offer. This is the true value in the game, hours and hours of game content that returns you to the roots of what it means to play a JRPG.
A masterpiece in itself, Ni No Kuni is a truly emotional journey and a delight for the senses. Those unfamiliar with JRPG’s may find it a little overwhelming, or even slow at times due to its focus on story-telling and the scrawling dungeons you may encounter. Despite this, it’s a game that can be appreciated on a number of different levels and therefore, comes highly recommended.
AAG SCORE: 9/10
+ Breathtaking audio and visuals.
+ Innovative real-time combat.
+ Hours of content and a well-written narrative.
– Story can be a little predictable at times.
– Could use more of the Ghibli-style cut scenes.
– Scrolling through certain menus can be tedious.