Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ni No Kuni review

Hi folks; long time no speak. I kind of forgot about the existence of this blog; so here I am again, ready to write and rage if necessary :P 

Kicking things off this week is a review for a game that recently was released on western shores. Ni No Kuni; by level 5, who also brought games such as Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest 8; two superb games that if you haven't played; are a must! The added bonus with Ni No Kuni is that the art is done entirely by studio Ghibli; so if you're a fan of that style, then that is even more reason to play it. 

As with most reviews; there will inevitably be some spoilers throughout; however I shall try keep them as minimal as possible so only the basic things are covered and leave the discovering to you. 


Ni No Kuni; is one of the most well presented games I have seen in a long time, although it isn't astounding compared to other games out there; its beautiful environments can have you mesmorised for hours. As stated above the art is done by Studio Ghibli and you can tell straight away, especially in cutscenes. Everything has a sort of polished feel to it in that the textures can heavily be seen to represent what they are meant to; like Oliver's cape you can tell from its texture and flow that it is meant to be cloth etc. The general appearance of the game is that of your typical JRPG but each main character is unique to how they look, there aren't any cloned parts to them, but there obviously are with NPC's in towns and cities but that's to be expected. 

The models in the game aren't overly amazing but like in the Kingdom Hearts series, textures do a lot of the work. The colours are incredibly vivid and can help personify objects with just how well they are textured; it can be difficult to pull that off but if done well it is amazing. 

Even the menu's and especially the wizards companion are very well presented; with a slight worn feel to it, to show that it is well read. It just gives you the overall impression that they spent a long time making sure it was the best it could possibly be. 


Oliver arriving in the new world

The story of Ni No Kuni is very interestingly done; it has a mix of lighthearted fun and much sadness as it continues to progress. You start off seeing a strange woman clad in a cloak and wrapped in strange clothes talking about a young boy; her bird friend that sits beside her on his perch as they discuss more about this boy; who is revealed to be called Oliver. 

Oliver is around the age of 12 years old by the looks of things and lives in the small town of motorville; that looks like an american town straight out of the 1950's. It turns out Oliver and his friend Phil have built a small car for them to drive around; but they have to do it at night in order for their parents not to notice. Oliver sneaks out and meets Phil near a river where they begin to test out the car; Phil lets Oliver go first. However at this time; Oliver's mum wakes up and goes to check on him realising he is not in his room. She rushes around the house to find him but to no avail; so she sets out to find him. Oliver appears to be having a great time testing out this car until a curse is put on it by the strange woman we saw earlier, the car goes out of control; one of the wheels falls off and Oliver is plunged straight into the river beside him. It is at this point Oliver's mum rushes in and pulls him out; he is shaken but safe and sound, however his mum who apparently suffers from a weak chest collapses and unfortunately dies soon after. Very typically Studio Ghibli style story there. 

Over the next few days; Oliver is extremely down as to be expected, he is not eating and barely sleeping and severely misses his mother. He picks up this raggedy poorly sewn together stuffed doll and begins to cry; but his tears somehow bring it to life; bringing in Mr.Drippy high lord of the faeries, who speaks in a wonderful Welsh accent. Talking with Oliver; Mr.Drippy reveals to Oliver that his mum might not be dead, having seen a picture of her; he tells him that she is the spitting image of the great sage Alicia. In his world the great sages heart was captured by Shadar an evil wizard; so technically she isn't dead in that world; so if they saved Alicia's heart they could save Oliver's mum. 

This leads Oliver to want to rescue his mum; they find a magic book called the Wizard's Companion in the fireplace of Oliver's house and are able to find a stick as a magic wand; with the help of a strange little girl; and Oliver is ready to head into Mr.Drippy's world; to save his mum and its inhabitants there; by fixing their hearts and defeating Shadar once and for all. 

Characters of the game: Oliver, Esther, Mr.Drippy and Swaine

That pretty much sets up the plot for the entire story; Oliver journey's from place to place helping those in need of having their hearts fixed and learning spells along the way; this is also how he joins up with other characters such as Esther and Swaine. By fixing their hearts; they decide to help Oliver with his quest. The majority of the story just revolves around going to a new place and healing the leaders heart by defeating a nightmare that is holding them back; all up to the point where Oliver fights Shadar. However I shall leave that there because the story takes a strange turn from there on out and I want you to experience that for yourself. But it is worth it :D 

Music and Voices

Ni No Kuni is a game that is extremely influenced by two things, its overall appearance and its musical score. The music in this game is beautiful and very orchestral, there are no rock type tracks at all throughout the entire soundtrack; which makes its whole score beautifully implemented with the environments you have to explore. It is similar to Dragon Quest 8 in that respect. 

