Gameplay: 9 / 10
Graphics: 9 / 10
Replay Value: 9 / 10
Sound and Music: 9 / 10
Ni No Kuni (translated as The Second World) is a game that comes along only very rarely. When its looked it first; it seems childish and cartoony; cute in its own way; but nothing that an adult would need to look at again. But Ni No Kuni is one of those titles that shows that simple doesn’t mean immature; and that if a game addresses the concerns of the world at large, then those concerns apply to everyone, not just children or adults. And as well as this, it’s also a very fun game.
Ni No Kuni tells the story of Oliver; a young boy living in 1950’s small town America with his single mother. Oliver lives a carefree life; until one day, by accident, he gets involved in a situation where he is in trouble; and his mother saves him at the cost of her own life. This is an incredibly poignant scene that happens within the first 15 minutes of gameplay; which is actually fine to reveal, as most of the material talks about it already. Nevertheless; it’s a terribly shocking an emotional development from what happened to be a sweet cartoony world moments before. While mourning her loss in his room; Oliver is magically visited by Drippy; the self-proclaimed “Lord High Lord of the Fairies;” who speaks in an adorable Welsh accent. Drippy tells Oliver of a way his mother could be saved still; if only he learns magic and travels to another world to help Drippy save it from peril.
Ni No Kuni was partly developed with famed anime group Studio Ghibli, and aside from the art design, much of the thematic qualities come from them too. The areas in the world you visit are vast and beautiful; the cities look straight out of a proper anime; and in-between are scattered cut scenes done in a traditional animated style; heightening the feeling that you’re in a real fantasy. The characters you meet are well-rounded and personable; with incredibly fun dialogue; especially on the part of Drippy who is one of my new favourite characters. Providing the climax of experience is the music; which is gorgeously performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and is a joy to listen to.
Actual gameplay takes the form of explorations in the world involving your magical abilities; as well as of course combat. Combat takes the form of an interesting mixture of real and turn based battling. Ollie and two other companions are present in the battle at once; you can switch between controlling one of them at any time. Each companion is given three “familiars;” monsters which can be captured from the wild in a Pokemon style fashion. While controlling a character; you may choose to control either them or their monsters for a total of 4 individuals on one slot. These 4 would share a health and mana bar. In combat; you move around and dodge attacks realistically; and then scroll to whichever command you wish to inflict upon the enemy. This combat system is really unique, and incredibly fun. The only downside is that the NPC Ai is sometimes very silly.
The monster-catching and raising minigame is also incredibly satisfying; most monsters can be caught; and can be raised with battling or feeding specific items to them to raise stats. At a certain point monsters can be made to evolve at least twice, providing new abilities based on your choice of evolution. It’s a deep and satisfying mechanic. It also helps that the monsters are awesome.
At every level you can see hours and hours of dedication placed into every aspect of the game. The primary tutorial function of the game; the Wizards Companion, which is a book Oliver owns, is full of hidden stories and clues, puzzles and Easter eggs that are all part of the universe, making it feel as though Oliver is becoming a real wizard together with you at the same time. Ni No Kuni has enough main plot to cover 30 hours, and sideplots and secrets to cover at least 20 more. Don’t dismiss this title for looking “too kiddy” or “too JRPG” because if you do you will be missing out on one of the most charming and fun titles in many years.