by Nathan Rowland
reviewed on PC
A call to adventure
Every year now it seems like our attention is drawn between the past and the present, whether to be more excited for the year’s latest releases or its most captivating remasters. 2019 was no different, bringing us Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered, opening the doors wider to the world of the adolescent Oliver and his adventures between Motorville and the Faerie kingdom he is swept away to. This remaster sees a rejuvenation of the original 2011 title with enhanced visuals from its time on the PS3, now re-adapted for the PS4 and Microsoft Windows platforms as well as the Nintendo Switch. The transition is not seamless, but it is enough to service the desire to re-tread the worlds of magical realism that Ni No Kuni offers. You assume the role of Oliver, who after suffering a personal tragedy early on in the game’s story, brings to life Mr. Drippy, a faerie king, who just so happened to be trapped within the doll’s lifeless form. Spurring Oliver on, the two are whisked away to another dimension to find and defeat the evil djinn, Shadar, who has plagued Mr. Drippy’s world with ‘disheartened’ people and threatens the balance of their two worlds.
Entering the world of Ni No Kuni, one feels the palpable voyage between the real and fantastical worlds as they collide. So often is it a theme of the monumental movies of Studio Ghibli, that it is only appropriate that those same emotions translate to the game which bears the studio’s widely recognisable animations and designs. Early on in the game, players are treated to stunning cinematics, indistinguishable from any of the large-screen Ghibli counterparts that they may be familiar with. This provides the game with a wonderful sense of awe and splendour, appropriate given the new world that the characters are transported to.
Hit and miss
Yet, some irregularities do crop up in the game’s animation, as the distinction between cutscenes, cinematics and gameplay is not always consistent in style and quality. This lends the sense that game’s remaster was more a port over to a modern engine rather than a faithful re-creation. Reinforcing this sentiment are the controls adapted for keyboard players. Whilst menus and various UI interactions feel appropriate for a PC gaming setup, the control of the character in the world of Ni No Kuni can often feel clunky. WASD directional controls tends not to suit its open-world exploration, where a joystick was clearly the intended design for movement. Furthermore, combat suffers as a consequence of this adaptation. When the player eventually reaches this stage in the game, they will realise that the real-time strategy elements of Ni No Kuni’s combat require a large amount of input from its player to fight effectively. Scrolling through various combat wheels, managing items, and switching in and out between familiars and allies can require lots of menu-hopping, something which necessitates fast and dexterous fingers in the real-time melee. This is all the more irritating when drawn into combat with low-level enemies that still require attention to dispatch. Whilst these controls are serviceable, they do feel something of a barrier to entry, especially for the younger audience that Ni No Kuni is so readily trying to engage.
This direction towards a younger audience however is in no way a deterrent for older players as the game’s world-building and design is packed with stunning detail. I especially enjoyed the teasing, jovial banter of the player’s sidekick Mr. Drippy. With his thick Welsh accent and constant companionship, he provides a consistent sense of humour and levity throughout the game’s story beats. He is also a testament to how superb this game’s localisation is for western audiences, with particular attention paid to the nuances of his dialogue and various Celtic colloquialisms throughout. He represents a minority of the other playfully cute characters interspersing the towns and countryside that the player explores. And this game does require a good deal of exploration, which it thankfully encourages through brief but pertinent tutorials. In its various menus and dialogue, the game is keenly aware of the many new mechanics it introduces to the player early on, with just enough encouragement to help them explore its menus and sub-categories for themselves. This includes the extensive Wizard Companion, home to the game’s lore, spells and recipes, as well as menus to look after and improve the player's character, along with his cast of allies. This all offers an enjoyable sense of depth to the character that the player can invest in.
Overall, the game provides a fulfilling experience for those wishing to jump into a beautifully designed JRPG world, especially now that it is available for desktop gamers who missed out on its original release. Whilst it doesn’t push the boat out in terms of narrative or its attention to structural design, it rewards those who can appreciate a game for its endearing elements, exploring its roaming hills and bustling towns, as well as laughing alongside its friendly and good-natured companions.
Rich world design, charming characters, attention to detail
Technical inconsistencies, formulaic narrative design