Anime infusion in games is nothing new; in fact, cel-shaded design has rarely been more popular. Still, the collaboration Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch performs with Studio Ghibli, a renowned name in the style, creates a genuine sensation as rarely seen before.
The story follows a boy called Oliver that goes on a magical adventure, after the death of his mother unleashes a chain of events. One of these new developments is a toy by the name of Drippy that comes to life and now guides our little one through his quest, which will see him joined by more pets and adorable characters. The eclectic bundle moves through greener than green forests, fiery red mountains and more eye candy environments. The clean outlines that trap the burst of color from objects form the perfect backdrop for fluid characters to exist in the foreground, as if bursting straight out of a cartoon. Only added effects sometimes hint that Ni No Kuni is not actually a cartoon, but a playable title, though these added blurring effects and radiant auras never detract from the atmosphere. In fact, having more of a good thing enhances a vibe that couldn’t be more lifelike if it ran on a weekly basis on the TV screen. Fans of the anime genre could already enjoy this game purely on its aesthetics, but luckily there is more to the game than that.
In the missions we’ve played so far, most actions focused on combat and travel. For instance, in one event Oliver had to escape an erupting volcano before the timer ran out. Periodically, monsters will appear on the way that can prompt a battle, which takes place on a separate playing field. Action here is formed with an active combat scheme, where players run around freely and choose an attack mode from a list such as simple attacks, magic and so forth. Defense is used to block large announced attacks from foes, which adds more value to an otherwise unexplored mechanic. More importantly, players can only take direct control of 1 character at a time. This means if Oliver, a girl and all their pets are fighting, then control takes the camera and all actions to only 1 of these. Commanding becomes more tactical through this, as it’s important to know which character to choose at what time and use their right skills at the right time.
This is further enhanced by a timer for attacks in both their execution as well as a cooling period. As combat develops in real-time, players will need to figure out the holes in a foe’s defense and strike accordingly, keeping the preparation time in mind. Also, any character has a distinct skill set. For instance, some pets will be more adept spell casters, while others serve a better purpose as a damage sponge. Some also drop periodic health and magic boosts. It’s great to see that Ni No Kuni doesn’t just use its prestigious name, but instead goes above and beyond to revitalize other RPG tropes. That’s without talking about a menu for items and equipment, leveling mechanics and a compelling narrative set in a breathtaking world.
If I may break from traditional structure for a moment, I’d like to say that I personally look forward to seeing a lot more of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. With just the fraction we’ve seen now, there are enough elements, such as revamped combat, to make each portion of the game interesting for a long while. This could well be a magical journey worthy of its name.