Average User Score: 8.6May 12, 2013This is the experience that I had been waiting years for. I played countless JRPG’s on my SNES and Playstation during my teenage years. There was a magic about the games from this era. I adored games like Chrono Trigger. Unfortunately, during my 20’s, I had a falling out with the genre. I played many JRPG’s that come out in the past decade, but nothing reached the heights achieved by those classic games of my childhood, and nothing held my interest more than a few hours. Well, I have finally found another game that I can add to the list of JRPG’s that have captivated my imagination.
Ni No Kuni is not perfect by any means, but it is magical. It’s story, visuals and game play combine to create an experience that I have been seeking for years. Level 5 has moved away from the generic, emo, protagonist that has taken over the JRPG landscape in recent years and created Oliver, a young boy with a sense of wonder that I was able to connect with. The progression of his story is somewhat predictable, but Oliver's character kept me engaged throughout his 40+ hour story. Using Drippy, Oliver’s fairy sidekick, to balance the innocence of the main character, was a smart decision. Giving Drippy a Welsh accent was perfect. It added humour to the game, and it never seemed forced. The other party members that travel with Oliver fit into the overall story very well, as do the many side characters encountered throughout. My one complaint with the characters, is you encounter many of the same ones in each town, always with a similar problem. These side missions can be easily skipped, but anybody playing will probably want to take the time to complete some of these errands. The voice acting in the game does a nice job but there just isn't as much as I was hoping for. For those purists out there, it can be played with subtitles and the original Japanese voice acting.
As much as I enjoyed the story, the graphics is where Ni No Kuni really shines. I've heard people say “It feels like you are playing a cartoon,” and this description is completely accurate. Designed and animated by Studio Ghibli, the characters and environments in the game are stunning. There were numerous times I would enter an area and think it was one of the most amazing scenes I have even seen on my PS3, only to be blown away every time I entered a new area. The environments vary widely, hitting all the traditional game locales. The highlights for me were the towns, as they each seemed to have contain it's own personality that I could feel as walked about. Hamlin is closed in and cold, while Castaway Cove felt much more relaxed and carefree. Even the darker areas, such as Miasma Swamp, were amazingly animated, and feel dark and dreary.
The score, performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, complimented the entire experience. The music fit the game really well, and other than the title theme, I have no complaints. The title theme was a little boisterous, and the first four seconds of it have become stuck in a continuous loop in my head countless times.
The story and game play of Ni No Kuni has found a nice balance between being accessible to a wider audience and still capturing that unique charm of a JRPG. The story, while very predictable, is charming, and it is the characters that kept me wanting to play. There were no shades of grey here, Oliver was a good guy and as the story progressed he was trying to do the right thing. Throughout, characters are (literally) missing pieces of their heart, and Oliver takes it upon himself to restore the missing pieces. The story does tend to drag in a couple places, especially when you can see exactly what is going to happen, yet still have to go through the multiple steps to get there.
Ni No Kuni also has a Monster Hunter/Pokemon aspect of catching creatures which the game calls familiars. I didn't really get into this aspect of the game, but I do see how players could spend hours trying to get them all. The side quests, in the form of errands and bounty hunts, are numerous in the game, and also add hours of gameplay. Many of the games best weapons and rewards can only earned through these missions. There is also an alchemy section, using items to create new weapons and supplies. The game has more than enough to keep collectors and RPG lovers happy, and very busy.
I love that this game was able to recapture some of that magic I felt when I played games back on the SNES and PS1. The story never really shines, but was always good enough that it never mattered. The characters and their personalities kept me engaged, and the Welsh accent of Drippy is brilliant. I was drawn in by the visuals, which are among the best on the PS3. Everything about how this game looks, is breathtaking.