E3 2012 Hands-On: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
posted on 06.16.12 at 02:10 PM EST by (@sqexgal)
Level-5 RPG excels in creativity and gameplay.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a PlayStation 3 role-playing game epic launched in Japan last November, is coming to North America and Europe in January next year. It is developed by Level-5 – the same people who brought us Dragon Quest VIII, the Professor Layton series, and White Knight Chronicles - along with the infamous anime directors at Studio Ghibli – essentially the Walt Disney Studios of Japan. Namco Bandai, who are localizing the game, had a playable demo of the English version at E3 last week, which I was fortunate enough to check out. 

The story follows a young boy named Oliver, who is trying to bring his mother back to life after she died saving him from drowning. A doll she gives him, named Drippy, comes to life from his tears and, with the help of a magical book, he is transported to another world. Along with Drippy, Oliver sets off to this parallel land where magic abounds in an effort to find his mother, and befriends various characters along the way.

In the E3 demo, I was offered two scenarios: one where you’re able to explore the map and visit the city of Ding Dong Dell, or one where you can explore a dungeon. I chose the first option since, more than battles, I wanted to get a good look at the anime-esque visuals. The demo was timed at ten minutes, so I immediately set off exploring.

The map appears similar to a painted scenery you’d expect from a Studio Ghibli film, only more interactive. The enemies move around the map and you can trigger their attention by getting close by. Once the battle initiates, you can send out your creatures to do the fighting for you. Each character can use three creatures, for a total of up to nine in a single fight. The character Esther can subdue enemies and convince them to join your team. Once they’re a part of the team, you can help them grow by feeding them certain types of fruits and help them to evolve. It sounds a bit like Pokemon, but I find it’s more akin to the Dream Eater features of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.

Anyhow, I quickly avoided battling so I could explore the city of Ding Dong Dell. Again, I was greeted with a vibrantly painted environment, a fantastical city with cobbled streets and townspeople. The cat people were the most amusing to me, complete with cat puns. The dialogue is charming, and while the game in general is structured with simplicity and wholesomeness, it’s not dull at all. It promises nearly 40 hours worth of gameplay, not counting the numerous side quests, plus fully animated cutscenes that help keep the story cohesive.

Even though sales for Ni no Kuni were underwhelming in Japan, I know many people look at it as a return to what fans of classic RPGs miss about modern titles. Playing it reminds me of playing a hyper version of Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, or one of the Final Fantasy titles on Super Nintendo. The style is charming and the dialogue is witty, the characters are likable, the imagery is eye catching, it has a unique battle system, and above all else, it has a story to tell. When you consider Studio Ghibli’s influence into its presentation, it’s really more of an interactive adventure that engages players.

It’s been my impression that no matter how many die hard role-playing game fans are out here in the west, titles like Ni no Kuni are likely to be overlooked because they don’t offer high-spec graphics or intense action gameplay. But those aspects aren’t enough to make a good game. For me, it’s about creativity and battle systems, and Ni no Kuni excels at both.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is due for PlayStation on January 22 in North America and January 25 in Europe. Japanese speakers can import the All-In-One Edition starting July 19. If you missed the E3 trailer, find it here. Additionally, find the E3 screenshots here.

  • BizarreJelly

    Cannot wait for this, looks absolutely gorgeous :D love Ghibli style.

  • zeopower6

    I’ve been waiting for this since the PS3 version was announced for Japan. ;A;

  • FinalFantasy_fangirl

    This is a must have title! Pity Sony didnt show a trailer at their show

  • Aldridge517

    Must buy. Level-5 is awesome.

  • Bec66

    AHHHGGGG WHY MUST THE WAIT BE SO LONG! At least i’ll have time to save money and pre-order.

  • Malcolm Reynolds

    My personal GOTY for 2013. Probably game of this whole Gen!

    • Locksus

      @Malcolm Reynolds:
      Have you played it already?:o

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/Azureflame14?feature=mhee AzureFlame24

        @Locksus: studio ghibli involved means.. GOTY!

