Despite the huge success of the title in Japan, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has taken its sweet time coming to western territories, in particular Europe. Originally released for the Nintendo DS and then adapted for the PlayStation 3 in 2011, it’s taken two years for Namco Bandai Games to bring us the English language version of the videogame. There’s many potential reasons for this – uncertainty of success, difficulty in localisation of extensive dialogue – but in truth one has to wonder if the delay wasn’t an effort designed to build anticipation.
In that regard Namco Bandai Games has most certainly succeeded. Electronic Theatre has had the opportunity to play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch many times in the run-up to release, and after each preview came an even more desperate response from our audience. Titles such as The Last of Us and God of War: Ascension are grabbing headlines as the big PlayStation 3 exclusives to watch, but it’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch that has been getting the consistently positive response with each and every new facet revealed. This is the way to market a videogame to the core demographic: show them just how the high quality of the production is, and watch them fall into place like dominoes.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is as traditional a role-playing game (RPG) experience as you could possible imagine, harking back to the rulesets of the 2D era of Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire in a much stricter fashion than even Final Fantasy XIII: the difference between the two is that Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch makes every effort to gloss over this aging system with exceptional use of modern hardware, pushing beyond the story-exploration-combat divide – and there is still a noticeable divide between the three elements – with the attraction of motion-picture productions. One may feel that the only strength of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is its visual design, and while it’s true this is an area in which the videogame excels, it’s the filler pasted over the cracks rather than the foundations.
Instead, it’s a fine grasp of everything that makes traditional RPG experiences so engrossing that makes Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a videogame experience that shouldn’t be missed. It’s the storyline that constantly draws the player through the next challenge, the combat that demands you pay attention to your personalised progression and the many twists-and-turns the player can take or choose to ignore. Just as with the unique worlds offered by The Legend of Zelda and the 32-bit Final Fantasy titles, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch creates the impression of freedom by offering the player opportunities that can be missed. The structure is solid and unwavering, as would be expected of such a heavily story-driven title, but the fact that players can spend hours invested in activities that have nothing to do with the core gameplay experience remains a persuasive argument for using the power of modern technology to create more expansive worlds rather than the simple puzzle-pieces we often see in Japanese RPGs these days.
The story of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch revolves around a young boy by the name of Oliver. Soon after the videogame begins Oliver’s mother passes away unexpectedly after rescuing him from drowning. As Oliver struggles on with life with no remaining family, a doll given to him by his mother comes to life and reveals itself to be a male fairy named Drippy. The fairy gives Oliver a book that allows him to enter a magical land, a reality that parallels his own. In this land, Drippy says Oliver may be able to find his mother.
This simple premise invites all manner of imaginative creatures and relationships into the world, as is one of the key elements if Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’s attraction. Venturing through the townships and the world map will lead you to meet many lesser characters and associates, but also key personalities and companions. It’s this constant intrigue and relationship development that entices the player to wander further afield than they might otherwise have done. Many RPGs over the years have offered the player the opportunity to wander off the beaten track in the hope of finding something new or hidden, but very few have presented an almost guaranteed find around every corner.
Couple with this exploration is the combat system. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch doesn’t feature random battles, though avoiding combat is often difficult. That being said, the times in which you will choose not to fight will be rare, as the combat system is remarkably engrossing. Reminiscent of the Tales series, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’s combat is a strange mix of indirect commands and real-time action. The player takes control of a single character and can move them around the battlefield at will, attacking directly and avoiding retaliation while waiting for their available manoeuvres to cool down. Each character has a specific class which relates to their strengths and weaknesses, encouraging specific roles in battle. As would be expected, these classes are fairly traditional in their delivery, but less familiar are the available pets.
Pets enter battle alongside the characters and also feature their own specific moves, however they are not as restricted in their abilities as the core characters. It’s entirely possible to push a pet in a direction not necessarily obvious from their origins. Each character can take up to three pets into battle and can swap them out on the fly, resulting in a tug-of-war between the desire to level-up your pet and potentially seeing them taken out of action. Such a decision is often the most taxing part of the Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch experience.
One aspect that isn’t a challenge however, is falling in love with the visual design. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has famously been designed an animated by Studio Ghibli, at it shows. Oozing charm out of every pore Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is easily one of the finest looking videogames on the current-generation of home videogame consoles, brightly coloured and bounding with unique, inviting character at every turn. It’s rare that a videogame can make players care about the plight of a young boy beyond the limitation of a stat bar, but Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch does so without once deterring from the hero’s childish ambition and whimsical life view.
Launching in Europe as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch provides an argument for purchase of the console greater than any RPG currently available on the console. This is an experience to be savoured; a loveable, charming and occasionally bitter tale that takes the player on a rollercoaster for more than thirty hours of journeying through a familiar experience in an unfamiliar world. The investment requirements at the start of the videogame are nothing RPG gamers won’t already be accustomed to, and the payoff is worth every demand put on the player. Namco Bandai Games may have taken their time in bringing gamers the English language version of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, but as if to provide the perfect example of the old axiom, good things come to those who wait.