If there’s one word to describe Studio Ghibli films, it would simply be ‘sublime’. Nobody quite captures the essence of childhood wonder in such a compelling and truly mesmerising way. The closest Western cinema has is undoubtably Pixar, but there sheer other-worldy nature of Studio Ghibli films is simply incomparable.
Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch is Ghibli’s second foray into games, the first being a the little-known Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color which never secured itself a European release. Even Ni No Kuni itself was originally released way back when in 2010, in Japan, on Nintendo DS, receiving a PS3 release in late 2011.
If Ghibli’s involvement alone isn’t enough to make you bounce around the room in giddy wonder, LEVEL-5 are also having a say, the masterful tykes behind the Professor Layton and Inazuma series.
As you’d expect with any Ghibli title, Ni No Kuni is told through a combination of 2D anime cutscenes and similar 3D gameplay, in a world chock-full of bright colours, mystical vistas and some of the most charming characters you’ll ever meet. Think Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle and, or Boh and Yubaba’s bird in Spirited Away and you’re right on the money.
This adventure’s protagonist is a 13-year old boy called Oliver, living the exciting and wondrous life of any young lad, until tragedy strikes, sending him through a magical journey to help someone he loves, accompanied by a child-hood toy come to life, the marvellous fairy Drippy. He’s a knee-high cuddle-bug, with a lantern at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose, localised with a charming Welsh accent in the English language version, and brought to life superbly.
Drippy takes Oliver into Ni No Kuni, the literal translation being ‘Second Country’, with the aid of a magic book. It’s Spirited Away meets Wizard of Oz, only there’s so much more to Ni No Kuni than that.
Every NPC encountered so far is distinct and wonderful, even most enemies possess an innate charm which smudges the line of good and evil. Comparisons with Pokeman have been rife, but again it’s unfair to simply compare Ni No Kuni in such a two-dimensional fashion. As well as Drippy, serving as a friend and guide rather than a battle partner, Oliver is accompanied by familiars, who share Oliver’s mana and health, adding further dimension over the ‘traditional’ turn-based combat which dominates Japanese games like sepia does The West.
Death also carries a penalty beyond simply resetting and sending Oliver back 15 minutes in time, it seems the National Health hasn’t quite made it to Ni No Kuni yet and you will be billed. Upon dying once, and not exactly accruing a King’s ransom, I was left penniless, so it remains to be seen just how severe this is. One thing it does, however, is to teach caution. Ni No Kuni is not a game of brute force, and rightly so in a delicate world such as this.
Even with but a brief encounter with Ni No Kuni, it looks poised to deliver the Ghibli sensation of the films, with dialogue positively swelling with charm and glee, undoubtable one of the brightest looking titles of 2013.
This game was previewed on a PlayStation 3.