  • Zero

    First- @sqexgal

    Thanks for all the e3 coverage and great articles!

    I’m very excited about Ni no Kuni.

    Even though sales for Ni no Kuni were underwhelming in Japan, I know many people look at it as a return to what fans of classic RPGs miss about modern titles.

    I couldn’t agree more, and I don’t think this should surprise anyone. How long has it been since we had a more traditional JRPG on the consoles? You said modern above and that … is a good word to describe what we have got on the consoles the last few years. (For the most part.)

    (I touched a bit on this subject with Final Fantasy 13. And how I predicted the next new FF for consoles would take a more classical approach.)

    The JRPG genre itself has nostalgia infused into its DNA. It will always be a fine line for developers to walk on. You want to bring in the new, but you have to keep enough to make the game feel familiar. Does it feel like a JRPG?

    Ni no Kuni is a JRPG set in the world of Studio Ghibli. It screams it proudly from the highest mountain top, unashamed. And I love it.

  • barklight

    Man, the wait is killing me.
    Love that city name, Ding Dong Dell? it rhymes >_<

  • Malcolm Reynolds

    @Locksus
    A good friend of mine went to Japan last December and brought back about 30 games. The limited edition of Ni No Kuni was one of them.

    I dont understand a lick of Japanese but this game is still magically delicious while playing. Cant wait to play it and understand what I’m doing!

  • RyoonZ

    A good game to start a year!!!

  • Miranda Lawson

    Hey didn’t Level-5 make Rogue Galaxy as well? Why isn’t it mentioned?

    • Zero

      @Miranda Lawson:

      Yep! Rogue Galaxy is my favorite Level-5 game. It ranks just ahead of Dragon Quest 8, Dark Cloud, and Jeanne d’Arc.

      And let me tell you, the above are all fantastic games.

      I’m impatiently waiting for Level 5 to announce a sequel to Rogue Galaxy.

      Seriously! Anyone reading this comment that has not played Rogue Galaxy, go play it right away! One of the best games on the PS2!

      • Miranda Lawson

        @Zero: It probably is the best game on the PS2 actually. If they made a sequel I would get it, but since Rogue Galaxy was made back in 2007 I doubt it.

        • Zero

          @Miranda Lawson:

          /high fives fellow Rogue Galaxy fan. :)

          I’m going to try and remain optimistic about a sequel. They recently gave us a glimmer of hope for a Dark Cloud sequel, saying –

          There are many staff members, including myself at Level 5, who have worked on the Dark Cloud series, There are some who decided to join Level 5 because they love the Dark Cloud series. So, if requests from users should increase in the future, we would seriously consider making it.

          Yoshiaki Kusuda

          Perhaps if the fans request a sequel to Rogue Galaxy enough, they might also consider making it.

          In my personal opinion, they would be doing themselves a favor to bring back both series. They aren’t that old, and level 5’s portfolio is kinda iffy these days. WKC series has more or less been a disappointment.

          I think both series represented a comfort level with the developers at level 5. They felt like at home making those games, WKC felt a bit out of that comfort zone. It lost the charm that level 5 brings to games. (Like Ni no Kuni!)

          Edit: The best game on PS2? I loved the game, but that’s a tough one for me to agree with on a whim, if you know what I mean. Persona 3 and 4, Suikoden 3 and 5, Final Fantasy X and XII, all of those were great RPGs.

          • Miranda Lawson

            @Zero: If I knew where to go to in order to vote for a sequel to Rogue Galaxy I would vote for it. I have never played WKC because it looked kind of “childish” (in my opninion.) I watched some videos on youtube and the voice acting sounded horrible, and it didn’t seem like that it had a strong story like Rogue Galaxy did. I became a fan of Rogue Galaxy when I saw the box at Gamestop, and decided to buy it because it looked like a JRPG, which it is! I understand what you are saying when you say that you can’t choose a favorite. FF 10, FF 10-2, and Tales of the Abyss were all good games as well so it is kind of hard to choose…