It’s rare that an exceedingly high-quality piece of work reminds adults that it’s all right to be a kid again. “Wall-E” provided adorable, abstract characters, while “Toy Story 3” blended the familiar cast of action figures and company with a healthy dose of nostalgia. “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch” creates a world that evokes wide-eyed wonderment from players, inviting them into a bubbly, living and tangibly real world that makes playing feel more like an exploration of the favorite films of years long past.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

A
PlayStation 3
Level-5 and Studio Ghibli


The game follows the story of Oliver, your run-of-the-mill, suspenders-wearing 13-year-old boy from some generically named city somewhere in some place. Where he’s from is less important than where he goes: Following a tragic accident, he finds out that he is a wizard and embarks on a quest to restore things to their former, happier state.

Guided by Lord High Lord of the Fairies, former doll Mr. Drippy, and joined by a cast of palpably real allies and enemies, Oliver bounces between his world and a parallel one to restore damage done by Shadar, a tentacle-faced Djinn with a penchant for breaking hearts. The player’s goal is to mend the hearts of cursed individuals in this other world, giving them booster shots of Love or Enthusiasm or whatever else they may be missing. Each character in this parallel world is tied to their soulmate in Oliver’s, sharing various similarities — the Cat King in the other world is a fat tabby in Oliver’s, while Oliver’s mom is a renowned Sage in the other world and so on.

“Ni no Kuni” owes its brilliant, animated film aesthetics to animation giant Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away”) and game developer Level-5 (“Professor Layton” series), which worked together to create an atmosphere that is indiscernible from the lush, vibrant settings in Ghibli’s films. The voice acting, available both in English and Japanese, is incredible. Each character has a distinct personality and everyone from the shopkeepers to the titular antagonist, the White Witch, is privy to beautifully written dialogue.

Gameplay is where “Ni no Kuni” really shines. Aside from the fact that the game is gorgeous, immersive and generally exceptional, the game strikes a balance between instanced monster fights and Pokémon-style monster capturing and battling. Oliver and his pals can fight on their own, but their familiars — cute but fierce entities controlled by individual wizards — tend to be handier in battle.

Each party member can have up to three familiars available to them at a time, with one out on the front lines and the other two waiting for their share of the fight.

Players can obtain and train animals out in the wild to use in the future, offering completionists a fun diversion from the wealth of side quests and bounty hunting while not making it necessary for progression.

While the combat isn’t necessarily intuitive at first, the brief stop-and-go of the action lets players breathe in otherwise stressful engagements. Boss fights are a huge affair, with some of the creatures greatly outsizing the diminutive protagonist and his even smaller familiars.

Also incredible is the game’s soundtrack. Written by Joe Hisaishi — responsible for the incredible scores of many Studio Ghibli movies — and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the game’s heartstring-pulling conflicts and the childlike amazement shared by both the protagonist and the player are brought to life by the expertly crafted musical crescendos and climaxes.

“Ni no Kuni” is an unbelievably great game, providing a solid role-playing experience in a universe that doesn’t rely on cutting-edge, hyper-realistic gore or shock tactics to provide a memorable experience. With no obvious flaws and a slew of positives, “Ni no Kuni” hits all the right notes for gamers of all kinds.

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