Howdy hidey ho! I’m new to the Ni no Kuni series, mostly because I’ve had other JRPGs that have always filled in. But of course, thanks to Game Pass, it was about damned time I gave this series a chance. With this being a remaster of the improved console version of the DS game, I figure Wrath of the White Witch is the best way to start. So what have I been missing out on for nearly 10 years?
…there’s a serious problem with physical monster occlusion…
The game’s combat starts out far better than it turns out. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an interestingly unique take: it’s a hybrid of a real-time action RPG and Pokémon. I’m serious! Yes: you have opportunities to capture monsters, level them up, evolve them, and even choose which moves to replace with a new one! Cool, right? And all that sounds great until you keep pressing on: not only is combat incessant (it can seriously start to feel like you fight enemies at every turn), but there’s a serious problem with physical monster occlusion which often causes misses or wasted time as the AI struggles to navigate. This frustration is also exacerbated by uneven difficulty spikes which just led to me kiting and defeating bosses using non sequitur methods. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself near-death coming right off a fight you breezed through. Of course, from there, the rest is navigating the world map and areas. Those are pretty standard fare from 10 years ago, so expect the classic formula. But then there’s a bit of a surprise: in an effort to keep things interesting, you get some minigames and puzzles that properly tickle the mental giblets. There’s even this really cool wizard’s book that I needed about 5% of the time, but it definitely contains oddly useful recipes. There’s a meta-layer here that’s most unexpected, especially for the game’s age. In summary, gameplay’s a box of chocolates.
…not exactly beaming at the idea of going back…
Seeing the credits roll took me just a smidge over 30 hours. For a JRPG, this is a bit on the short side but still a properly healthy length overall. And though I found lists and lists of side content to do, most of them are the kind of simple side quests you find from a game of this age. I’m willing to bet that there’s at most another 10-15 hours of content, and the game pretty much hints at you just grinding more quests. I can’t really lambast it, but I’m not exactly beaming at the idea of going back and doing anything after beating the main campaign.
…as far as remasters go, I’m also very impressed.
The words “Studio Ghibli” often give anime watchers moist GHIBL-its. Here’s where I kind of feel like there’s another mixed bag: the game’s proper animated sequences are low frames but proper Studio Ghibli work and I applaud that. The game itself uses this art style throughout, but perhaps it was a limitation of technology at the time, the game world itself doesn’t give me much of the same vibe. At the same time, as far as remasters go, I’m also very impressed. Most remasters are a lot less effort than this, but here I’m seeing shockingly crisp, high-resolution textures, a solid 60fps framerate, and what looks like native 4K. This is a remaster that makes sure to run the way it should on hardware 10 years advanced. Then we move into the story, and here’s where there is a bit of a highs and lows situation. The overall story itself is simplistic and easy to follow, but this causes stagnant points in the story where you are simply running around doing things to very little story development. And then it’ll just hit you hard with plot twists I can’t spoil, and massive plot developments that explain a bunch of things all at once. The good news is that I had zero complaints about the voice acting and was shocked to find every character had surprisingly clean cut lines: it’s a testament to solid and focused dialogue writing. Basically, you never feel like there’s fluff dialogue. When it comes to talking, sometimes less really is more.
…I do respect that this brings with it some interesting concepts.
I feel like the use of Studio Ghibli likely created a bit of a cult following on this game. I can’t say I’ve been missing out for 10 years, but I do respect that this brings with it some interesting concepts. Namely that it tries to combine Pokémon and action RPG mechanics along with some fun minigame puzzles ideas. It’s a pity, then, that its combat suffers from simple physical occlusion issues and strange difficulty spikes. These spikes also correlate with how the plot develops, bringing with it some moments of stagnation and others of literal plot development dumps. And while it doesn’t last as long as some of the bigger JRPG brethren, it is at least a solid remaster that’s also got pleasant voice actors to keep my eyes and ears at ease.