Ni No Kuni review: Fairy tale wedding
Jan 23rd 2013 11:00 AM EST
You know the phrase "You should never judge a JRPG by its authentic adaptation of a cherished animation studio's art style?" Well, that happens to apply to Level-5 and Studio Ghibli's Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, in a good way. It's like a computer made entirely out of triple chocolate; the sweet Ghibli coating is as inviting as it is generous, but it distracts from the magnitude of something that works when it probably shouldn't.
Ni No Kuni's combat, its all-important core, is an ambitious fusion of elements from many different walks of Japanese role-playing games, and in particular Pokémon. On paper it's a muddle of methods, but on screen it is the game's enduring component, and frankly a bit of a triumph. It is also what best exemplifies Ni No Kuni: a marriage of styles with a very happy ending.
View Gallery:Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (1/21/13)
Before all that, the presentation deserves more mention. Some of the animation studio's subtleties are lost in the in-game cutscenes, but that's made up for by the faithful detail on display in cities and dungeons, the latter in particular. So often RPG dungeons stink of the editor they were made with, but Ni No Kuni's have flair, from the bright, screen-dominating blaze of a volcano backdrop to the joy of magically blooming mushrooms to help navigate a forest.
This charm sadly doesn't extend into the story. In typical Ghibli style, Ni No Kuni stars a child whisked into a fantasy world, in this case Oliver, a 13-year-old plucked from 1950s American suburbia. Following the untimely death of his mother, Oliver is given the chance to somehow bring her back by saving this alternate world from destruction and despair. The tale that unravels is sweet enough, but not much more than that.
It doesn't help that exposition mainly comes via unspoken