I was originally going to write something about the debacle surrounding the Ni No Kuni Wizard’s Edition, but that’s irrelevant at this juncture – Namco Bandai screwed up royally, we got our Wizard’s Edition despite the difficulties and, most important of all, the game is absolutely phenomenal. Christina and I spent a good part of the weekend playing it (we’re about 13 hours in as I write this) and we’re both hopelessly head-over-heels in love with it. Level 5 and Studio Ghibli have created something really special here, and despite my limited time with it I’m completely comfortable recommending it. I really feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime game.
I’m not going to bother explaining what Ni No Kuni’s all about; JRPG Level 5 Studio Ghibli yadda yadda yadda. You know all this. It’s a very traditional JRPG, and while that’s unfortunately a turn-off for many people these days, I mean it as wondrous praise. It absolutely nails what JRPGs used to be about – expansive, breathing worlds begging to be explored, a gripping narrative that keeps you hungry for more, a loveable cast of characters and a killer soundtrack. If you’re one of the people heartbroken over Final Fantasy’s (alleged) fall from grace, Ni No Kuni will restore your faith in the genre.
Right off the bat the game’s gorgeous look pulls you in. Level 5 and Studio Ghibli are both known for the indescribable beauty they create in their respective mediums and having them teaming up on a project is almost unfair to everyone else. You’re really getting the best of both worlds here, with not only a breathtakingly beautiful video game, but also animated story scenes done in-house at Studio Ghibli. The game is just a treat to look at, coming as close as video games possibly can to replicating the beauty and charm of traditional cel animation. Characters and environments burst off of your TV with so much life it almost feels like you can climb right in yourself.
The combat system has been compared to Pokémon, but that’s inaccurate. You do capture and train monsters, yes, but the similarities end there. Familiars, as the game calls them, are full party members that can be hot-swapped between each other or even swapped for the game’s human characters at any time. You run around a small arena once combat has been initiated, selecting commands from a wheel in a system that blends turn-based and active combat systems into something that’s exciting and challenging but never too daunting; while you spend a lot of time on the razor’s edge in combat but (so far) we haven’t felt overwhelmed.
I could talk more about the story and characters but I really feel like this is a game you should go into blind. I can say that in the 13 hours we’ve played the game has already made me cry twice so definitely pack some tissues. I’ll also go ahead and say that Drippy is one of the best characters to grace a video game in years. Just his animations are enough to win him this award, nevermind his design, English voiceover and dialog.
One of the coolest experiences I had with the game unfortunately can’t be shared by everyone because we were only able to do it as owners of the Wizard’s Edition, but I’ll tell the story anyway. You have an in-game book called the Wizard’s Companion that, as you progress through the game, gets new pages filled with information on monsters, new spells, stories and lore and all kinds of things. The Wizard’s Edition comes with an exact replica of the Wizard’s Companion, complete with brown-tinted pages, hardcover binding and jewel embedded in the cover. In-game, a character gave us a page with a fairy tale and told us to read it (via the in-game menu) before quizzing us. Well, we opened the physical book and read it together that way.
New paragraph for emphasis – sitting on the couch with my wife, reading a physical book to learn about a fictional world that we were interacting with on our television is something that is going to stick with me for a very, very long time.
If you have a PlayStation 3 you need to go buy Ni No Kuni. It’s taken me an inordinate amount of time to force out these 700something words because I’m struggling to comprehend how powerful this game is with your feeble mortal language. It’s really something special and you really shouldn’t miss out on it.