Few games could have us as excited as Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch does. The idea of being able to walk through a world created by Studio Ghibli is the kind of magic that dreams are made of. The demo I played through had two sections: a free roaming romp through the overworld, and a more obviously linear trek through a city run by pigs dubbed by one of the characters as “Hog Heaven”. Walking around the overworld is probably what all those classic JRPGs would be like if they were made for current hardware. Sweeping vistas and rolling hills with monsters trotting around like they own the place. Nothing is as nostalgic for a long time JRPG gamer like myself as an epic looking overworld.
“Hog Heaven” was kind of a dull town with the stores all closed up for various convenient reasons that really all boiled down to “it’s a demo”, but all was forgiven once the animated cutscenes kicked in in all their glory. Ni No Kuni may not look exactly like it’s anime inspiration like some upcoming games are attempting, but it’s still impressive how the in-game visuals manage to carry the same style and feeling as the animated story segments. Seeing buildings in the town all swivel on hidden mechanisms to create a causeway through the center for the Prince’s parade was something to behold. After watching this, the adult in my party (probably there as a chaperone for the underage boy and girl) informed the kids that their objective was in the castle and it just took a short bit of prodding to get past some very lax guards at the gate. The finale of the demo was a tank-like boss that came screaming in the second my party stepped into the castle proper.
There’s no doubting that Ni No Kuni is beautiful. It’s been on my radar ever since Studio Ghibli’s involvement was announced, but my main worry has always been the gameplay. Level 5’s White Knight Chronicles had a ploddingly slow battle system which made a pretty dull game almost unbearable. Ni No Kuni isn’t quite out of the woods yet, but what I’ve seen is promising. When a battle starts you have the choice of sending out one of a few familiars that your characters have unlocked or attacking on your own. Battles progress in real time and each turn you can choose from a number of different actions for you or your familiar to use such as basic attacks or magic. Magic takes up "mp" from a general pool for each party member. At any point in the battle you can switch familiars or the party member you control which can be useful for fights that require a specific type of magic such as the boss battle against a pig piloted tank that I got to play through during the demo.
When familiars are out a gauge constantly decreases and if it goes all the way down the familiar will be fatigued and unusable until the gauge fills back up. The representative at the demo stand told me that eventually you gain access to more than 50 different familiars which you can grow, feed, and level independently. By doing this the developers increase the number of playable characters while keeping the story focused on just a few characters. It’s not the most interesting or fast paced battle system in the world but it at least won’t be a detriment to a game I’m aniticipating mostly for the presentation.
So my one big worry about something that could ruin the fun of Ni No Kuni has been abated, and all that’s left is for me to relish in a world made by the creators of Totoro. Don’t mess this up for me, Level 5. I don’t think my poor heart could take it.