A JRPG To Warm Your Heart
One of the titles we’re particularly anxious to see land here in North America is Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a Japanese RPG animated by the famous Studio Ghibli. (In case you’ve somehow never heard of them, this was the animation studio behind films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away .) At NAMCO Bandai’s Global Gamers Day in Las Vegas last week, we were shown a brand new English language trailer (which has since been leaked across the Internet) along with a ten-minute gameplay demo before being allowed to play a couple sections of it for ourselves. So how did we like what we saw?
First of all, the game is undeniably gorgeous. The screenshots are beautiful in their own right, but they’re unable to present just how great everything looks while in motion. Studio Ghibli did a fantastic job here, and even the gameplay segments look like they were pulled out of a Ghibli film rather than a JRPG.
The story, too, has incredible potential here. A young boy named Oliver loses his mom, and, in his sadness, a stuffed animal she had made for him comes to life. This stuffed animal, named Drippy, takes Oliver into a fantasy world where the two of them try to get Oliver’s mom back. The trailer reveals how emotionally moving we can expect this journey to be, with scenes of Oliver weeping and a flashback of his mother presenting Drippy to him. It all makes us wonder whether to expect a happy ending or something that might be a little disturbing—a Pan’s Labyrinth -type tale of coping with grief. Now, the imagery isn’t as dark as Pan’s Labyrinth , and the game is obviously more appropriate for children than that film was, but it must be noted that during our meeting with Akihiro Hino, Level-5 President and CEO, we were never promised a happy ending.
And then there’s the gameplay. We got to play through a couple segments of Ni No Kuni, and for the most part we were impressed. Of note is the battle system, which takes advantage of an almost Pokémon style of monster capture and battle. Each character (the two we played were Oliver and a girl named Esther) have a “familiar” menu, and at the start of the battle players can select whether to play as Oliver himself or as one of the familiars he’s captured. Each familiar has its own set of moves, and pressing the L1 bumper while in combat will allow you to switch between the familiars and Oliver, or even to Esther.
While we didn’t get to capture any familiars for ourselves, we got to test out one named Mitey, whose skills were mostly sword-based. In fact, he had a special attack called “Cut Loose,” which slashed enemies with a flurry of sword action. Later while exploring the world, we came upon a monster called a Mite, which was basically the wild form of Mitey. Our guess is that this was a fairly good hint at the fundamentals of the capture system, assuming these Mites could be captured and turned into “Miteys.”
In addition to these familiars, Oliver can perform magic. The cute little wand he waves about while casting spells brings to mind the first few Harry Potter films, or even a little kid version of the upcoming Sorcery game for PS Move. In our brief play session, Esther was a healer type. Whether this is hardwired into the game system or is able to be altered, allowing for various class builds, is yet to be seen.
Similar to the Tales combat system, players in Ni No Kuni are allowed to move around the battlefield to gain a tactical advantage or to merely dodge an attack. Unlike in the Tales games, though, the battle system here is still very much menu-based. Accessing various skills, attacks, items, or magic types requires scrolling through menus that appear on the screen as comic book-style word bubbles. Additionally, sometimes when enemies die, they drop blue or green orbs on the battlefield. Collecting these restores a tiny bit of health (green) or mana (blue).
Of the two sections we got to play, the one we spent a majority of our time with was an open world map filled with foliage and all sorts of vibrant shades of green. Monsters roamed the landscape freely, and bumping into one of them would initiate combat. There was a section of ocean we were allowed to explore with a ship, and we were surprised to find that we could enter into combat even while sailing.
The other section was called Hamelin – City of Machines. In this section, we got to experience a bit more of the story, where a bunch of soldiers were enigmatically dressed like pigs. In fact, we even got to see a boss fight against a pig-shaped tank called Porco Grosso. We never got to figure out what it was that was going on in this scene, but it’s piqued our interest, to say the least.
Ni No Kuni will land on the PS3 in North America. Unfortunately, we have to wait another year, as this isn’t expected to launch until the first quarter of 2013.