What this games music does extremely well in; is breaking into music that fits the events that are unfolding such as when Oliver's mother dies; the music during that entire scene makes you feel sad and upset for Oliver; if the music hadn't of fitted with it, then a lot of people would not have cared and just continued with the story. What also helped is that even though it is a japanese game and clearly shown as such, the music scores used are very westernly influenced in how they are orchestrated. 

The main issue with the overall score is that it can get very repetitive quickly; a lot of the dungeons use the same piece of music and it can get a bit annoying. Whilst the battle theme is fantastic and very catchy; it can leave you feeling pretty irritated by it at the same time, especially during long periods where you just want to train your characters; although this can be said for any game that is very influenced by a musical score. Within the towns themselves the scores fit each one individually; such as Al Mamoon being in the middle of the desert; it uses some Arabic style instrumentals to help influence that it is in a desert. 

For the voices; the cast did a fantastic job. The game boasts a lot of british voice actors that help personify the characters extremely well; a lot of games use voice actors that are heavily forcing a british accent or usually try to just do a London accent; however Ni No Kuni's voices range in different ways that you can tell a lot of heart and soul went into their performances. Out of all the characters you come across, the only one I hear people complain about is Mr.Drippy due to the Welsh accent he is using and that it can get annoying; I however generally disagree with those who say it is bad. It is hard to picture him with anything else other than a Welsh accent. 

The only downside I found with the voice actors; was that as you progress through the story more and more; the less you hear the characters, especially when doing quests and there is a lot of text to read; only talking during important cutscenes; as you would expect. But once you complete the game, the only time you hear your characters is during battle. 

Gameplay and Mechanics

This will be divided up into different sections of general gameplay, field and battle mechanics due to it being difficult to do an overall review on it. 

General gameplay 

The overall gameplay of Ni No Kuni is very sound; the player is able to explore dungeons and participate in battles to gain experience and items as you would expect in a JRPG. The controls are easy to understand and once you get used to the game you'll feel extremely comfortable with it. 

Example familiars: Clinkety Clank and Mite
What makes it stand out from other games in its genre is the use of familiars; these little creatures add a different dynamic to the entire game. Initially you start off with no Familiars but soon gain one or two as you progress; eventually leading up to being able to capture them yourself; so essentially not only do you have your characters to manage, you have these creatures that you can micromanage as well; you can set them up with equipment, feed them different foods in order to help raise their stats and eventually metamorphosis them with use in battle; where each character can have 3 familiars at a time and 3 in reserve. Whilst this sounds very much like Pokemon; it is an interesting take on it as you actually take control of the familiar. Level 5 have done something like this before in the form of insectors in Rogue Galaxy; where you could catch them, feed them, breed them to get higher ranking ones and use them in the insectron tournament. However the familiar system adds more dynamic to this as they are central to the plot. 

Feeding a Mite a treat

A major part of the entire game is the Wizard's Companion, throughout the whole game; people will give you pages to fit back into it or ask you to look something up from within it for you to work out. Originally with the DS version of the game; this book came with it, but unfortunately it didn't come with the standard PS3 version. It holds information on spells, alchemy, familiars, stories of the world, areas of the world, equipment, items; everything you will need to continue your journey. It is a very different way of learning about the world and all the answers are there for you to look at; there is generally no need to look online for help as it is all there. 
Spells in the Wizards Companion

With this world being a magic world and Oliver becoming a Wizard; spells are a key part of the entire game, this can range from using fireball to melt some ice or take/give heart to help someone who is brokenhearted; a point that is made well throughout the story. Using these spells can net you great rewards, especially if they are part of quests. The player will gain more and more as they progress; but they will generally focus around take/give heart when dealing with people, their are also spells that help you find chests in dungeons and on the world map; as well as unlocking certain chests once Oliver has the right wand. 

