Have you ever watched a Studio Ghibli movie and wished you could be "in" the movie, controlling the characters and events? Well if you own a PS3, it's your lucky day. Unless you live in Japan, where it's been your lucky day for the last year or so.
Or if you are English and own a DS, in which case it's been your lucky day for ages. What I am trying to say, in as inelegant a manner possible, is that the Level 5/Studio Ghibli game Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch
is finally available for PS3, in English, as of February 1st.
"So what!" you might say if you are not a fan of Studio Ghibli movies, or Fantasy Role Playing games. On the other hand, if you are a fan of the aforementioned genres, you will be salivating like a salivating dog at the prospect of getting your teeth into Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch
But it's a strange gem of a game. It's clearly aimed at younger gamers, but it is so rich and feature laden that it is not necessarily best suited for the age group at which its graphics and characters are targeted. Older players may find its charms… charming, and its depth and breadth compelling. But they may also find the characters and constant hand-holding to be somewhat infantile.
The story starts in Motorville - which looks nothing like Detroit - but does look like the set of a typical Ghibli animated movie. As with an SG movie, although things seem ostensibly quite quiet and comfortable, they soon take a left turn into the very weird.
You play a young boy called Oliver, whose mother dies just after preventing him from drowning. Oliver is bereft, and his tears animate his cuddly toy, Mr Drippy, who turns out to be a fairy. Mr Drippy helps Oliver find a magic book, and before you can say supercallyfornialipstickextrahallitosis, you are on a mission to resurrect your dead mum, accompanied by a welsh talking potato with a lantern nose-ring. I said it got weird quickly.
Next thing you know, a ghost girl has dropped a wand for you and you're Barry Trotter (or whatever young wizards are called these days, in a non-copyright infringing way). Next you cast a gateway spell and a huge merry-go-round, inter-dimensional gateway appears in the town square, though no-one seems to notice, and you're off to Another World.
As you traverse this distant magical world, you'll encounter wandering beasts who you will have to battle with. This is typical for almost all Japanese RPGs. During battle, you can attack, defend or use special moves against an enemy. Unlike many RPGs which have a fairly static turn-based feel to the combat, Ni no Kuni's
battles have a wonderfully free-flowing feel.
Although you can defend against attacks, you can also move freely around the combat arena to dodge and avoid attacks. As you land blows on your enemies, they will drop glowing orbs (glims). Green ones increase your health, blue ones increase your magic gauge. Golden glims increase both and give you the ability to perform a devastating combat attack.
In Ni no Kuni
, instead of additional playable or non-playable characters joining you in battle, you always fight alone, but with the assistance of your Familiars. Familiars are magical creatures that you control, each of which has its own combat skills and magical abilities.
Magical abilities are aligned with the elements, fire, ice, wind etc, and different abilities work better against some enemies than others, depending on the elemental alignment of the enemy in question.
Your entire party shares a single measure of health and magic, but you can use restorative spells and food items to increase these even during battle. Your Familiars have a vitality gauge, and you must swap them out before this is exhausted, or you will lose the battle, though in reality you only need to do this during boss fights.
As a result of the real-time flexible aspects of the battles in Ni no Kuni
, the combat feels more like a 3D action adventure game than a thrown dice style traditional RPG, and that is much to its benefit.
As well as glims, winning battles will also earn you money and goodies. The money is used to purchase items in shops. As well as the obvious stuff, bigger swords, and better armour that improve your stats and your chances in in battle, these can also be food and herbs that can be used to restore health and powers.
Some goodies can be fed to your Familiars, and these will both increase the Familiar's abilities and increase their bond to you - it's sort of a little Tamagotchi-style sub game.