A world unlike any you’ve experienced before.
This is what will greet you when you take your first steps in the beautifully charming world of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3. If you’ve followed the developers Level-5, you’ll know that they developed the enchanting Professor Layton series that we’ve all come to enjoy, and they have been keeping us on the edge of our seats for what seems like months as we wait for Ni No Kuni. This stunning cel shaded animated game with its amazing graphics and elegant characters is an opportunity for Level-5 to capture a wonderfully magical world from the fertile imaginations of Studio Ghibli and immerse us into an animation that seems both familiar and new.
The story in Ni No Kuni revolves around a thirteen year old boy called ‘Oliver’ who resides in the town of Motorville. Oliver’s mother has died from drowning and Oliver tries to come to terms with her passing, but it’s not easy as Oliver is emotionally charged with grief and desperation. One night, he decides to sneak out and meet up with Philip, his best friend. Phillip has just built a red and yellow go kart, called the Coup D Lux, and unveils it to Oliver inside the garage. He then asks Oliver to check the coast is clear before they start pulling the car out into the neighborhood. Oliver wanders out into the street to make sure no-one is around, but he is met by a mysterious young girl with green hair that appears suddenly before him without a word of warning. Before he can even begin engaging in a conversation, she vanishes again without a trace. Oliver and Philip continue to set up the go-kart, and they both catch a glimpse of a young girl called ‘Starey Mary’, who has a habit of spying on them from her top bedroom window.
A brief flashback reveals Oliver’s mother talking to him at the breakfast table and asking him if he’s alright. She apologies for being so busy with work recently and explains how she wished she had more time with him. The story then jumps back to present day and Oliver is beside himself with grief over the death of his mother and sits in his bedroom crying, clutching a doll that his mother had given him. His tears cascade down his sad face and drip onto the doll, causing the doll to come to life. Shaken and a little disturbed, Oliver automatically backs away from the doll. He then learns that this new creature in his life is called ‘Drippy’, who is a high lord of the fairies. Drippy explains to Oliver that he must save their world from the evil presence of Shadar.
At first, Oliver refuses to help the defenseless fairy, but with some persuasion, and by showing Oliver a photo of his mother, Drippy explains the great sage Alicia may have been able to save his mother. Oliver is then told that by taking the elements from a person’s heart; it will leave the victim an empty shell and void them from engaging in a normal life. Drippy tells Oliver that in order to transport into the parallel universe known as Ni No Kuni, a drop of magic is needed for the journey. It’s at this point you must look around the house for a special spell book called the ‘Wizards Companion’. The Wizards Companion is the foundation of all wizard knowledge and as soon as you find the book, you can start interacting with it.
Using the triangle button you can open the main menu and using X you can leaf through the pages. When you first get your hands on the book, you have to make a pledge and promise you’ll do everything you can to become an excellent wizard. Unfortunately no wizard is going to get anywhere fast without the use of a magical wand, so you will have to search around for a stick to use as a wand substitute. From within the menu, you can look through the inventory, which is known as the bottomless bag. Its here you can look through the different categories with the use of the L1 and R1 button. The categories include such as your provisions, weapons, armor, accessories, treats, ingredients and important items. It’s quite an extensive selection of things to look into, but during the demo time I didn’t have enough time to explore this area any further.
As the story continues, Oliver is greeted by the strange green haired girl that he had encountered before. She explains that the great sage could not save his mother and only the pure hearted will ever be able to scare away the darkness from their world.
As I progress, I find myself transported to a beautiful, dark wooded area, in which I can wander quite freely and explore the surrounding areas. I’ve been told that I have to head north to Ding Dong Castle, and as I begin exploring this lavish world, I encounter a Rhinosaur and Minor Bryde. If I have any problems during combat, I could be in trouble as I only have htree loaves of bread in my inventory. Planning ahead is essential and made much easier by the fact that creatures show up on the map as an icon before you reach them.
During battle mode, you can attack, use provisions, runaway or defend. Using the X button you can perform a basic melee attack, but you’ve got to keep an eye out for your magic points and health as they do deteriorate quite a lot under some extreme fighting. Occasionally, a glim is left by an enemy after battle, which will help you recover. Green glims will restore a few health points, while the blue ones will give you magic power. Through the battles, you’ll earn yourself some experience and gold for your efforts. You’ll also find ancient waystones during your journey which can restore both your health and magic powers, and also act as save points.
The battle mechanics are fairly easy to grasp and reminded me slightly of the turn based combat found in some Final Fantasy games, although with a bit more strategy. Monsters can be approached from either the front or behind and as the player gets to see the monster before they attack, it gives them the chance to judge the situation and act accordingly. Everything is fairly light to begin with, but it won’t be long before you will be needing those loaves of bread.
From what I’ve played of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, it’s an incredibly polished game. From the moment you start playing, the game screams “Studio Ghibli” and the brightly coloured cel-shaded environments will instantly hypnotise any Ghibli fan. To be honest, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But the game doesn’t just look good, it also plays well, which is a relief. The game will be coming exclusively to the PS3 in January, and I will have to wait until then to find out what else Level-5 and Studio Ghibli has in store in Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It’s going to be a long wait…