Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Demo Impressions

Ni No Kuni, a game, which probably should have just been called Wrath of the White Witch in the west, is one of the first releases for the PS3 next year along with DMC. The game is hugely anticipated among the starved JRPG crowd, and not so much otherwise. The game is developed by Level-5, which is one of the most inconsistent developers out there. They delivered the Dark Cloud series and Dragon Quest VIII and they deserve a lot of praise for doing so. Unfortunately, they also developed the incredibly poor White Knight Chronicles games for the PS3 and other major bombs. However, it isn’t Level-5 that makes this game worth watching; it’s its association with Studio Ghibli that makes this game so interesting. For those of you who don’t know, Studio Ghibli is a legendary anime studio who created amazing works such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. As such, the story, music and art style are very much akin to Studio Ghibli’s other work, while Level-5 seems to have taken care of the core gameplay mechanics. With the demo’s release on Tuesday, I feel that Demo impressions are in order.

This is how every Thursday starts for me.

The story is a basic Studio Ghibli story, in that it involves a young person coming to grips with major real-world issues and emerging from the ordeal a better person. In this game, a young boy named Oliver loses his mother and gets drawn into another world by a cockney fairy with the promise that he might be able to save his mother. It is a basic premise, but it is more or less a set up for introducing the wonderfully unique and interesting characters and settings that Studio Ghibli is known for. Very few characters are seen in the demo, and only the fairy, named Drippy stood out in any way. That being said, the demo is incredibly short and very few demos give any significant impression of the story. Oliver is the brave, fish out of water child character as seen in many Studio Ghibli works and you can assume that he’ll undergo a pretty significant change during the game, but that isn’t present in the demo.

This game couldn’t be more Studio Ghibli even if it were called “How Hayao Miyazaki got his groove back”

The gameplay is the only thing that raises red flags for me. Ni No Kuni has a very simplistic battle system, and it is worrisome that it might get boring. Taking cues from other Level-5 games such as Rogue’s Galaxy and White Knight Chronicles, Ni No Kuni allows freedom of movement over a field of battle, while keeping close to traditional turn-based combat rules. Unfortunately, this is not so incredibly well executed as Xenoblade Chronicles and most battles in the demo require no thought whatsoever. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but the battles just aren’t fun and I found myself avoiding them to get on with the much better parts of the game. This is a major issue. Perhaps it gets better as it goes on, and the boss in the second part of the demo was more difficult, but even with difficulty, the battle system is clumsy and simplistic.

There’s a euphemism in here somewhere. 

Oliver basically functions as a wizard/summoner. He has spells to cast against enemies and to help his team, but the bulk of the game comes from summoning. When you summon one of your familiars, you lose control of Oliver, and gain complete control over the familiar. When I mean you lose control of Oliver, I don’t mean the AI takes control of him. He basically exits the battle, only being used as a fount for familiar MP and if you want to change back to him or another familiar. The only time you will have more than one person active in a battle is if you have another summoner party member, who will be completely AI controlled. There doesn’t seem to be any team attacks, or really anything that adds depth to the game. On the other hand, MP levels do seem to run low on a regular basis (Maybe I’m too much of a special attack spammer), so maybe depth can come from MP conservation. Maybe not, but the thought came to mind.

No amount of MP will protect you from random dead-eyed assault.

The graphics are worth mentioning in the game as both great and bad. Firstly, the actual graphics are far from amazing. It doesn’t look like a PS2 game, but it certainly doesn’t look like a late generation PS3 game. There are a lot of jagged edges and the character models are very inconsistent. Some of them like Oliver are sharp and great and others are jaggy messes. Graphically, this game is subpar. The art style on the other hand is incredibly beautiful. The game looks like a Studio Ghibli movie and that is a huge plus. Whether it is the environments or the creatures, the game reeks with charm and that is the game’s biggest selling point. As part of this, the music in the game, composed by Joe Hisaishi, is also phenomenal and charming, hitting all the right notes. The voice acting is kind of all over the place, but not much was revealed in the demo so I’m reserving judgment on that.

Seriously, this is a really charming game.

It seems to me that there are two competing factions in the game. Studio Ghibli has instilled as much charm into the game as humanely possible, while Level-5 seems to be delivering a very downscaled and somewhat worrisome combat system. The game may be targeted at a younger age, but that doesn’t stop games such as Pokemon from delivering incredibly rewarding gameplay systems. Perhaps the demo doesn’t do the game justice; this happens, but the gameplay component seems a little sketchy. However, if you are a Studio Ghibli fan or even a fan of charming coming of age stories, this game is definitely one worth watching, as long as you have the patience for lacklustre by the books gameplay.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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