Another World Awaits

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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Who doesn’t want to find out that, one day, you’re capable of using magic like a wizard? Well, for young Oliver, it preferably would have been better to find that little tidbit out if his mother hadn’t just died not too long ago. Naturally, he’s pretty bummed out by it all, even declining a plea to travel to a different world to save it from an evil sorcerer. However, when it’s let slipped that there might be a way to bring back his mother, Oliver jumps at the chance. With his old doll-turned-fairy, Mr. Drippy, and a stick that just barely passes as a wand, Oliver crosses the gateway into the other world…

Developed by Level-5 in cooperation with Studio Ghibli itself, Ni no Kuni is a love letter to the JRPG genre with the feel of playing a Studio Ghibli film. There are actually two versions that exist of the game. The first one, subtitled Dominion of the Dark Djinn, was first released in Japan for the Nintendo DS on December 9th, 2010. The second version, Wrath of the White Witch, was released a year later in Japan and localized outside in the U.S., Europe, and Australia in 2013 for the PS3. While the same basic premise between the two versions remains the same, additional content and some changes were added and made for the PS3 version, which is the version I will be covering.

The story follows Oliver, a young 13-year old boy who lives in Motorville, a town inspired by 50’s America in design and setting. Everything is pretty idyllic for him, until the game remembers that Studio Ghibli is involved. After saving Oliver from drowning after a freak accident causes the kart he’s testing out to go swerving into the river, his mother, Allie, collapses from what appears to be a heart attack and dies shortly after. After being near unresponsive for the next few days, Oliver’s tears manage to turn his old doll into its original form. Introducing himself as Drippy, the “Lord High Lord of the Fairies”, he tells Oliver that the world he’s from is under the control of a mage named Shadar, the eponymous Dark Djinn. As stated before, Oliver initially refuses, but when the two learn that there might be a way to bring back his mother by saving her “Soul Mate” in the other world, the Great Sage Alicia, he agrees and he and Drippy travel to the latter’s world.

Along the way, Oliver meets a very colorful and animated cast of characters, with two of them forming the three-person party used in the game. Along with Drippy, the fast-talking Welsh-accented fairy and mentor, there’s Esther, the daughter of the Great Sage Rashaad and the key to taming the different monsters in the world, and Swaine, the vagabond thief who brings the ability to steal enemy items with his gun. Aiding them on their quest include such characters like the Supreme Sage Solomon, a pint-sized bratty man; Kublai, ruler of the Sky Pirates; King Tom, the feline ruler of Ding Dong Dell; and the Welsh-accented fairies of the Fairygrounds. In addition to the grim, menacing presence of Shadar, there’s his superior, the eponymous White Witch, and her council of twelve known as the Zodiarchs. The rest of the world doesn’t know of their existence until they finally step up in the final act of the game.

The gameplay follows the vein of real-time battles such as the Tales series and the later Final Fantasy games. The player controls Oliver on an overworld map and can travel to different hubs and dangerous places. Enemies are visible on the map and coming into contact with them initiates a battle. There, the player can choose to control Oliver, Esther, or Swaine in these fights. In addition to having a basic attack, each one has spells that fit the character. For example, since Oliver is a wizard, he has access to a multitude of different spells.

The biggest part of the gameplay, though, is the familiars. Familiars are tiny creatures of the heart that are summoned by their caster and used to fight for them, much in the vein of Pokémon and Shin Megami Tensei. In battle, there is a small chance that a monster will not be defeated once its health is depleted. Instead, it will have hearts begin to form above its head, indicated that the creature can be tamed into a familiar. Esther is the only one who is able to do this, so the player will have to take control of here and “Serenade” them to successfully capture them. There is a limited amount of time, though, so you’d have to act fast. Each familiar also evolves, having an initial stage, a second form, and a third and final evolution. Though in the case of the third stage, the path diverges into two possible choices, so it’s best to choose which form fits you better.

One mechanic that also is a big part of the game is the task of aiding people with “Broken Hearts”. Whether through Shadar stealing a piece of their heart or by other circumstances, a person loses an important aspect of their heart, rendering that person incapable of feeling that missing piece. In order to help these people, Oliver must find certain people that have an excess of that missing aspect and ask for a piece of that excess using the spell “Take Heart”. Taking that piece to the broken-hearted person and casting “Give Heart” restores the missing piece to the afflicted, restoring them back to normality.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of the game is that it was co-developed by Studio Ghibli. The famed animation studio was responsible for the art style, the character designs, the animated cutscenes, and even the music, which is composed by studio veteran Joe Hisaishi and is currently available on iTunes. It truly is like playing a Ghibli film. The English voice cast, recorded by the same UK-based studio behind several Assassin’s Creed games and the Professor Layton series, proves to be a very solid and enjoyable dub as well. All of the above makes the game very unique among many other JRPGs.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a must-buy for lovers of the JRPG genre. It does require some grinding in the higher levels, farming of alchemist ingredients to get some of the best weapons, and can feature some difficult boss battles if the player isn’t properly prepared, as do most other games of the genre. Be prepared to lose hours looking for that one familiar, hunting down the Toko line of creatures for the vast amounts of experience they give out, and just reading every page of the in-game guide “The Wizard’s Companion”. If anything described above has piqued your interest, there’s a good chance that you’re going to enjoy this game. Level-5 and Studio Ghibli has created a vibrant, colorful world that deserves to be explored to the fullest.