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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for Play Station 3
As an owner of both the Play Station and the Xbox 360 and some older consoles, I used to like to hedge my bets when it came to games by renting titles and then buying the best one if I liked it. These days I hardly use my Play Station 3, which cost me nothing, as I feel the Xbox 360 to be a far superior machine. Many will baulk at that statement but it is just my opinion. For me the Xbox is smoother and the Play Station is just a mass-produced X-Factor type machine of the gaming world, but enough of my opinion on the console and let's talk about this game.
As it was the product of the week I thought I would get a copy from my friend who owns a game shop and see what it was like.
I am also a massive fan of Studio Ghibli, so when I found out the music and the games graphics and characters where Ghibli driven my interested increased ten-fold. Studio Ghibli have produced the game along with one of Japan's front runners in the game market, developers, 'Level 5'.
The game was originally released in Japan for the Nintendo DS back in 2010 and the PS3 version in 2011. So why the long wait for the US and European version? There were a lot of problems in development and with a special edition of the game there was a huge mistake that would almost certainly have put Level 5 out of business were they not an experienced company in the field. The fact that they were working alongside Namco Bandai was also probably a main factor in them over-coming the problems as Namco is probably one of the biggest developers in Japan, if not the world.
First let's take a look at the games storyline and plot.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch cannot really be translated straight to English but a literal translation would be "Second Country: The Queen of White Sacred Ash".
Ni No Kuni is set in the village of Motorville and centres on a small boy named Oliver. His mother, Alicia, dies from heart problems after rescuing him from drowning. Oliver holds onto his doll 'Drippy', which his Mother gave him and he mourns his Mother's passing. As he cries, his tears drip down his face and inadvertently land on Drippy. Drippy magically springs to life and reveals himself as a fairy and a male one at that. He gives Oliver a book that allows him to use the power of magic and enter "Ni no Kuni," a parallel world. Drippy tells Oliver that he may be able to find his Mother's parallel existence in Ni No Kuni. Oliver and Drippy venture into the parallel world, where Oliver befriends Swaine and Esther and meets many other alternate versions of people he knows back in reality and other creatures that will help him in his quest to find Alicia.
The gameplay is not too bad and quite smooth for the PS3. This is probably down to the graphics engine and movement capabilities of 'Havok' software and Irish company, which I will talk about later in the review.
Ni No Kuni is a single-player role playing game, which is really based on the children's market. As with many children's games however, a lot of adults tend to play them, especially adults who are into Anime and Manga when it comes to games like this.
You take control of Oliver and your main inventory item is the magic book that Dippy gave you. You can use the 'Gateway' spell to travel from place to place within the world and also travel back to Motorville to perform certain tasks. You can access a 'World Map' when you leave a territory, which gives you the choices of places that you can travel to within the world. There are different villages and dungeons or caves. The further that you progress in the game the easier and faster the travel becomes as you pick up different items that allow you to travel faster or further.
The game is a task based game and there are plenty of them. You can pick up many side tasks from villagers throughout the world and decide to take them on or stick to your main goal and follow the main stories quest.
When you get to a certain point early in your quest, you will be given a 'Merit Stamp Card'. When you complete tasks you will earn stamps to place on this card and other subsequent cards.
As Oliver you have the ability to charm friends and to tame animals. The animals can then join you on your quests to fight alongside you. The animals build up in tandem with Oliver as you make him stronger and more powerful. These animals are called 'Familiars'. You must feed your Familiars with treats to keep them strong and make sure their able to stand up to battle.
Players in your team will have different abilities such as a character with a powerful attack or a character that has a strong shield to help protect your party. The places you put your characters for battle are paramount in your chances of winning.
You build up Oliver's statistics and those of his party (including the Familiars) by collecting experience points and items. The experience points are awarded for completing tasks or winning battles.
When you bump into an enemy a 'battle' scenario is activated and you take control of Oliver or whichever party member is involved. You can also control the Familiars in battle. Winning a battle, as I said, gives you experience points and this builds up your players hit points. Once the points reach a certain target you player moves up one level. Should your hit points reach zero then your player falls unconscious and when your teams hit points reach zero you lose your battle and the game is over, so it is best to keep an eye on your levels.
The game comes with a book that contains stories of animals and stories from the alternate world and offers hints and tips to help you play. There is also an itinery of all the animals and items in the world. You can purchase a players guide, which is a head to toe account of the game.
As you would expect with anything associated with Studio Ghibli or any Japanese based game for that matter, the graphics are very reminiscent of an anime production. On one hand they are very cutesy and at times very basic but on the other some of the scenes for the different part of the world are beautiful and actually quite breath-taking. So it is a mixed bag of animation like graphics together with a background set that is all too familiar with most role playing aficionados.
You can find yourself playing out a scene or a battle in some very plain settings and it is almost as if the designers thought they would use what graphics power they had for the actual battle and minimise the background. Then in contrast again, you can walk into a scene with a mountain backdrop and a gushing water fall with a beautiful lake that has shimmering reflections of a colour-filled sky. At first you almost can't decide whether it is a well-made game or not but the more you play it the more you realise that it is put together rather well.
The only thing that I really feel a little more time could have been spent on was the speech bubbles as at times they look really plain and out of place with the rest of the graphics. Saying that, they are really clear so you have no problem reading them, even if you wear glasses like me.
The movement in the game is not too bad but there are a little too many cut scenes for me. Don't get me wrong, I like to get involved in a story but it almost feels as if you are watching a cartoon and then interacting with it; not a bad thing but this is where it suits a child more than anyone looking for a gaming experience.
Most of the movement is fluid but there are a few awkward camera glitches, but you get that with most games so I can't really be too hard on it for that.
The controls are very basic and easy to pick up and manage. Most children will have no problem playing the game.
I would advise parents to get their child to read the manual on making magic potions and how to mix ingredients because it will open up the game to them. It does instruct you on screen but it would be better for them to know fully what they are doing; plus it has it educational purpose as well in getting them to read and link actions with what they have learnt.
The music in the game is very cutesy and also very dramatic and fits in well with the play. Lovers and fans of Studio Ghibli will pick up straight away that the score is constructed by Joe Hisaishi, known for composing the scores of several Studio Ghibli feature films. All in-game music was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. 'Kokoro no Kakera' or 'Fragments of Hearts' is actually sung by Hisaishi's daughter Mai Fujisawa in the Japanese version of the game. Choir boy Archie Buchanan performed the English language version. The music adds to some of the more appealing graphics and really gives this little game a great atmosphere and an even more animated film like feel.
The game has a rating of twelve over here and 10 in the US and Japan. I would say this is about right as it contains Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Simulated Gambling and the characters get up to some mischief. Mind you, with what kids know at an early age today it wouldn't have surprised me if the rating was lower.
I would recommend this game for children, teenagers and fans of Pokémon. For adult players or fans of Studio Ghibli it can also be a nice experience but I had the problem of having other more appealing games to play so I didn't really get that involved or engrossed by it.
It is a fun game and a nice looking game and if you are into exploring and finding things then you won't be disappointed.
For me it was a little too kiddish but then it is supposed to be so again I can't really complain about that. I daresay if I had nothing better to do then I could fill quite a few evenings with playing this game.
I was going to mention the scandal and controversial sale of the special edition game but I have decided that this would not help the review of this game in any way or in fact hinder it, so I will not go into that here.
I give it three out of five stars as it is good for kids and looks good; but I'm a fan of anime anyway, so it was always going to appeal to me in the way it was presented.