Quests are the quintessential thing that RPG's bring with them; and Ni No Kuni has them in bucket loads, in fact as I write this, I still have a fair few still to do. By going to a specific building in each town the player is able to pick up quests from the owner or by looking at the board. Quests come in a variety of forms, but generally it comes down to errands and bounties. Bounties are from people who want a specific creature defeated as it is causing trouble in the area; whereas errands can take the form of different things, such as fixing someones heart, finding a specific item, finding a person, making specific items via alchemy and showing someone specific familiars. Each errand and bounty comes with its own reward; which range from equipment, items, alchemy recipes and foods for your familiars; as well as Guilder the currency of the world. What you also get for completing these quests are merit stamps; collect enough of these and they can get you some nice little bonuses; such as make it easier to capture familiars or speed up your running speed on the world map etc. With these its best to do every quest as it becomes available; as by the time you get to the next town you may find more or miss out on some due to not having done a previous quest. Sometimes you can't finish off all the quests as you may not be able to find the person who will give you the right piece of heart as they aren't available until you've completed the next bit of the story. 

The main problem with quests at first is that you have to run back and forth between a lot of areas due to not having transport; however this is made easier when you get the boat, but at the same time made worse due to the areas being of greater distance to get to. They are made easier to activate once Oliver gains the Travel spell; so you can just go to the right areas. But the rewards are overall worth the effort you need to put into them. 

Alchemy is another main mechanic of the game that a lot people overlook due to the difficulty of it. While not as complicated as the factory in Rogue Galaxy, it can put a lot of people off due to that the recipes can be vague about what you need or the items you need are extremely uncommon so they don't want to waste what they have. Overall it is worth it but its definitely a late game thing. 


Oliver exploring the Golden Grove

As with a lot of big JRPG's there is a world map that allows the player to explore the world at their leisure. They can find rare items in the ground and also hidden treasure chests if they look hard enough, and enemies are sprawled out over the world map so you can fight or avoid at your pleasure. It doesn't really set itself aside in terms of gameplay in this respect, as its the usual explore, go into a town buy items, check quests, go to the world map, explore, train. But what does set it aside is how beautiful the environments look; I spent hours just listening to music and putting the camera in first person view mode on the frozen continent to look at the Aurora Borealis. However that is a personal thing of mine. 

View of the World map

There are hidden areas throughout the entire world map for the player to discover; such as forest settlements where the player can usually find chests in them, but whats different with these is that you need Oliver to be more powerful open them or have Swaine to open specific chests in the distance with his gun. So its not just find the chest and open it, the colour depicts what you have to do with each chest. 

But other than that, there isn't a lot to the field mechanics other than, opening the menu's etc. However that is generally a good thing as its something the player is familiar with if they play this type of game a lot.    


Esther's Familiar fighting another

The battles in Ni No Kuni are a mix of Rogue Galaxy and White Knight Chronicles also done by Level 5; it is an action based sort of system but has some strategical elements to it as well. At the start of each battle the player has a choice of selecting what character they want to start off; by pressing L1 and R1 you can cycle through the characters, then use the left and right buttons to either select the character to fight or one of the familiars they have set to them. Once this is done, the player can select a variety of options to choose from; with familiars its usually around the same, they will always have attack, but their secondary skill is dependent on what type of Familiar they are. 

Defend: allows the familiar to block attacks at reduced damage
Evade: allows the familiar to evade an attack but it only lasts a few seconds so you need to get the timing right
Psyche Up: allows the familiar to increase its power and sometimes even stopping powerful attacks the enemy is throwing at you

Swapping between Oliver and available familiars
This is followed by specific abilities that the familiar learns as it levels up and if you micromanage them; they will also gain ability slots, a max of 4. Abilities are generally one shot moves that once they have been used you have a cool down time before you can use it again. Whereas just normal attacking the familiar/character will attack for a set period of time; indicated by a small clock in the bottom left of the screen. Once this finishes the player can select a new action or do the same again. The player can cancel an action at anytime; if they accidentally use the wrong one. Familiars have a set time they can be in battle for before the character has to recall them and either battle themselves or send out another familiar to use in battle; this starts off for around 30 seconds but can increased via metamorphosis or equipment; the player can switch out familiars at will by pressing the L1 button and then selecting which one they want to use. 

The difference of the characters is that they are unique from each other

Oliver is a wizard/mage; so he will sometimes heal your characters but mostly focuses on dealing magic damage
Esther is a supporter; so she usually heals the party or applies buffs to the characters 
Swaine is a sharp-shooter/thief; he will use his different shots to apply status ailments to the enemies, but generally I swap to him first and try and steal what each enemy has. 

