|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Level-5, Studio Ghibli|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: January 22, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Simulated Gambling|
Overall, though, there's some nice depth and challenge in the system, and players can always choose to grind a bit in order to overcome tough enemies if their menu-flipping skills aren't quite up to the challenge. The game does a good job of warning the player when something particularly deadly is coming up, and there's always the chance to save the game in case a bit more powering-up is necessary. The density of encounters can feel overwhelming at first, but is mitigated by the fact that weak monsters will flee from the party, allowing older areas to be explored without fear of molestation.
Many players will become addicted to the Pokémon-style system of collecting and evolving familiars. Every species of familiar has three evolutions, the last of which allows the player to choose between two possible final forms. Familiars return to level one with each evolution, but with far more powerful base statistics every time. On top of the evolution system, familiars will need to be equipped with various weapons, armor, and accessories, and they can be fed treats in order to increase their statistics and their overall effectiveness in battle. It can become quite addictive, enough so that I'd recommend sticking with a few favorites rather than attempting to catch and raise them all.
As in all of Level-5's RPGs, there are tons of extra activities to be undertaken between following the main quest and battling monsters. Ni No Kuni has a great system of side quests that involves a nice variety of activities. The most unique of these is Oliver's ability to restore people whose hearts have been broken by the evil Shadar. Each of these people has had a particular virtue drained from them, causing their lives to lose direction. Those missing enthusiasm become lethargic, those missing kindness become mean, etc. Oliver has a magic locket that stores these virtues, which he can borrow from people who have an excess of them and use to cure the broken-hearted. Helping out these broken-hearted people is a major theme in the game's storyline as well as in the side quests, and there's something particularly satisfying about assisting people in this way.
Other side systems such as alchemy and gambling are more standard-issue, but many are enhanced by the wonderful Wizard's Compendium that Oliver carries with him. The Compendium contains exhaustive information about the world, and is occasionally required reading in order to complete quests. It has quite a few missing pages that are filled in during the adventure, giving Oliver access to new spells, alchemical formulas, and even fanciful fables that flesh out the story of the world. The player can browse it like a PDF document, though the lack of a physical version means that sometimes one will need to pull out the good old scrap paper in order to take notes. The Compendium just adds a certain something to the game, making it feel like a true wizard's quest in a living, breathing world.
With the combination of its amazing production values, fairy tale story, and deep RPG systems, Ni No Kuni has all the makings of a classic. It reminds me of book series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia that are aimed at kids but appreciated by people of all ages. Parents who remember playing games like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda when they were young will find this the perfect game to play with their kids. The ESRB may have rated it for ages ten and up, but most parents should find it perfectly acceptable for younger elementary students, especially with the assistance of an adult or older sibling.
Ni No Kuni easily stands with the best Japanese RPGs of this generation, and I believe it will stand the test of time to become one of the beloved adventures that people remember for years to come. This is the game for everyone who wishes they made RPGs like they did “back then,” but who also loves the advancements we've seen in graphics, sound, and gameplay systems over the years. This collaboration between the world of video games and cinema has turned out a magical game guaranteed to catch the attention and warm the hearts of all but the most jaded gamers.
Date: January 24, 2013