tue 26/08/2014

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch | Gaming reviews, news & interviews

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Schmaltz aplenty in this feel-good or feel-sick offering from Studio Ghibli

Ni No Kuni: 'sickly sweet and slightly patronising'

The news that Studio Ghibli were making a computer game was met with resounding excitement when it was announced way back in 2010. Right from the off the possibility of being able to adventure through the dark and mystical worlds of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke was tempered with the fear that we might end up skipping through the candyfloss Disney/Ghibli worlds of Ponyo or Arrietty instead. Unfortunately with Ni No Kuni, it’s clear to see which school of Ghibli has won out.

Oliver lives in the idyllically bland town of Motorville, a 1950s Americana vision of new cars, ice cream parlours and white picket fences. However this is a world of parallels, and after his mother dies Oliver is given the magical power to travel into Ni No Kuni, the other world, where alternate versions of Motorville’s residents are living in terror of an evil White Witch, her Zodiac cronies, and her servant the dark djinn Shadar. With a little help from his toy doll Mr Drippy, who in actuality is the (incredibly Welsh) Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Oliver takes up the mantle of wizard/saviour, travelling between worlds on a quest to save his mother’s soul mate, and potentially bring his mother back to life.

Cue many ensuing battles with the various nasties scattered around every corner of Ni No Kuni. The (too frequent) combat is a combination of turn-based and real-time, giving you the freedom to run around in each battle arena, avoiding strikes and hitting beasties in the back with well-aimed spells. This freedom makes battles much more energetic and interesting than the traditional turn-based paralysis of most JRPGs.

However, the best thing about this game is Mr Drippy, who has to be one of the greatest side-kicks – certainly the greatest Welsh game character – ever imagined. His Welshisms are hilarious, making the extensive amount of dialogue in the game feel energetic and lively.

Like most JRPGs, Ni No Kuni is restrictively path-based, although there are enough places to explore and revisit as you complete bounty hunts and side quests to keep the game feeling refreshing. From the seasonally-themed realms of Ni No Kuni, to the parallel activities going on in the streets of Motorville, the twin worlds look good, but are nothing special. As for the soundtrack, much has been made of the participation of Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi in its creation. Unfortunately I found the music to be overblown to the point of hysterical at times, and about as soppy and as unsubtle as being smacked in the face with a wet mop.

This is Disney Ghibli, more Ponyo than Mononoke. It has none of the darkness of the Miyazaki originals, which balanced the lightness of life and spirituality with explorations of sacrifice, death and decay. Ni No Kuni has none of this maturity. As a kid’s game this will do just fine, but if you expected something more from Ghibli, then the whole thing comes across as sickly sweet and slightly patronising.

  • Developed by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli, published by Namco Bandai. Platform PS3
This is Disney Ghibli, more Ponyo than Mononoke. It has none of the darkness of the Miyazaki originals

rating

3

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It's probably worth noting

It's probably worth noting that Ponyo was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, although you would have a point with Arrietty. I don't take issue with anything else you raise - this is not a game of high originality, which is perversely why it has proven so popular with so many people hankering after a throwback to the last generation of Japanese RPGs rather than the "unwelcome" streamlining and changing to the formula represented by Square Enix's output in the HD years, and I suspect the simplistic (maybe even simpering) narrative is refreshing compared to the complicated nonsense that frequently features in such games.

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