Published on October 14th, 2019 | by Zorbz
REVIEW – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered
REVIEWED BY BAHI
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an ambitious collaboration between Game Developers, Level-5 and one of the most beloved animation studios, Studio Ghibli. Originally released on the Nintendo DS and PS3 8 years ago, Ni No Kuni has been remastered on the PS4 and PC for a new generation of gamers.
Story: A young boy with magic abilities, named Oliver, travels to a new world to defeat evil and save his mother with the guidance of his toy-turned-companion, Drippy, a fairy from another world who was cursed by an evil wizard named Shadar. While the story sounds basic and overdone, the presentation, particularly with the help of Studio Ghibli, really drives the wow factor of this game. Every element of Ni No Kuni, from the visuals and story to the colourful characters and gameplay, ties together to create an emotion-driven, feel-good story. The story is the same magical, whimsical style that Studio Ghibli is known for. When Oliver refers to a regal cat as ‘your Meowjesty’, you know you’re in for the cutest freaking ride through cuteville and the ride doesn’t stop. Having said that, the story has some dark elements which are displayed through themes such as loss and independence. In short, the story is easy to follow, fun and makes a powerful impact.
Graphics: If you were expecting new dungeons, new modes or extra gear, you’ll be disappointed in finding out that the graphics of this game is the sole reason why NNK has been remastered. NNK’s original release 8 years ago saw the game play at 30FPS and 1080p resolution. Framerate drops during busier parts of the landscape and in more intense battles were quite obvious and obtrusive. The remastered version has resolved this by increasing the frames to 60FPS at 1080p or alternatively, 30FPS at 4k resolutions. This creates a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the game plays like a dream in 1080p, on the other hand, the animated cutscenes still play at 30fps and the difference is incredibly noticeable. Similarly, the game looks great on 4k, but it plays at 30fps. Either way, you’re going to be shafted when choosing how you want your game to look and play in some way, but it doesn’t take much away from the immersion and beauty of the game. Personally, I preferred playing the game at 1080p as the gameplay is much smoother and the slowdown issues from the PS3 release have been resolved.
Visually, this game holds up as an incredibly beautiful and immersive experience, despite being nearly a decade old. In keeping up with the anime-style setting, characters are draped in vibrant cel-shading against cartoony-looking 3D backdrops. While the backgrounds aren’t cel-shaded, the contrast isn’t jarring. In fact, it really helps the characters pop out, and as many of them have colourful personalities, it helps them shine. During cutscenes, you’ll see the trademark Studio Ghibli art-style. Even though the drops to 30FPS during these cutscenes can be irksome, Ghibli’s art-style can’t help but be charming and mesmerising, pulling you into the fanciful world they’ve helped build.
Gameplay: To be honest, the gameplay, while fun, can easily get repetitive and it’s probably the weakest part of the game. That’s not to say this game plays bad. It just means you’ll have to have a bit of patience and a penchant for non-stop battling. As you embark on your quest to save the world, you travel through various dungeons, villages and towns helping the non-playable characters and finding help to save Oliver’s mother. While you progress, you’re given new spells to learn. Some of these can be your standard healing and elemental damage spells and others can help you tackle some puzzles outside of battle. This sounds exciting but the puzzles are incredibly simple. Often, Drippy tells you what spell you need to use in order to advance through a map. This isn’t too bad for someone who wants to focus on the story but those who want a bit of a challenge may be a bit disappointed.
NNK’s battle mechanics offer a standard RPG experience with a twist. Enemies are visible on the overworld and map, and you can either avoid them or run up to them to start a battle. Once on the battlefield, you’ll have your standard RPG options when using Oliver – fight, spells, items, run away. The twist comes with the use of Familiars in battle. Familiars are physical embodiment’s of Oliver’s spirit that can be sent to battle enemies for him. If you think Oliver is too weak to take on a certain enemy, you can call on your Familiar to fight in his stead. These Familiars hold a diverse range of moves outside of the typical ‘fight’, ‘run’, ‘spells’ trope and is more akin to battling with Pokémon than anything else. Some Familiars can be used to buff stats or wail on enemies with their special moves and more. In my opinion, battling standard enemies you find on the map can get repetitive. The thing is that it can be difficult to avoid them when you’re not in the mood to fight, particularly when you’re in a dungeon. What makes this even more frustrating is that once an enemy sees you, they lock on and stalk you like they’re the Terminator and just like every horror movie ever made, you’re never going to be fast enough to escape because when they run, they RUN. This increases the amount of unnecessary battles which can become a nuisance when you just want to advance the story. This is where NNK could have benefited from a speed-up mode ala the Final Fantasy XII remaster.
When you want to take a break from the story and fighting hordes of terminator-esque enemies, you can take part in the many side-quests available and just like your average RPG, they can be both rewarding and frustrating. A lot of them can be fetch-questy though so take that for what it’s worth. For example, early in the game, a full-grown man lost his book by a lake on the MONSTER RIDDEN overworld and instead of being a grownup who can take care of himself, he instead chooses to ask a 9-year-old boy in a cape to find it for him. Luckily, the rewards can be great and often times saves you from spending your money on weapons and armour so it’s not all bad.
Sound: Strap on your humming hat because NNK’s soundtrack is amazing. The music, composed by staple Studio Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi, never disappoints and always sucks you into the game. I personally believe that music is an important element in video games and Hisaishi has expertly used his skills to drive the fantasy themes that NNK radiates. Each town and portion of the overworld has its own songs and it really go along with the medieval fantasy aspect that this game holds. I can’t stress how beautifully done the music is here. The melodies can change your emotions drastically as they shift from a sinister, brooding tone to a light, medieval inspired theme. I hate to point out the obvious because this is to be expected from such an ambitious collaboration between two very popular entertainment companies, but I have to say that the music is my favourite aspect of the game.
The voice acting in NNK is fantastic as well. Watching the cutscenes of this game feels like you’re really watching a Studio Ghibli film as you listen to the diverse range of accents and speaking styles that the company is known for. The best part (for me) is the emotion conveyed in the character’s voices, which can be quite difficult to capture through voice acting. The acting here is so good that it really helps you feel involved in the narrative, despite some awfully cheesy dialogue.
Awesomeness: This isn’t going to come as a surprise if you’ve made it this far into the review. The awesomeness of this masterpiece shines through by the sheer fact that one of the greatest video game developers has collaborated with one of the greatest animation companies. Every single element of Ni No Kuni, from the visuals to the characters and everything in between display the mark of a high-quality product that is expected from both companies and the marriage of their strengths is one that holds up well, even 8 years later. It’s difficult to describe the feeling this game gives you. It’s a mixture of joy, giddiness, nostalgia and comfort. If you want to experience a feel-good story in a JRPG setting, then this game is where it’s at.
Final Word: Despite the fact that this remaster may not interest those who’ve played the game previously, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of those games that you need to experience in your life and those new to the series should definitely get their hands on this. While it has its niggling issues, Studio Ghibli have helped build endearing characters and a beautiful narrative while Level-5 have created a whimsical world, solid gameplay and beautiful graphics.
Out of 5 Bugs!