Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an upcoming RPG for Playstation 3 developed cooperatively by Studio Ghibli (Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away) and Level 5 (Dark Cloud, Dragon Quest VII, Professor Layton). Oh, be still, my beating heart! If you are like me, upon hearing about this marriage you imagine their offspring as crazy combinations such as My Neighbor Layton and Castle in the Dark Cloud. Then, you will begin to worry that maybe this is one of those things where amazingly awesome thing ‘A’ plus awesomely amazing thing ‘B’ equals tragedy. You know, like pancakes and hot-tubs, or hunting and furry-sex. Sure, every human being since 1997 has thought of doing it every day, but none of us are crazy enough to actually try it. Well feel free to blink your skeptical eye, my friend, because Ni no Kuni looks fucking amazing.
I should clarify that a bit. If you love the magical, adventurous, and heartfelt nature of Studio Ghibli films, and you also happen to love the challenging, strategic, and immersive gameplay of Level 5 games, then Ni no Kuni is fucking amazing.
Spoiler warning! I talk about the game’s introduction and dramatic question! Skip past the next picture if you do not want to see.
Oliver is a thirteen-year-old boy living in Motorville with his mother. He loses his mother, and his doll comes to life in order to help Oliver search for her. The doll, a fairy named Drippy, gives Oliver a book which allows Oliver to use magic and cross into the parallel realm of Ni no Kuni (translated as The Other World [Editor: It means the Second Country in Japanese]), where Oliver may be able to find his mother. Oliver’s search for his mother is the central plot point of the game. In Ni no Kuni, Oliver makes several friends while encountering alternative versions of people and creatures he knows in his own world. As is the norm with Studio Ghibli’s work, the story seems to have the uncanny ability delight us without losing any of its dramatic bite when it comes time to move us. The narrative is delivered to the player primarily through cut-scenes and dialogue boxes.
Ni no Kuni features a lot of the classic JRPG hallmarks. Locations are connected in the world map, which you navigate to get from place to place. Combat is tactical. Battles are fought in a sort of area arena. Fortunately, battles are not triggered as random encounters. Additionally, the battle mechanics are actually balanced to where losing to an enemy or a boss does not mean that you are the wrong level and must level up to be able to win. Rather, skill can lead to victory. I have tried thinking of ways to describe it without it becoming convoluted, and I have failed. Suffice it to say, it seems extremely interesting and promising. Here is a video showing off some of the puzzle-platforming and battle gameplay.
The visual aesthetic is absolutely wonderful; Studio Ghibli didn’t hold anything back for this game. The cut-scenes are legitimate Ghibli anime, and the engine-rendered world matches it almost perfectly.
So this is fantastic! They’ve essentially made a game which lets you be the main character in a Studio Ghibli movie – and it’s a good movie – and it’s a good game. It’s been out in Japan for almost a year. You know what they got for free with their purchase of the game? Remember how I told you that Drippy gives Oliver a book of magic? Well, that book is what they got: hard bound in leather, press-printed, colorful book of magic and lore.
Fortunately, I’ve only just found out about this game, so I haven’t been wanting to kill myself for the last year. Ni no Kuni is being published in the West, but it’s not coming out until January 22, 2013. It will include both the English and Japanese voice tracks. They’ve even translated the book, but to get that you need to pay $100 for the Wizard’s Edition. That also comes with some DLC and a Drippy plushie. Pretty sure I’m going to pre-order this as soon as I have enough money.
2013 is going to be a magical year for role-playing. I’ll be going on an epic adventure worthy of Studio Ghibli + Dragon Quest proportions, then I’ll get to move to South Park and play with the boys!