For me, when I choose my favorite game of the year, I always wait until near the end of the year to pick nominees. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was my favorite game of 2010, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was my favorite game of 2011, and Mass Effect 3 was my favorite game of 2012. Something happened this year. I found out that my favorite game was a game released in January. Yeah, a game released in the first month of the 2013 turned out to be my favorite game for this entire year. I thought this was weird and just decided to write it off and continue playing some of the best games released in 2013. I played games like the new Tomb Raider, God of War Ascension, Puppeteer, Metal Gear Rising, Rayman Legends, Dragon’s Crown, and The Wonderful 101. You get the idea. My favorite game, and what I personally consider to be the best game of this year, is Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PlayStation 3. I felt so pulled into this game’s world, mechanics, stories, characters, and I just never got that same feeling with other games released this year. I mean, I don’t hate the other games that I mentioned above, and I don’t consider them to be inferior to this game, because they are all great games, but Ni No Kuni grabbed me like no other game this year. Let us dive into the magical world of Studio Ghibli’ and Level 5’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
The story stars a young boy named Oliver, voiced by Adam Wilson. He lives with his mom in a small town called Motorville. After building a small car with his friend, he gets into an accident, where he ends up in a river, and his mom saves him. Unfortunately, after saving Oliver, his mother dies due to a weak heart. For the next few days, Oliver grieves her death while holding a doll his mother made for him. He then cries some tears onto the doll, and by some form of Disney-like magic, the doll comes to life. The doll’s name is Drippy, voiced by Steffan Rhodri. Drippy explains to Oliver that he is High Lord of the Fairies and that another person from the world he is from looks like Oliver’s mother. Unfortunately, the person who looks like Oliver’s mother is captured by a powerful wizard known as Shadar, voiced by Brian Protheroe. It is up to Oliver to go into this mystical world and save it from the evil of Shadar and later on, from the evil White Witch, voiced by Jennifer Bryden. Along his journey, Oliver meets three companions, a blonde girl named Esther, voiced by Lauren Mote; a thief named Swaine, voiced by Louis Tamone; and the “Porcine Prince” Marcassin, voiced by Iain KcKee. I could use many words to describe the story in this game, but the one I chose fits it the best, charming. The game has such a charming story, world, and characters. Sure, the plot to stop an evil wizard might be in as many games as there are terrible spoof movies, but the story is so well done that you really do feel for the characters, their stories, and how they interact with the world around them. It just brings you back to JRPGs of the old day where they were still full-on fantasy and had multiple likable characters.
Ni No Kuni is a chimera of JRPGs that combine both turn-based and action-oriented combat. For the most part, you will play as Oliver and his friends in a massive overworld, going from towns, to forests, dungeons, and other areas of interest. As you travel across the overworld on foot, boat, and later on a dragon, you will have to fight monsters of varying types to gain levels, skills, money, and items. Luckily, the enemies are moving around in the overworld and the dungeon areas you explore. If you are weaker than them, they will run at you. However, if you are stronger than them, they will run away, which helps with grinding, since you are not stuck with having to deal with very weak enemies later on in the game. Combat-wise, you use these creatures in a sort of Pokémon fashion. You carry three of these creatures, which are known as Familiars. They have their own set of moves, and can learn more attacks when they level up and evolve into stronger beasts. Each move you make with the creatures has a cool-down meter where you can’t use it until the timer is gone. Your Familiars are also on a timer, and you will need to swap them out of battle to give them time to refuel before sending them out again. The creatures usually have a sign that puts them in the Moon, Sun, or Star constellation. One constellation is stronger than the other, so make sure you prepare wisely with the right team. Combat is real time, so you can move around, use magic, perform an attack of sorts, or defend. If you attack and defend wisely, you will gain little rewards like orbs to heal your magic and health, or a gold orb to perform a super move. You level up your Familiars by feeding them different goods, and when they are ready to evolve, or as they call it in the game, metamorphosis, you feed them a drop that corresponds with their constellation. Outside of combat, you will have to equip your Familiars and yourself with items to make you and your Familiars stronger. Inside and outside the dungeons, you will have to solve some puzzles using magic that you have accumulated in your handy dandy magical book you own. It definitely helps to have these puzzles inside the dungeons to break up the monster fighting. You even get to travel back to your hometown a couple of times to solve some of the puzzles and tasks given to you, which is pretty neat. Outside of combat, you have multiple sidequests, an alchemy pot, stamp cards that give you special upgrades and abilities if you get enough of them, you can recruit Familiars, and the usual challenge arena that comes with almost every JRPG. It took me about 52 hours to beat the entire game while doing some of the post-game side questing. You can easily double 52 hours with all of the side quests. The overall game is pretty solid. It can also get rather difficult, but the difficulty comes from being prepared with the right Familiars, and learning how the combat works.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of the most beautiful looking games on the PlayStation 3 and on any console. It’s bright, colorful, detailed, and it all works with Studio Ghibli’s art style. All the creatures look unique and are pretty memorable looking. The music is gorgeous. The music was composed by in-house Studio Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. It is just downright amazing to listen to, and if you can find the soundtrack, I would highly recommend picking it up. The voice work is surprisingly good. They hired actual child actors to play the kids, and hired actors who really do fit their roles. They could have easily hired child actors who would have acted horribly and made the characters more annoying than endearing. Luckily for us, that isn’t the case. It’s interesting, since they could have easily gotten the budget to hire the normal anime and western RPG voice cast for the game, but instead went with a batch of new actors who have acted before, but haven’t done any voice acting for games.
Anyway, what is wrong with the game? To be honest, these next few complaints are so minor that they don’t even detract from the score. They are just minor complaints that I have with the game. With all of the changes and homages to the JRPG they have made, I wish they had full-on voice acting for the main characters, instead of just the usual moments where voice acting is used for these kinds of games. It isn’t like Namco Bandai had a tiny budget for English voice acting or anything, or even big-named Hollywood actors. I just feel like JRPGs should just go with full voice work like most western RPGs go with. I also heard that people found sound glitches, but I didn’t run into any that I saw, so maybe it’s the copy they got or something. A lot of people have also talked about the sharp spike in difficulty later on in the game, but I never ran into anything too difficult until the final boss where you have to fight 3 bosses in a row and that very last boss. Boy, was it a doozy to fight that last one. I disagree with this criticism since again, most of the difficulty comes into play with learning how the combat works, and defending yourself at the right times. I would say games like Dragon Age Origins have a much worse case of difficulty spikes than this game.
As of right now, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is my favorite game of this year. I just fell in love with this game from head to toe. I am glad that it sold well, with about 1.5 million copies sold this year. I was so worried that this game wouldn’t sell well, especially after the whole preordering the wizard’s edition incident where a lot of people lost their preorders due to a glitch. If you can find this game for any price, I would buy it and just envelope yourself within this game’s world and characters. It is easily one of Level-5’s best games, and is easily one of my top 5 favorite RPGs of all time.
This game gets 10 out of 10.