Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) are not for everyone, with strong links to traditional Anime and a reliance on a lot of the same themes and plot mechanics; it can be off putting for most western audiences. However, with that disclaimer done, we can now come out and say we were wowed by this fantastic remake of a Nintendo DS classic. While primarily aimed at a younger generation the surprising storyline depth and deeply engaging world of Ni no Kuni makes this game applicable to a much wider audience, and provides an opportunity to sit back and be taken on the kind of journey which has been lost in today’s sequel laden lands of FPSs, RPGs and RTSs.
The story revolves around the character of a young boy Oliver who is on a quest to save another world and in so doing save the ones he loves in his own world. Importantly and strikingly different from most games these days is that the story revolves are the nature and character of Oliver, not his physical strength or magical powers and that sets the tone for the whole game. This is an old fashioned, good guys triumphing over bad guys by simply being better people type of story, with Oliver and his quirky lantern nosed companion Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Faeries taking on the forces of evil out of need to do what is right. While this may seem a little one dimensional we found it to be enchanting and heart-warming. The storyline however is in no way one dimensional and whilst always targeted at a younger audience its underlying messages are universal and intriguing enough to drag you into the journey. The game is complimented with polished Japanese and English voice overs; even Drippy’s quirkiness is further accentuated with a strong Welsh accent.
The visceral experience of this game is directly thanks to the bright colours and engaging charaters brought to life through the combination of old fashioned animation and a well presented 3D world. The interweaving of storyline with a fantastical graphical feel and a strong musical score really completes the world of Ni no Kuni. The musical score especially helps to really complete the experience, draw the player in and helps to make Ni no Kuni the memorable experience it is.
A small blip in the overall experience however is the choice of background music for the game’s many, many, battle sequences. This gripe is probably as much due to the grind of repeated battles as it is to do with the music, but it is enough to become annoying over time.
The gameplay and JRPG mechanics of Ni no Kuni manage to be both some of the best and worst features of this game. The game has included all of the mechanics of a modern RPG and they are all really well integrated into storyline including looting, bounty hunting, questing and crafting. The open world gameplay and storyline components flow really well and the game, once the initial 10 minute install is complete, seems to never have a loading screen again. There are strong rewards for completing side quests and the use of familiars as both companions and pets brings a number of gameplay mechanics into Ni no Kuni to set it above other watered down JRPGs.
The downside however, and this is typical of JRPGs is the grind, battle mechanics can be frustrating as a turn based approach is forced into a real time battle mechanic without some simple shortcut keys for things like defence. Being a PS3 console exclusive (it is a remake, not a port, of a Nintendo DS game) has however helped to ensure that the controls are well integrated and battle sequences apart a simple game to get to grips with.
Ni No Kuni was developed by Level-5 and published by Namco Bandai Games. Our review is based on the PS3 version (PS3 exclusive).