This is going to be one tricky review to write, so I’m going to keep it short and sweet. Ni No Kuni is a JRPG masterpiece; a fact well documented by reviewers of the original PS3 release. Created as a collaboration between the unrivalled masters of internationally-loved anime – Studio Ghibli – and the legends behind Professor Layton and Dark Cloud/Chronicle – Level 5 – it aimed to combine a rich adventure with the rich art-style and storytelling eponymous with Ghibli’s work. Whilst it was originally designed and released on DS in 2010, a PS3 rework was released less than a year later which quickly became considered the de-facto definitive version.
8 years later, a remastered version has finally arrived on modern consoles; but have they done enough to make it stand out in 2019?
I’m not going to go into any real detail regarding the story in this review, as I intend to make it as spoiler free as possible. A key part of Ni No Kuni is it’s excellently designed and paced plot, which takes more than a few notes from Ghibli’s prior work. It begins in a town called Motorville (Hotroit in Japan), in a late 40’s/early 50’s styled time period. The playable character – Oliver – is a classic courageous 13 year old protagonist with a rebellious streak. As with many Ghibli experiences which begin in a somewhat benign locale, not everything is what it seems and soon Oliver is whisked away to become a wizard in an unknown, magical world. Accompanying him is the (bizarrely welsh) king of the fairies; Mr Drippy and a veritable cornucopia of magical “familiars.” You also join up with a couple of allies on your quest, who become secondary playable characters. Your quest to save this unknown world from an evil spellcaster is somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, and like the aforementioned it will lead you to some pretty strange places.
Forests filled with giant mushrooms? Oceans teeming with rave-jellyfish? Frozen wastes filled with glittering caves? Ni No Kuni has them.
All in all, the plot is beautifully compelling in the way in which it combines environmental storytelling and the short-but-sweet Ghibli-drawn cutscenes. I was hooked from start to finish and loved the sheer emotion which the game was able to inflame within me. Many games are said to have “charming” worlds and stories, but all pale in comparison to the masterful way in which Ni No Kuni draws you in. Towns are full of life and even the stranger moments feel engaging and beautifully crafted.
The gameplay is a brilliant blend of classic JRPG mechanics which takes obvious inspiration from the usual suspects; Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger etc. When you aren’t running around helping bystanders with their various problems or learning and casting spells you’re fighting enemies with your team of characters and familiars. As you travel around the world you will encounter hundreds of small enemies who can be recruited to your team and levelled ala Pokemon; in fact some take obvious visual inspiration. In combat you can either use your main three characters or you can choose to swap one or more for a member of their team; meaning you can have up to 12 potentially controllable fighters during each battle. Familiars use a variety of physical and magical attacks to fight enemies which level up and evolve with them into newer, more powerful forms. The system of control is akin to Kingdom Heart’s active system, where characters act independently of each other and you only really control one at a time with the others controlled by the AI. Granted, the game isn’t hugely challenging and allows for power-levelling through the hardest battles, but it’s so fun that this wasn’t a problem for myself.
The most amazing thing about Ni No Kuni however is the presentation itself; every element of the game is beautifully crafted to perfection. As you journey through the world you’ll encounter a variety of engaging characters which really epitomise what a perfect mixture of art and sound design feels like. A personal favourite character of mine was Mr Drippy; the welsh fairy king. The thick accent at first didn’t seem right, but despite my initial misgivings it became obvious that the contrast between his cute exterior and his personality was a deliberate and wise choice, as it added so much more depth than having a standard guide would be. I mean, when you compare him to similar guide characters his uniqueness really stands out and makes him wonderfully memorable.
Granted, not all the voice acting fits quite as well, but for the most part Ghibli’s signature blend of child-like wonder and surrealism shone through both the graphical design and the sound design, with certain elements and songs lasting in my head for days. As I’ve already said; many games get described as charming, but none match Ni No Kuni.
As a remaster, it does a relatively good job. Textures have been upgraded and look much sharper than the original, and the sound pops more than it ever did before. More importantly, the frame-rate has been upped to 60fps for most versions, which makes it feel so much better overall. Whilst I reviewed on PS4 at 1080p, I have also learned than on PS4 pro you are given the option between 4k 30fps and 1040p 60fps, which is great to have as an option.
Overall, it’s the small things which make Ni No Kuni as awesome as it is. From the ridiculously long and detailed spellbook which populates as you traverse the world to the small, satisfying sounds you hear when achieving something and the feeling of seeing your little guys all grown up, it’s a wonderful experience. Whilst some may prefer a greater challenge, Ni No Kuni places itself as both a perfect starting point for kids wanting to jump into RPGs as well as a beautiful journey for the young at heart. You will laugh, you will cry, you will cringe and you will carry large chunks of cheese. If you’re lucky, you might even fly on the back of a Dragon wearing a dog collar.
But no matter what, I’m sure that you’ll love every minute.
Nintendo Switch Version
Short and sweet this paragraph is going to be as Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch runs smooth as butter on the Nintendo Switch and the difference between the remastered and the original is little to nothing. Yes, the Resolution is better on PlayStation 4 and PC, so is the colour pallet, but the whole game is here and is extremely fun to play anywhere at any time.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is available on the PlayStation 4 and PC, the original Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available on Nintendo Switch.
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