Video games: 'Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' a work of art [New Haven Register, Conn.]
(New Haven Register (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 07--"Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch," Platform: PlayStation 3, Genre: Role-playing, Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
The beautiful "Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch" is a collaboration between designer LEVEL-5 and the renowned Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio behind the classics "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," to name a few.
Studio Ghibli's top-shelf animations imbue "Ni no Kuni" with a hand-drawn touch of warmth nearly unique in the industry. When these animations are worked into a game that distills the best aspects of 20 years' worth of Japanese RPGs, the result is something to be cherished, the kind of game released only a handful of times during a console generation -- a proper piece of art.
As with any art, there are certain tropes tied to the medium. This is a game about leading a young man in a quest to save the world. It's a story we've heard and played before; but in "Ni no Kuni," we should be happy to play again.
As with any JRPG, main character Oliver succeeds in his quest by battling monsters, leveling up and recruiting allies to aid him. Oliver's story begins with an accident that kills his mother. Oliver's tears, falling on an unassuming doll in his bedroom, begin his magical journey.
The tears bring to life Drippy, a highly animated and highly Scottish creature with a lantern for a nose ring. Drippy, who calls himself a faerie king, becomes Oliver's tour guide, and transports him to a parallel world where his mother might still be safe.
This strange and colorful world of "Ni no Kuni," with its adorable adversaries and bizarre cast of characters, like the ravenous but magnanimous Cowlipha, ruler of Al Mamoon, is a joy to the eyes and the ears, and is as accessible to a child as it is to parents -- or to a 26-year-old hardcore gamer.
Oliver becomes a wizard in this new world, learning to cast spells and summon familiars, cute creatures that do the fighting for you. "Ni no Kuni" borrows from the playbooks of the best; creature capturing a la "Pokemon," deep character customization a la "Disgaea," sweeping mythologies a la "Final Fantasy." The list goes on.
But a game is only good if it's fun to play, and the glue that holds "Ni no Kuni" together is its fast-paced, real-time approach to the traditional turn-based battles usually found in JRPGs. They are sometimes hectic (a pause function would have helped), but they are never boring.
My only complaint is that much of the game's dialogue is not voice-acted. The stark contrast between lush, fully voice-acted Studio Ghibli animation, and in-game characters standing speechless while text scrolls by is a bit jarring.
But let's be honest, a lot of text in JRPGs is hot air, so maybe voicing it all would have been a waste of resources. I found myself skipping much of it to get back to the fun stuff.
Michael Bellmore can be reached at 203-789-5282.
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