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First Impressions: Ni No Kuni [Gamer On]

If you caught Cheeky Geek Weekly 4, I mentioned briefly that I’d probably be checking out Ni No Kuni, the latest PS3-exclusive JRPG creation from Ghibli Studios and Level-5 games. Well, I went out yesterday and picked it up and was more than happy to pop it in for a few hours to see what I was missing.

Ni No Kuni starts with Oliver, a young boy from Motorville, USA. After getting into some typical juvenile delinquency, it takes a turn for the tragic as Oliver loses his mother, Allie. Grieved by her death, he clutches a doll she hand-crafted for him, Drippy. As his tears fall to the doll it springs to life and reveals to him that he’s been alive the whole time, though in another world, parallel to Oliver’s. (In fact, Ni No Kuni literally translates to Second Country and is also called ‘The Another World’). In this world, a dark force has imprisoned what is basically Allie’s doppelganger and Drippy explains that, with the power of a magical tome, Oliver will be able to enter the world of Ni No Kuni and if he can rescue the sage, it might just mean he can bring his mother back to life.

What first stands out is the GORGEOUS and I do mean GORGEOUS presentation. Studio Ghibli (Of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away fame) have done a bang up job with Level-5 creating a world that is nothing shy of dazzling. It’s bright, vivid, and makes any other game feel drab by comparison.

While it may appear to be child-like in its presentation, the challenge certainly isn’t and a closer look reveals a deep and rewarding combat system that offers a fresh take on the genre. In addition to the traditional party system where you swap in and out members with specific abilities, each individual member can control up to 3 familiars, Pokemon-like beings that can be battled and caught in the wild. By fusing the traditional RPG elements of a standard JRPG with the fun of catching monsters in the wild, Ni No Kuni remains thrilling if you’re a leveling-hound as the grand total of 12 members level-up independently and often. This leads to a nice counterbalance to random encounters in that the barrage of battles you’ll be entering have a nice, consistent payoff. As a bonus, your familiars can also unlock different weapons and accessories as they level which waiver between the outright insane and at the very least undeniably adorable.

However, the greatest companion and perhaps most fulfilling is certainly Drippy (or Mr. Drippy, as Oliver calls him). The voice acting on the whole is wonderfully done but Drippy in particular is hilarious. The thick Scottish accent coupled with his more grown-up sense of humor is simultaneously at odds with and complimentary to the childish presentation.

Ultimately, while JRPGs may not be my forte, I remain drawn to the world of Ni No Kuni. It’s fun, entertaining, and at over 50-hours of content it’s no slouch in the variety or re-playability departments.Some may look down on the younger presentation but shouldn’t, as the sheer energy of the cast and the sweeping soundtrack (performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra) give the entire production a magical quality.

It’s not perfect, as the difficulty can waiver into frustration occasionally, but ultimately it appears to be a fantastic production in spite of it.

If you’re on the fence about it, take a risk even if you’re NOT an RPG fan just to take in a delightful story and some deceptively addictive game play.

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