For a long time now, Japanese RPG fans have been craving that stand-out game. One that features a lovely and emotionally gripping story, a classic combat style, and music that would make even the manliest of men sob quietly in their rooms. For a lot of RPG fans, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, with its connection to LEVEL-5 and Studio Ghibli, is the answer to all their prayers and we got the chance to check out the first few hours of the game recently.
If you have never watched a Studio Ghibli film before, what are you waiting for? You should be there buying a copy of Spirited Away right this minute! Studio Ghibli is responsible for some of the most artistically gorgeous animated films of this generation. Established in 1985, Studio Ghili features films from Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. Their work has won many awards worldwide and has captured the hearts of many. Yoshiyuki Momose, director of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has also been a part of this legendary team. Momose has worked on the key animation for many of Studio Ghibli's films including Spirited Away, Porco Rosso, and Princess Mononoke.
Ni no Kuni follows the story of a small boy named Oliver who embarks on a massive journey after the tragic death of his mother. Along the way he makes many new friends including a small creature named 'Mr. Drippy'. Right from the start, Ni No Kuni has some very strong emotional pulls that grip your attention and make you yearn for more much, like a traditional Studio Ghibli film would. The characters of Ni No Kuni all appear to be fairly fleshed out with a huge array of animation. It's very similar to the Ghibli films, where animations focus on the smallest of details - even focussing on how a character puts on their shoes.
As far as gameplay goes, Ni No Kuni follows the typical format for the genre. Oliver can choose from a list of commands like fight, use an item, defend, and run away. However, Oliver can also move around the field and evade attacks while doing so. It's a very open environment and lacks random battles, much like a lot of the modern games in the JRPG genre.
It's interesting to compare Ni no Kuni to the films that Studio Ghibli has done in the past. A lot of Ghibli's signature art style has been put into it. Although the in-game cutscenes are more of a anime/cg mixture, most of the major cutscenes are fully animated. It's really looking like it will be a beautiful title. Although the English dubbing is fantastic, if you really want to the Japanese dubbing with English subtitles, Ni No Kuni gives you the option to - a great touch for the fans.
Along with Momose, Joe Hisaishi has also joined Ni no Kuni as the game's composer. His discography includes nine of Miyazaki's films starting with "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind". In Ni no Kuni, his beautiful compositions can be heard throughout. Some JRPGs in the past have taken the more modernized J-pop style with their soundtracks, but Hisaishi has made sure the feel of the music in Ni no Kuni sticks to his original way of doing things. This means you'll be hearing gorgeous arrangements with full-orchestras following everywhere you go.
As far as the first couple of hours are concerned, Ni No Kuni is shaping up to be a really big RPG for this generation. The collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli appears to be fitting together very nicely from both an artistic and also a technical perspective. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch hits shelves on the 25th of January 2013 in Europe and the 22nd of January in North America. For all you super dedicated Studio Ghibli fans, you might want to consider getting the special Wizard's Edition which features Oliver's book from the game and an adorable Mr. Drippy plushie amongst other special treats.
Please also check out our demo impressions of Ni No Kuni, which we published last week.