Game: Ni no Kuni: the Wrath of the White Witch
System: Nintendo Switch (also on PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Level 5/Engine Software| Bandai Namco
Age Rating:EU 12+| US E 10+
Price: $49.99 |£49.99 |€59,99
Release Date: 20 September 2019
No review code was used, bought the game myself
Ni no Kuni: the Wrath of the White Witch is a JRPG that was developed by Level-5 and featured animated cutscene sequences by Studio Ghibli. Add a beautiful soundtrack co-composed by Joe Hisaishi and an emotional storyline, and you have a great package.
The game first appeared on the DS in Japan in 2010, with the title Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn. The DS game never made it west, but it was released as a title on the PS3 in 2013 under the name: Wrath of the White Witch. And now, it’s available on the Nintendo Switch as well.
An emotional storyline
Ni no Kuni is a game that relies heavily on the story. Getting to know the characters, feeling the things that happen through them, and being eager to know what happened next.
Oliver is a boy who lives in Motorville. And like all boys, he gets into a bit of mischief with his friend Philip. The latter designed a new vehicle designed that they secretly try out at night. All goes horribly wrong of course. Oliver almost drowns, but is saved by his mother Allie. However, soon after she has saved him, she dies from heart problems.
Of course, the boy is devastated. As Oliver cries, his tears cause his doll, a gift from his mother, to come to life and reveal itself as a fairy named Drippy. Not exactly the kind of fairy you’d expect with a little lantern hanging from his nose. He tells Oliver that he is from another world where an evil wizard named Shadar took control.
He also tells Oliver that each person from his world has a “soulmate”, a person that shares a link with someone in Oliver’s world, and that his mother looks very much like a great sage, Alicia, who was captured by Shadar. Realizing that Alicia must have been Allie’s soulmate, Oliver sets out with Drippy to travel to the other world and rescue Alicia in the hope that doing so will bring Allie back in his world.
The stage is set for a great RPG adventure
So I think we are all set. Oliver starts out with Drippy and his Wizards Companion. The magic book that came physically with the DS and PS3 version is incorporated in the game and available under X. Not filled with magic spells just yet, Oliver gathers the spells he needs as the story unfolds.
In the other world, Oliver finds a multitude of broken-hearted people affected by Shadar. So not only does he have to save his own mom, he has to work his magic for others in this world too. Luckily he gets help from Esther and Swain along the way, and from the familiars that join the party. They have a world to save from evil!
Every party member has HP (Health Points) and MP (Magical Points) to spend as in any good RPG. It can be annoying however that the health and magic points are shared during the battles, so you won’t be able to bring forth a new familiar if Oliver is getting low.
RPG is the classic form also means levelling up. You’ll have no trouble there, as the overworked is teeming with animals who want to fight you. I found this to be a problem at times when you just want to get on with the story. But at least you can see the enemies, and you can try to avoid them. The thing is, you wouldn’t level up either then! Later on in the game warp travel is added though, so then you can run back and forth (needed for some side quests) without problem.
By the time your party grows you can choose which character to control. I have found it’s best to control Oliver himself, as the AI is doing a good job at controlling Esther who takes care of keeping the health bar up. Having the AI control Oliver didn’t go down well, I kept dying!
Wouldn’t you love a Familiar yourself?
What makes this adventure all the more special is the addition of Familiars.
As soon as your adventure is underway, Oliver learns how to make his first Familiar. It is a part of himself, a brave part and an avid fighter. During the course of the story, more familiars join you and your teammates. In every battles you can choose who is going to fight: you, one of the team members or one of the familiars.
Later in the game, Esther learns how to tame the creatures you fight, which adds to your Familiars army. As you can’t have more then three, there’s a sort of station in every town you come across, where you can store them or retreat them from.
The familiars are ranked into 4 astral signs Sun, Moon, Star, and Planet. Each type is more effective against one of the other types than against others. Corresponding stones, called Drops, allow the familiar to undergo Metamorphosis, allowing the creature to be a stronger version of itself.
Where Oliver has magic spells, the familiars have tricks to work with. And if you happen upon a golden glim being released by the enemy during the fight, the familiar can also perform a Miracle Move, which is a super strong trick.
The X button hides a lot of goodies
Slowly but surely, more is added to the game. And all these goodies are found under the X-button. There’s your Wizard’s Companion book, including pages featuring Oliver’s spells, as well as a bestiary, short stories, alchemy recipes, maps and little stories. All beautifully illustrated.
There’s the overview of the characters as well as the familiars. What are the stats, what equipment is set and how does new equipment alter the stats.
What’s fun is the addition of the Creature Cage. In it, you can feed your familiar all kinds of treats and make their stats rise. Plus, it’ll make them love Oliver or Esther etc. even more.
Later on in the game (in Castaway Cove) you obtain the Cauldron with a real life genie inside. Oliver can’t control him immediately though, he has to earn it in a boss fight. The Cauldron can then be used to make all kinds of recipes which you earn in side quests or find during the journey.
Finally, you also have a Telling Stone, to re-read all the things you learned.
Controlling the battles isn’t easy
All the cuteness and emotions that the story generates might make you think this RPG is an easy game. Trust me, it isn’t. You get the choice when you start if you want to play on normal or easy. This was my instant reaction “Ha, what are you suggesting, Ni no Kuni? That I wouldn’t be able to win any battles on normal difficulty? I’ve been gaming since even before you originally released in Japan. Hardcore gaming mama here! Of course I’ll chose Normal!”
Several hours later into the game I was wondering: “Why is this game so hard? I have died several times, and have been sent back to the last save point. Sure, you can donate some of your hard earned cash to keep a hold of your stat changes, but you’re still sent back to the save point. So no thanks, back to the title screen it is for me.”
To prevent me chucking the game aside in frustration (after 55 years living as me, I know that will happen next) I decided to change the setting. When no one was looking I switched to easy….sssht, don’t tell anyone!
Part of my difficulty is in the way the buttons work when fighting. The fighting is entirely controlled by the left JoyCon. So it comes down to being quick and sending the right familiar in. Or firing the right spell. All with one hand, and I’m never very good at thinking fast on my feet in fighting games. I’d be happier if the game were turn-based, but I think a lot of people will disagree.
Other thoughts and conclusion
The music (a beautiful soundtrack co-composed by Joe Hisaishi) is ace, and only adds to the emotional journey you take with Oliver and Drippy. The story is voice acted during the cut scenes, making the characters all the more dear. Like Drippy, who’s Welsh accent is so sweet!
The story is one of the ace features of the game. On top of being a thrilling tale, they also put a lot of humour in the game. In the way the characters and familiars act and in the repartee. I’ve found myself fondly smiling more than once.
A few reports prior to release suggested glitches and game-breaking bugs that severely affected the experience in the Switch port. I can say I haven’t experienced any.
Despite Ni no Kuni being a game that’s basically 10 years old, it holds up well on the Switch. It’s not remastered like many games to are ported to the Switch. It’s still the original version.
If you love RPG and like a huge story, get your hands on Ni no Kuni. I did find the Euro price relatively high, so if you can I’d recommend getting the American version. I haven’t finished the story yet (I think there are easily 100 gaming hours in there) but I think I can safely say I Like it a Lot. And if you go for it as well: get your handkerchief ready!