Monday, December 30, 2013

Game of the Year :: Ni no Kuni

My Game of the Year is the title that brought me the most joy and kept my attention the longest. This early January 2013 title stayed in my thoughts throughout the day, and tugged at my heart strings throughout my time with it. It’s a game that took me to another world while still keeping me grounded with another “real world” to relate to. It gave me the chance to “collect ‘em all” and has kept me a little bit younger.

Welcome to the game that is the love letter to all JRPG fans worldwide. Level-5 and Studio Ghibli have produced one of the finest games I’ve ever played with Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch. What’s that? Miyazaki? The Japanese animation house responsible for such classic anime features as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away (and a dozen others). Their sense of imagination and attention to detail is nearly unrivaled. To have this animation studio team up with a gaming studio to produce this title was reason alone to pick it up. As expected the game’s visuals are very anime, in fact it’s like playing a cartoon. It’s worlds are detailed, colorful,lively and very easy to get lost in.

Ni no Kuni is the story of our young protagonist (and future sorcerer), Oliver. His dire quest to bring his mother back to life is both passionate and jarring. Coping with his mother’s sudden death, Oliver’s tears cause his toy doll, to come to life and reveal itself as a fairy named Drippy. Hitting you emotionally right from the start, you will really want to help Oliver reach the end of this journey. Drippy will take Oliver on a journey out of his reality and into a whole other world very different from our own. In the other world there is a plague on the inhabitants, a plague known as “broken-heartedness”, a plague started by the big bad Shadar. Oddly a bunch of the inhabitants of this new world, even the most anthropomorphic, are very relatable to ones that Oliver knows in his own. This parallel will prove to be all-important and ultimately the key to defeating Shadar and finishing Oliver’s journey.

Most video games tell their narrative through cut scenes and in-game dialogue. Ni no Kuni does as well but the in-game banter is just amazing. The characters are very believable and oddly never take themselves too seriously. For the most part everyone in the cast is very humble, especially Oliver himself. Oliver approaches every scenario with an open mind and polite manners. Ni no Kuni is a breath of fresh air in a game world addicted to non-stop “Schwarzenegger” voice overs.

At its most basic, the gameplay consists of controlling the mainstay, Oliver, casting spells and transporting himself from the real world to the fantastic world. If I had to make comparisons it would be a Legend of Zelda/Final Fantasy mash up. Ni no Kuni avoids the difficult learning curves a lot of RPGs have by very slowly easing you into the complex gameplay and tactics. Ni no Kuni is one of the first games I had to take notes with as I played since the early NES days.

Very quickly into the story you will meet your first “familiar”, Familiars are little creatures that bond and fight for their masters. Familiars are very useful in battle, ultimately each character can control up to three familiars. More and more Familiars are encountered within the massive world in Ni no Kuni. Oliver will also encounter other people that will join him on his journey and they too can control up to three Familiars leaving the player with a small army at your disposal. There are hundreds of Familiars in the game each with their own likes and dislikes and leveling up opportunities. Leveling all your characters and Familiars is a bit of a grind: you will have to put in some time to be strong enough to make it to the end.

Ni no Kuni is a long game and offers enough content to keep even the most OCD completionist busy for 100’s of hours. Many games have you level up your power set, usually topping off just in time to face the final boss; Ni no Kuni does too, however Ni no Kuni gives you a chance to really spend some time with your top level powers. There is so much offered in this title that this post doesn’t do it justice. If you haven’t given this title a shot it is well worth your time even if you are a novice RPG player. I consider this game to be a collectable. I would not want to part with it. I believe time may tell with this game even if it doesn't receive handfuls of GOTY awards. I am crossing my fingers that the subtitle “Wrath of the White Witch” is foretelling of a future installment in the series.
To get you started with your own Ni no Kuni journey I’ve included a download link to the Wizard’s Companion in PDF format an in-game reference book you will be referencing often. There is a physical copy available that sold with the collector’s edition. I found it handy to put the Wizard’s Companion on my iPad for quick reference. Also below are my personal game notes which, of course, contain spoilers but will help you out through some of the tougher quests and also includes a feeding guide for some of my favorite Familiars.

Wizard Companion PDF (431MB)
Ni no Kuni game notes (8KB)

1 comment:

  1. I always prefer in-game exposition to cut scenes. It sounds like a fascinating game!