8-Hour Review: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

Ni No Kuni has finally arrived, presenting us with the story of a young child destined to be a hero.

I would like to start out by saying that I almost always despise games that feature young children as the protagonist. There have only been a few exceptions… and luckily enough, this is one of them. This game takes what is typically a major hurdle or weakness and turns it into an asset. Oliver is a charming and delightful hero, and the banter between him and his companion Drippy the ‘Lord High Lord of the Fairies’ helps to add a bit of levity to this rather serious story. The almost-overwhelming number of puns also serve to provide some additional humour.

While the story and characters are certainly a positive element to this adorable jrpg, what really helps to catch your attention and get you hooked to this game right away is, well, Pokemon. I think this may be a big part of what helps to make this game’s child hero work as well…. the combat isn’t limited to what a child could do – you have familiars who do your fighting for you. This serves two purposes… it provides endless variety once you get past the first few hours and get the ability to tame familiars, and it makes the game so adorable that it is almost overflowing with cuteness. The familiar Oliver conjures to begin with is a nice little hero variant of himself that I lovingly named Stabby. Stabby and I have been on many adventures, and it has only made us closer – so much so that he has metamorphosed(the game’s word for ‘evolve’) to his second form, but he is still my Stabby. And, in all honesty, the attachment you develop for your familiars will keep you playing, and having fun.

Now, this game is animated by Studio Ghibli so you know that the animations, graphics, and sound can be nothing less than fantastic… and I just have to say – why has it taken this long for someone to get them to animate a game? I mean, seriously… this is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. And the Studio Ghibli art style really does shine through in every aspect of the first few hours of the game at least.

Everything’s not all peachy keen however… the game does feature some rather odd difficulty spikes(when you defeat one boss and step outside, you’ll be immediately met by regular enemies that are almost as challenging as the boss was). This can seem somewhat disjointing, and can make the game feel less than perfectly polished. Additionally, and most frustratingly, when you successfully craft an item by experimenting, it doesn’t update your list of ‘formulas’ and as such you are unable to re-create the item unless you remember the exact random series of items you used.

The only other thing I’ve found annoying over the course of these early hours is just how slow the progression of features is. You go hours before you get a second familiar, then you go hours before you have a second party member, and then hours until you can tame, and then hours until this… etc. The pace of feature unlocks is just crawling. It makes the game feel much longer than it is because these early hours feel like a giant tutorial despite being actually a part of the game.

That being said, the game does overcome these flaws through tongue-in-cheek humour, adorable creatures, gorgeous animations and music, etc… at least enough to get you hooked. And, after all, that’s what matters in the first 8 hours of a game right? Getting you to love it enough to keep going. So I’m going to return to my Stabby, and finish it so I can present you with a proper review, sound good?