So guys, here we are with my second article on this blog. This time the task is extremely demanding, so I can’t guarantee you a positive result. What I can promise you though, is that I will try to do my best and that you’ll find here some info that none of the dozens of reviews I’ve read, have mentioned one bit. I guess this can only mean 2 things: either I’m too old or I’m too smart, but I’m not sure about the latter. 🙁
Let’s start by taking a look to the collector’s edition of the game. This bundle contains, besides the game itself, the “book of magic” used by Oliver (the main character) and a stuffed doll (called “Drippy” in the English version) representing Oliver’s companion. This doll is indeed a fairy that will help Oliver with hints and suggestions all over the game even if this help never proved to be fundamental (at least to me).
The book is a wonderfully crafted item, very solid and well bound and it is an exact copy of the one depicted inside the game (see the picture below). Over the internet, you can find the relevant PDF file, ripped from the BlueRay disc.
[Note: I laid the book on one of my GrandMa’s hand-made merlots. This is one of her masterpieces. Grandma passed away 2 months ago at the age of 96. I know it has nothing to do with PS3 games, but I thought I owed her.]
We will get back to the book later on. For the moment let’s concentrate on the plot of “Ni no Kuni”, which can be more or less translated as “another world”. You can grasp this meaning if you played the game paying attention to the Japanese audio and have compared it to the subtitles.
To make things easier, you can instead read the synopsis from www.gamefaqs.com:
“Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a heart-warming tale of a young boy named Oliver, who embarks on a journey into a parallel world in an attempt to bring his mother back from the dead. Along the way, Oliver makes new friends and adopts many of the wonderful creatures that inhabit the world, raising them to battle other creatures on his behalf as he takes on formidable enemies. Developed by LEVEL-5 with animation by the legendary Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch combines beautiful animated visuals, masterful storytelling and a sweeping score into an epic role-playing adventure like no other.”
As far as the plot goes, I’m sure most of you have played the game or at least read a lot about it (news and rumors date back at the Japanese release, at the very least – November 2011) so I won’t be spending too much time on the “obvious”. My experience as a gamer starts instead of this:
When I first read about the game, there was this “deja-vu” thing in my head which I couldn’t quite grasp. That feeling kept growing stronger the more I read ….. At a certain point, I went to my personal books collection and I found a novel I read in the early nineties: “The Talisman” by Stephen King (First Edition was released in November 1984).
This is the synopsis (taken from www.stephenking.com):
“Twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer embarks on an epic quest–a walk from the seacoast of New Hampshire to the California coast–to find the talisman that will save his dying mother‘s life. Jack’s journey takes him into the Territories, a parallel medieval universe, where most people from his own universe have analogs called “Twinners.” The queen of the Territories, Jack’s mother’s Twinner, is also dying.”
I had a lot of expectations for the game since I loved the book and both Level-5 and Studio Ghibli are a well-known producer, with Hayao Miyazaki being one of my favorite anime directors.
The game didn’t turn out to be like the book, mostly because you don’t really perceive the tragedy of the situation during the quest to save Oliver’s mother live.
Aside for this, the game is indeed a good one, setting a new standard in the suffering field of JRPGs. The game’s mechanics are well mastered by Level-5 (someone said Dragon’s Quest IX?) and the graphics are completely drawn by Studio Ghibli, so it always seems to be inside one of Miyazaki’s movies.
Here are a few examples:
The graphic of the book of spells (cover and contents) is very inspired and resembles the one seen in the opening credits of “Laputa – Castle in the Sky” (1986).
These are pictures of Motorville (Oliver’s home place):
Now Oliver’s best friend, PHIL, depicted inside his garage (game version to the left and movie version to the right….):
A lot of detractors, especially here in Italy, always blamed Japanese animation for recycling” characters and stuff. IMHO, this is … BS! The reason why similar characters are used in different productions (particularly in Miyazaki impressive ones) is that “Hayao-san” masters the ability to match the physical appearance of a given character to his/her moral qualities. This method was well known in ancient Greek drama as well, in which actors were literally wearing different masks according to the situation. This is NOT recycling, you morons: it is called STYLISTIC CONVENTION!
