Ni no Kuni is a great and visually satisfying JRPG for fans and newcomers alike. With some great mechanics and ideas you will easily lose yourself in a rich world with loads of adventures to go on.
Developer: Level 5, Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Namco Bandai
For fans of: JRPGs
Reviewed on: Playstation 3
If we had to give it a numerical score: 8 / 10
What I loved
- Beautiful visuals
- Loads to do
- Zombie Casino
Not so much
- Walking… a lot
- Mr Drippy repeating himself
- Black Jack at the Zombie Casino
Right now, after 36 hours of grueling gameplay, I am at the final boss fight in a little game called Ni no Kuni… They have already beaten me once, but I won’t stay down for long. After one and a half weeks of gaming, I have racked up 36 hours of game play time and have suffered through a strained eye and gout. The latter probably not really related to playing games, but hell, I need something to blame.
But what a journey it has been. Ni no Kuni puts you in the shoes of a young boy named Oliver. There is nothing really special about Oliver in the beginning but after some tragedy and tears he meets a little fairy called Mr Drippy. Mr Drippy explains to Oliver that he is the ‘pure-hearted’ one and is destined to save Drippy’s world, Ni no Kuni. After some inspirational words Oliver sets out to find a stick and off he goes using his first spell to travel to a world of magic and Cat Kings.
From the get go, the first thing you will realise about Ni no Kuni is that it is simply beautiful. But what else would you expect from Studio Ghibli? In case you don’t know who they are, they are the award winning anime studio behind some great movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s moving Castle and my personal favourite Grave of the Fireflies. If you are familiar with their work you know what to expect. Crisp colours blending nicely to give you some of the best awe-inspiring moments that any JRPG worth its salt should have. The “in game” visuals and FMV’s look no different from each other, and every now and then you are treated with a full-on 2D anime sequence which just fits in perfectly. This game will make you feel good about that new LCD TV you bought over the Holidays.
But a game needs to more than just to look pretty and Ni no Kuni delivers on that front as well. The game introduces you to the concept of a ‘Familiar’. Think, Pokémon but with a twist. The familiars you have act as a sort of avatar of yourself. Meaning, if they get hit, your HP (hit points) goes down. If you use their magic attacks, your MP (Magic Points) goes down. So in the beginning I kind of wondered what the point was, but somehow it all clicked when I fought the second boss. The familiars come with their own stats while Oliver is a magic user. Like most magic users that means when he tries to hit someone physically he will fail miserably. So the first familiar the game gives you has higher stats in physical attack and strength and therefore when fighting enemies you need to know when is best to go in and hit someone with a sword, and when it is best to stay back and throw magic spells at them.
Later in the game more members join your party and they are able to control their own familiars. By this point you will also be able to “catch” your own familiars. Basically almost any monster you fight on the world map will fall in love with you after you beat them up and at this point one specific character needs to serenade them so that they can become your familiar. Each character can use up to three familiars and you can keep three in reserve. If this doesn’t seem like enough space for you there is also a dropbox of sorts in every major town where you can store extra familiars or pick up ones you serenaded earlier, but couldn’t keep due to your space being full.
Like most JRPG’s this one takes a few hours before the tutorials and explanations end. Personally this is my least favourite part of any game. The basic controls all happen as you think with the left analogue for movement, right analogue for the camera and the X button does pretty much everything else.
The battle system is pretty straightforward as well. You control one character with the AI controlling the rest of the party members. You can also set up how the AI fights but this is limited to which character everyone attacks and how they fight. Are they healers or will they go all out? In boss battles defending is something you will need to time pretty well. You get the option of changing everyone’s battle style to ‘all out attacks’ or ‘all out defending’. This will become useful and with some practice you should be able to defend most attacks and attack when an opening occurs. With some enemies when you block an attack or cancel one by timing your attacks well you will create a ‘chance’ opening which causes the enemy to be unable to attack. This gives you some time to attack full out or heal your party.
Personally I am not a fan of this type of fighting. I like to be in control of every member’s attack/defence choices. You are able to switch between party leaders mid fight but you will never be able to make every decision for everyone. I just let all my party members do their thing until they died and then I went at it on my own. They do tend to get in the way at times or just stand around doing nothing. The AI isn’t the best, plus damage collision means your character needs to run around them at times to get to the enemy which results in wasting good, valuable time. As you defend certain attacks the enemy will drop glims. Green ones heal you and blue ones give you more MP, and sometimes a gold one will drop which will heal your character completely and give you an opportunity to do a Miracle Move for maximum damage. Your best bet would be to try and get these with Oliver (before your stupid teammates get it) so that he can rain down a sack of fire upon your enemies.
The basic story of Ni no Kuni is nothing special. A boy is destined to rid the world of evil. The world part is where the real depth comes in though. Apart from the familiars you can catch, there are some great mechanics relating to what makes a person have ‘heart’. The game states that our hearts are made out of different pieces and we all need these pieces to live full lives. But the evil Shadar has been stealing peoples’ pieces of heart and it is up to Oliver to find some replacement pieces from other people that have more than enough of that particular atrribute. This comes up every now and then but also features heavily in side quests. If the main story isn’t holding your attention you can always do some side quests to entertain you. However these do get a bit repetitive at times, with you literally helping the same people with the same problems over and over again. The real fun for me was in the bounty hunts where you are required to track down and defeat some over-powered familiars, which is a great way to measure up your battle strength before a boss fight.
All and all Ni no Kuni is a beautiful game with some great ideas. The battle system might be a bit frustrating at times but once you find your own strategy it will be a breeze. There is a lot to do in this game and it will be easy to lose yourself in the world for hours at end, especially once you are able to travel around easier. This is definitely a must have for all fans of JRPG and a very good place to start if it is a genre you would like to try out. Now if you will excuse me, I have evil to go dispose of.