Ni No Kuni is quite possibly my most anticipated game of the next six months. A Japanese role playing game (JRPG) from developers Level 5 and critically acclaimed Anime creators Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni is Studio Ghibli’s first time creating a video game and I’m incredibly impressed with what I have seen so far.
The story is about a thirteen year old boy called Oliver, whose mother dies suddenly after saving him from drowning. His tears over his mother’s death bring a doll she made him to life, revealing him to be a magical creature named Drippy, the lord of the fairies. Using a magic book given to him by Drippy, Oliver travels to the world of Ni No Kuni (Japanese for “The Other World”), which runs parallel to his own, in the hopes of being able to bring his mother back to life.
The first thing to note is how beautiful the game looks in motion. Besides the beautiful and authentic Ghibli produced movie style cutscenes, the games in engine art style is 100% classic Studio Ghibli, with a beautifully diverse colour palette and simple yet creative character designs. The quality of the lighting and shading effects is also amazing. When Oliver is running around, the way his cape flows and the light bounces off of it is amazing to see. It may seem simple, but it really helps the whole world come to life.
The games English Voice acting is fantastic. The game features a cast of regional British voice actors, including having a 12 year old boy voicing the main character rather than a woman in her thirties like many video games casting young boys. The result is a very natural sounding cast, that keeps away from stereotyped English voices and allows for a wider variety of character types to be portrayed. The voice acting is being handled by the same company responsible for the English version of Xenoblade Chronicles and the level of expertise involved really shows.
In the Japanese version of the game, Drippy had Osaka regional accent. This is replaced by a Welsh accent in the English version, which I’ve seen several rooms full of fans laugh at. It has the right level of humour to add a loveable aspect to the character right off the bat. The game also features a Japanese language option for those who prefer it, but there are very few games with this calibre of British voice acting, so I would recommend giving it a chance.
On a similar topic, the games localisation is superb. One section of the game is set in a city populated by pig people and in a short ten minute demo I saw the city of HAMlet, soldiers refered to as BOARriors and a mechanical pig boss called PORCO gROSSO (a reference both to pigs, and the classic Ghibli film) with a powerful attack called the GAMMON cannon. The Localisation cuts no corners and feels both natural and makes great use of humour that is tailored to suit the language.
I’m going to go into a little more depth now with a section a little later in the game which I was able to play through and is visible in the trailer above, set on an active volcano. The section starts with you and a female party member called Maru being told that in three minutes, not counting time spent in battles, the volcano is going to erupt and that you need to scale the mountain and stop that from happening.
Along the path up the mountain you will see several creatures roaming the map. Battles are either triggered when you make contact with a monster, or when they make contact with you (if they catch you from behind there will be a short window of time in which you can’t defend yourself from their attacks).
The battles are real time and allow you to free roam the battlefeild. At the start of the battle you have the choice of which of your party members you wish to directly control (there were two playable in this section, but your party can contain up to three members at a time) and whether to fight as the character or one of there Familiars. Familars are collectable creatures which you can summon to fight on your behalf, name, independently level up and tailor to suit your situation.
There is a lot of optional depth to the battle system. You can either choose one character to fight with, selecting your favourite attacks and trying to win that way, or choosing to increase the depth of mechanics you can swap which character or familiar your controlling at any time, use a mix of physical and distance attacks, change what strategy your characters you aren’t directly controlling will use, cancel your attacks mid way through their activation and juggle the amount of time each Familiar can be summoned for, along with each characters HP and MP. While most of this switching up and depth was unnecessary against the monsters I was encountering along this trail, it became very important during the levels boss fight.
After a very amusing revelation about the volcano from Drippy I was able to take on one of the games boss battles, which really took things up a gear. We get to meet one of the games more serious villains, a character named Shadar (see the trailer) who summons a giant creature from the lava of the volcano.
The fight was fairly tough, requiring a much more tactical approach than previous battles. I found myself making a lot of use of the ability to switch up Familiars and characters on short notice, collecting orbs dropped by Drippy to replenish my HP and MP mid fight and struggling my way to victory. The level of difficulty felt pretty well balanced so that while the boss was defeatable, I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I finallytook it down.
The game also has one other feature, shown off early in the game, which allows you to take a sample of an NPC’s emotion and give it to a character in need. The example shown if that the first city you travel to has a gate guarded by two soldiers. One is doing star jumps and the other looks to be suffering with depression. You can take some of the enthusiasm from the first guard and give it to the second guard, cheering him up and allowing him to open the gate to the town for you. There were spaces for several more emotions in the pop up menu, so expect a lot of different uses for this mechanic.
The game is due out on January 25th in Europe and comes in both a regular and a “Wizards” edition. The Wizards Edition comes with the game, a physical copy of the in game spell book, a plush toy of Drippy and two additional Familiars as free DLC.
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