These 3 characters have very different styles of play so they aren't clones of each other. The AI will take control of the 2 you aren't using and will generally switch between familiars and the character numerous times. You can set them to have specific tactics, so you could set Esther to focus on healing etc; however the main issue is that the AI spams abilities so your characters run out of MP quickly; and in order to use an item you have to recall the familiar and use an item as a character, and then you can only use one and have to wait for the cool down clock to finish circling. However sometimes you can be lucky and Mr.Drippy will do an ability called Tidy Tears; which puts a defense buff on your party and heals them as well, so you don't have to rely too heavily on items. 

Whilst attacking with any character or familiar; they have a chance to counter when the speech bubble glows blue; this gives a 'NICE!' Bonus, that can give you glims. Glims are little orbs that help your character, green glims recover HP, blue glims recover MP, and golden glims recover HP but also although your character or familiar to unless a powerful skill depending on who uses it. These occur rarely so its best to use them when you have an advantage. 

If the player constantly attacks a weak point or uses the right strength against the enemy; it goes into 'nows your chance' mode; where the enemy is stunned and you can take full advantage of the situation. This is the perfect time to use a team tactic called 'All out' which will make all your characters attack continuously until the timer goes down; this can net you a lot of golden glims if done correctly. The opposite of this is 'All defend' which can be performed at any time but its best to use it just before a large attack from the enemy. 

After defeating normal enemies in battle; there is a small chance of them being impressed by the player and a heart forms over their heads; at this time you can switch to Esther and serenade them into joining you. Whilst this is a unique take on it; it can be a bit annoying as you could be trying to catch a familiar you want for a long time; or you switch just as Oliver or Swaine are using an ability so they kill the familiar you are trying to catch. 

Each familiar has a specific capture rate and whilst you can up this via merit rewards; it only increases the overall number by 20% so its not that big an increase that you would really notice. 

Upon completing the battles you get the usual, EXP, money and item drops and if you caught any familiars; the ability to name them.

Is the game a challenge?

This is a question I get asked a lot when talking to people about the game; and its a very 50/50 answer. Whilst the gameplay is fun and can be challenging as you want to make it by under leveling or not being used to the battle system, boss battles can be tough etc. But the one thing that overall annoys me about the game is that is constantly holds your hand through the entire thing. Especially during boss battles; Mr.Drippy will randomly jump into battle and explain what the best way to kill the boss is, now its understandable for the younger audience but there should have been an option to turn this off because it left me feeling that I wasn't discovering things for myself and pulled me out of the immersion of the game. 

This is the same for quests as well, especially brokenhearted quests; you go speak to the person and as you speak Mr.Drippy will tell you what they are missing when its clearly obvious from reading what they had told you; as well as when taking heart from someone he will tell you they have an abundance of love or courage etc but again its obvious. 

It is my my main gripe with a pretty superb game; that they needed to tell you what to do instead of let you discover what you wanted; especially when they left you to your own devices as far as familiars are concerned. 

As for battles it is a mix; if you go into a new area and aren't prepared for the enemies they can destroy you easily; especially as for the middle part of the game, Esther likes to spend most of her time unconscious. This can be resolved by fighting Toko enemies; which give you an abundance of EXP however this can make the game too easy if you abuse them. 


Ni No Kuni is one of the best games I have played in a long time; it has depth, lovable characters, a good strong battle system and game mechanics that can immerse you in at any time. Spending ours deciding on teams and other such things. 

It is built for older and younger audiences as stated earlier about the holding hands problem. But even with this the game has so many good aspects that it only pulls it down a little. 

I hope that more people will play this game and show it the love it deserves. 

Total Scores

Presentation 8/10 - Overall the game is very well presented but such things like the models can put people off a bit as they aren't the best they could be but textures help personify this. 

Story score 8/10 - whilst being upbeat and full of twists and turns, especially closer to the end of the game; it does repeat itself a lot by making you fix the hearts of the leaders etc so its not a perfect story by any means. 

Music and Voices score 7.5/10 - Although the soundtrack and voices are brilliant, the fact that a lot of tracks are reused, brings the score down a bit and with the sheer amount of text; a lot of it could have been acted out, but understandable why they didn't. 

Gameplay and mechanics 9/10 - The overall gameplay is well presented and whilst battles can get repetitive, they add a lot of depth into them that will allow you to change up your tactics and experiment what is right for you. It didn't get a perfect score; due to such things like catching familiars. 

Challenge 6/10 - Whilst I understand why they hold your hand through the game, it can be very annoying and not let you discover things for yourself. The general battles and bosses can be tough but overall aren't too bad. 

Feel 8/10 - The game is well presented, with a great story, music and gameplay but the hand holding lets it down quite a bit. 

Overall Score - 8/10 

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