The collaboration of anime company Studio Ghibli shines through in the role-playing game from Level-5.
In the beginning of this beautifully animated and enchanting fairytale story we enter the world of a thirteen year old boy called ‘Oliver’ who lives in the pleasant laid-back town of Motorville. Oliver gets into mischief with his friend Philip when they decide to sneak out one night in order to test drive the go kart they have built, called the Coup D Lux, in the dead of night. Oliver’s mother is unaware he’s sneaked out, and wakes up to find him missing. The stress of what follows has an effect on his mother’s already weak heart and, sadly, she passes away from a heart attack.
Beside himself with grief and loneliness, we find Oliver recalling events of the previous day with his mother and how much he loved her. Oliver is devastated and clings to the only object nearby that his mother gave to him, a cuddly soft toy called ‘Mr Drippy’. Crying, alone and afraid, one tear trickles down Oliver’s face onto this soft cuddly creature, and amazingly the toy he springs to life.
With his rather strange accent, and jumping around with delight, we find out that Mr Drippy is the high lord of the fairies and he pleads with Oliver to enter his world and help save it from the evil presence of Shadar. Shadar is an evil wizard who takes the souls and hearts of people, leaving them an emotionless empty shell.
Mr Drippy persuades Oliver to leave his world and embark on an adventure to restore the hearts and minds of the people that have been robbed of a normal life, and possibly even bring Oliver’s mother back. Drippy explains to Oliver that in order to travel to this pararrel universe known as Ni No Kuni, one drop of magic is needed for the journey, along with a wand, and a special book called the ‘Wizard’s Companion’. The Wizard’s Companion is the foundation of all wizard knowledge and contains everything you need to begin your journey.
After you’ve made your pledge and promise you’ll do everything to become an excellent wizard, you’re whisked into the open world of Ni No Kuni. The open world of Ni No Kuni is gloriously animated eye-candy for all fans of Studio Ghibli. The rich environment and beautiful drawn characters and surrounding detail is enough to take your breath away.
The characters you encounter and the battles you embark upon are fairly straightforward from the moment you step out into this unknown parallel universe. To begin with, you’re only given a wand, a spell book and a few loaves of bread to begin your treacherous journey and from the moment you set out, Mr Drippy is on hand to give you plenty of information about characters and monsters you may face. You’ll find yourself helping characters you meet along the way, maybe by restoring enthusiasm or giving courage.
While out exploring the lands, from forests to deserts, it is easy to see the roaming enemies and are alerted if they get too close, so you are never really surprised by these random encounters.
Battles have a familiar “Final Fantasy” feel about them and whisk you into a fight pretty quickly. At first you’ll have to make do with your standard attack, but along the way you will learn new spells to cast to make the fight much easier, and of course you’ll have familiars to accompany you along your journey. The familiars are really cute, my first one was called Mitey, and you’re taught very early on in the tutorial to look after them, feed them and equip them for battle. The familiars can be found in a cage in the menu and can be brought out to help you with battles. You can choose to use one of your familiars or yourself at the beginning of a battle, and can switch between them at will, although any health and magic points are shared between everyone. As the familiars level up and learn new abilities like Oliver, choosing who should face an enemy simply depends on what type of attack you want to use.
Oliver has a few provisions to help him if he suffers damage, and you can choose to run away if the going gets tough. Having said that though, you won’t get far without grinding and this game has its fair share of random encounters to level up Oliver and his familars. The familiars can be taught tricks and you can carry up to three familars at any one time. Different treats that can be found along the way give your familiar different stat increases, such as accuracy or strength. Familars can also be given precious gems, which can then go onto teach them certain special abilities.
The actual combat is fairly quick paced, with only a short amount of time to choose what to do before your enemy begins their attacks. Once an action has been chosen, be it defending, attacking or casting a spell, there is then a certain amount of time whilst that action is played out. This can cause some problems and takes a bit of getting used to, as the temptation to spam the buttons for attacks results in the character in battle occasionally just looking redundant and taking damage. I wasn’t entirely happy with the combat system, but it didn’t take too long to get used to. A nice feature of the combat is the ability to keep moving around during and inbetween actions, allowing you to actually avoid attacks.
Beyond the main story, there are plenty of side quests to embark on in Ni No Kuni, and these quests range greatly from search, find and recover errands from local people found in places like Ding Dong Dell, to bounty quests that may involve fighting a particularly troublesome monster. The side quests are worth taking on not only for the monetary and experience rewards, but also because Oliver is given what looks like a Loyalty card. Completing quests results in the card being stamped and once the card is filled, you don’t get a free cup of coffee, but rather than chance to exchange the card, or multiple cards, for new abilities that can help within the game.
The combination of classic role-playing, an engrossing storyline and stunning visuals put Ni No Kuni in a league of its own. Having said that, there is always room for improvement and the battle system could do with some tweaking. Also, why would they give the adorable Mr Drippy a Welsh accent? If there was anything that truly surprised me about this game, it was this voice.
At the end of the day, Ni No Kuni is a truly magical game and probably one of the most charming, immersive games that I’ve played in a long time. If you’re looking into investing into a serious JRPG, then Ni No Kuni should be at the top of your most wanted list. Don’t let the childish looks fool you, this is a game that will entertain all JRPG fans. You’ll find yourself charmed with the quaint characters, while the beautiful soundtrack breezes softly behind the storyline and the hilarious anecdotes of Mr Drippy keep you on your feet and smiling.