Review: Ni No Kuni

Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPG) has managed to carve out a niche in the last couple of years (although it started in the 80’s), and the best known franchise is probably Final Fantasy. In addition to JRPGs, there is the famous Japanese film style of anime.

A screenshot of the game, with Mr. Drippy and Oliver in Ni No Kuni (image: Namco Bandai)

While a number of studios rose to fame during the course of anime’s popularisation, Studio Ghibli sprang to life in 1985 to create a number of anime films.

So far Studio Ghibli has produced seventeen feature films and two video games – with their latest being the JRPG title of Ni No Kuni, which released at the beginning on February.

Ni No Kuni, which translates to Second Country, tells the story of Oliver, a young boy who travels to another world to save his mother and vanquish an evil witch that lives there. The plot begins when Oliver’s mother dies while saving him from near-drowning after a car accident.

As he cries, his tears fall onto his stuffed doll, which comes alive and introduces himself as Mr. Drippy. The doll then explains to Oliver that his mother can actually be saved, but he must travel to Ni no Kuni in order to do so. He also reveals to Oliver that he is the Chosen One, and should save Ni no Kuni from the evil Shadar, The Dark Djinn.

In terms of graphics, it is exactly what gamers would expect from a studio that his heavily involved in anime and Japanese animation. The images and characters are hand-drawn, which lends a certain cuteness to the title, but there are some design aspects that are slightly off-kilter. For instance, it is never really explained to the player why Drippy has a lantern affixed to its nose.

It is typical anime-style with bright colours and a level of necessary detail.

Being designed by a Japanese studio, Western players cannot always be guaranteed that the dialogue will be without fault – and the say can be said of Ni no Kuni. During the handful of scenes which feature Oliver’s mother, she said “sweetie” about ten times – which gets a bit much after a while. Drippy, for some inexplicable reason, also has a strong Cockney accent – although his humour is pretty witty.

This leads me to the next aspect: the subtitles. Players of any JRPG will know that it is simply not possible to have a title and not have to do a lot of reading. While some scenes do feature spoken dialogue, the majority of the time gamers will be expected to read through a number of points and conversations as the audio-less text appear on screen. It takes a lot of patience to complete the conversation without feeling the need to just skip it all together.

While the text and audio conversations are a bit of a trademark of JRPG games, players should have an option to at least enable the audio to all conversations. Gamers do have the option to skip the next, but then they will miss out on vital information regarding tactics and plot.

Speaking of tactics, no JRPG will be complete without a solid fighting mechanic and lots of enemies to do battle with. While wandering around in the world, Oliver acquires a number of magic spells that help him on his quest.

These range from basic attacks, fire balls or healing spells – all essential to overthrow all the evil that resides in Ni no Kuni. And, once again, in typical Japanese style, the combat is turn-based. In other words, the player will initiate an attack and execute it, while the enemies try to defend. Once their attack turn is over, it is the enemy who will attack – and so it swaps turns until there is a winner.

I’m sure Ni No Kuni is in actual fact a great game, and all the conversations that I have had with people who played, loved the title. Turn-based combat is just something that I cannot get into, as I enjoy the immediate ability to attack an enemy (in any title).

With that said, the turn-based combat in this game is a bit more fluid than other titles that make use of the same mechanics. Players will have to quickly make decisions regarding what sort of attack to use, and which character to send into battle – take too long to make a decision, and it will affect the outcome of the fight.

But luckily they will not have to do it alone, as Oliver makes a number of friends along the way, and also gains the ability to cast animals to its side in battle. He also acquires more spells, better armour and bigger allies to help him on his quest.

Ni No Kuni is an excellent title for fans of Japanese Role Playing Games, but players who do not like turn-based combat could find it a bit frustrating. But with that said, players who do not enjoy turn-based combat probably will not purchase the game on the first place.

The plot delves into a deep world with rich characters, bright colours and exciting twists in the tale, and by making use of all the familiar aspects of anime and JRPG, fans will enjoy the game for many hours.

Our rating: 8/10

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor