Ni no Kuni Demo Impressions
The demo for Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available now on PS3, and it’s certainly worth downloading. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the PS3’s answer to Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi, a Nintendo DS title that unfortunately sees no plans yet for arrival in the West. Ni no Kuni is the love child of Professor Layton and White Knight Chronicles developers Level 5 and animation veterans Studio Ghibli, and it looks to be fantastic.
The game will let you play with (thankfully non-irritating) English audio or, if you’re an anime purist, original Japanese audio with English subtitles. The reasonably lengthy demo on offer gives you two scenarios: fighting a grumpy forest guardian, and reaching the top of a temperamental volcano. Both are very different sequences that demonstrate exactly why RPG and Studio Ghibli fans alike should be incredibly excited for Ni no Kuni.
The first thing that is apparent in Ni no Kuni is the absolutely stunning visuals, courtesy of Studio Ghibli. The bright colours; the fantastic nature spirits that echo My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke; the sweeping landscapes as you travel across Ni no Kuni (“Second Country”) – Ghibli’s presence is strongly felt here, and their strength with story, imagination and detail translates well into the video game world. Its brilliant score accents all this. Helmed by the wonderful Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi (who scored many Studio Ghibli classics and some films by Takeshi Kitano) the music sweeps in powerful waves, creating the sense of being part of an important, epic quest. The soundtrack could easily be ranked amongst Hisaishi’s best work.
Rather utilizing an entirely turned-based static battle system as with many RPGs such as Pokémon and Final Fantasy, the protagonist Oliver is free to move around the screen as you evade enemy attacks, you can choose your strategy from several options such as ‘Attack’, ‘Defend’ and ‘Spells’. The combat is smooth and fun to execute, and you can send out creatures – ‘familiars’ – to fight for you (they level up with your character). It’s also a lot of fun to use new spells that you learn along the way for your next battles, stored in a magic spell book given to Oliver by the fairy lord Drippy. The controls are fluid, although at times Oliver can feel a little slow. Perhaps seasoned RPG players may find Ni no Kuni a little too easy, as there is no shortage of magic (Oliver begins with several magic-replenishing items and small collectible spheres of magic and health will drop during big battles) – however this could be just overused in the demo deliberately to show the player the full capacity of the spells in the game. The battles don’t feel repetitive – it’s great fun to see all the different creatures of the incredibly intriguing Ni no Kuni universe, and there is a great sense of satisfaction in training up your characters and familiars. The vast wide world feels huge, and looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s especially exciting to explore all the different areas.
Ni no Kuni looks to capture all the magic of your favourite Ghibli classics and offer something new and uplifting in the increasingly diluted RPG genre that sees depressed, moody protagonists instead of ones we can believe in. With a protagonist like Oliver, a normal boy sent to an extraordinary world, it can touch the parts of ourselves that grew up with Alice in Wonderland and other incredible fairytale classics. It will surely be something rather spectacular.
Ni no Kuni arrives on January 25th, 2013. The demo is available now on PS3 from the PS Store.