Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White (literally Second Country, also called “Another World”) is a role-playing video game, developed by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, for the Nintendo DS and later PlayStation 3 (released in January 2013 for Western audiences).
Not since Okami (which is my all-time favorite game) have I played a video game that I have fallen so totally in love with. Everything about the game, from the flawless animation, to the compelling storyline, to the innovative multitasking gameplay, to the adorable Pokemon-like creatures who you level up as your familiars, just drew me in and left me with a completely satisfying gaming experience. I was content to spend days not setting foot outdoors while playing this game.
As expected from a game developed by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, the same company behind animated gems like Grave of the Fireflies (1988), My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001), the graphics are beautiful. Ni no Kuni’s visuals are very charming, replicating Studio Ghibli’s traditional animation style and its artwork. Each region and town has its own unique vibe, some of which reference nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and little details that make it special. In between the battles, there are beautifully rendered full anime cutscenes that just transition flawlessly and make you feel like you’re part of a movie. The music, performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, adds to the overall drama.
The game has a simple but compelling storyline that keeps you invested in your main characters. The protagonist is 13-year old Oliver, who finds out he is a wizard after he gets transported to “another world” after an unfortunate incident in his hometown Motorville. The player explores towns, villages, dungeons, and dangerous places scattered throughout the other world. You can also travel between the other world to the “real world” anytime by using the Gateway spell. Later on, you meet an assortment of other playable characters including Esther and Swaine, who eventually become part of your party and help you save the world.
What makes the game really cool is the use of familiars during battle. Familiars are these freakishly cute creatures that you are able to send out in battle to fight for the player. These critters level up and evolve alongside the players. After pampering and feeding them their favorite food and leveling them up in battle, you can eventually metamorphose them into stronger versions of themselves.
Though each character starts out with one familiar each, Esther can later serenade and tame creatures you encounter in battle in order to make them your familiars, and have them join you on your journey. Each familiar has their own signature miracle move, which makes switching familiars around more interesting. You can also choose to play as the main characters, who have their particular strengths in battle, including offensive and healing magic, boosting allies stats, and stealing rare items.
The game gives you a lot to to do and you will often find yourself sidetracked from the main story. There are numerous tasks available, such as bounty hunts and fetch-quest errands given to you by townspeople, with corresponding rewards (in the form of merit stamps on a card) that you can exchange for boosts in the game that will help you significantly. It is immensely satisfying to get stamps on a card and I found myself obsessively checking out errand boards in every town for new quests and jumping from town to town to find pieces of missing hearts needed to heal all the brokenhearted townspeople. The alchemy system also lets you create your own items and food with materials and ingredients you have to farm from enemies, dig up from the ground in the world map, or find in treasure chests.
An important part of the game is the Wizard’s Companion, a book which contains backstories and information essential to the game. You’ll be referring to this a lot, as you navigate around the world, search for hard-to-find ingredients to alchemize, and find the right kind of familiar to capture in certain errands. There’s even a complete Nazcaan alphabet that you’ll need to learn to decipher riddles. The world isn’t overwhelmingly large (*cough Skyrim cough*) that you find yourself just losing interest in the game because of all the sidequests. All optional errands are perfectly manageable and a joy to do.
If you just stick to the main story, the game is roughly about 40+ hours long. It took me about 60+ hours to finish the game doing all available errands and bounty hunts, yet I still want to go back and do all the post-game options. There are more errands, bounty hunts, a coliseum where you can pit your familiars against other familiars, and a casino where you can waste a lot of time playing slot machines and Black Jack. I hear the game can last up to 80+ hrs, which makes it a worthwhile investment despite the higher price tag (the game cost P2k+ at Datablitz). Plus, there are 300+ familiars you can capture, so prepare to invest a lot of time in the game if you gotta catch ’em all.
Ni No Kuni is really a beautiful RPG that’s suitable for any age. For anyone who wants to escape to another world without leaving the house, this is just the perfect game. All, in all, pretty tidy! 😉
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
All screenshots from Wikia: Ni no Kuni.