Here is a shot was taken from in-game graphics (I’m sorry I only have this one as far as airplanes are concerned. It is taken from an FMV which didn’t get the chance to re-watch yet….).
Speaking of the game itself, controls feel appropriate and responsive. Too bad the AI is sometimes too responsive for its own good! What I’m talking about here is your mates AI, that always tend to react quicker than you do, even if you set up your tactics (see picture below) at the beginning of combat. Defeated enemies will drop various kind of orbs, which can replenish your health or magic ability. Your mates will tend to get those orbs before you do. This thing has a couple of drawbacks: first of all, during the boss fight, you’ll always be in need of health and, secondly, you’ll never get the trophy given for collecting 2000 orbs. In my case, I’m almost 80hours down the game (completed it at 75h or so) and that damn trophy has not popped up yet! Am I doing something wrong?
I guess this problem involves other trophies too. For example, you should get one for winning 1000 battles. I’m pretty sure I went well beyond that, but still no trophy. I have this feeling the game will count as a win only the fights were you get to land the final stroke. I have no way to confirm this, since there is no fights count (or orbs count, for what matters) in the menu, unlike other games (Dragon’s Dogma, just to name one!).
Anyway, I’m not usually a trophy hunter, so these problems didn’t mean that much to me…..
As far as the soundtrack goes, it is well written and very inspired, even if it’s pretty repetitive in the long run.
The difficulty level, on the other hand, suffers a bit of the same problem that affects the trophies. Generally speaking, the learning curve is pretty well balanced, but sometimes a given situation evolves from “easy” to “hard” for no apparent reason. In other words: one moment you are happily winning your battle and the next one some horrific creature will come up and crush your skull!
To mitigate this behavior, you better level up (there are a few glitches over the internet that can help you out) and improve your equipment by buying items in various shops around the world or alchemizing new ones.
Alchemizing items can be a lovely exercise, which will force you to explore the entire world since the necessary ingredients for your recipes are spread out on the entire map. Another thing you can do to relax is visiting the local “Casino”, which will sport many mini-games (slots machines and stuff) and will provide you with a movie theater where you can watch the entire collection of FMVs (if you bought your ticket, that is!).
One final word has to be spent for the “leveling system” of your companion creatures. During his quest in and out of this world, Oliver will have many human mates which can fight on their own (using some peculiar abilities) or deploy magical creatures which will fight for you. Each character can use up to 3 creatures during battles, that can be launched on the battlefield one at the time.
These creatures, called “Imajin” (or “companions” or “familiars” or whatever else in your own mother language) can be fed, equipped and evolved in a way that is half “Pokemon” and half “Tamagotchi”.
Creatures will be kept in the “creature cage” (Poke Ball?) and feed them well will cause their “affinity” to increase. And do you know what? In my personal experience … it works!
In the end, No no Kuni is an experience that I suggest to anyone. The game is fun to play and wonderful to watch. It can be frustrating at times, but I know I will keep playing it for a long time. 80hours down the road I still have side-quests to complete in the post-game (things to do, people to see… LOL). As said, I completed the game in 75hours (I could have taken less, but I wanted to level up …. just in case!), and my estimate is that we are talking about a 150-hour-game (possibly more).
Namco/Bandai executives said that we could have another game if Ni no Kuni sold well in the international market (not counting Japan sales) because only in that case a new localization process would be worthy.
The only thing I can say is: “Please, buy it!”. I would personally like another one or, even better, a similar game based on other Mr. Miyazaki stuff.
I think “Nausicaa of the Wind Valley” (1984) or “Mirai Shonen Conan” (Conan, the boy of the future, 1978) could be perfect. The latter indeed had a conversion on PS2, but I never had the chance to play it because it never made it to Europe (a.f.a.i.k.), so I can’t report back …