This generation has been an interesting one for JRPGs, to say the least. It has really split the JRPG fanbase into those have held the traditional style very close to heart and those who have loved the new direction some games, like Final Fantasy XIII, have taken the genre. However, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli teamed up in what could only be described as a dream team collaboration to appease both sides of the fanbase. I’m not even going to beat around the bush in saying that the result was one of the best JRPGs of the last decade. What makes it so great though?
The story of Ni No Kuni is, well, what you would expect when you combine the minds of Studio Ghibli and Level-5. You play as Oliver, a small child who has lost his mother and is now abandoned in the world. However, on the night his mother passes, his tears reawaken a fairy that had been hidden in the form of his doll. Upon his reawakening, Drippy, the fairy, helps you unlock your wizard powers and then, pretty quickly, you are whisked away to an alternate world of magic and monsters. All of this is done for a simple reason, so that you can save your mother’s “soul mate” (person in the alternate world that “shares” your mother’s soul) in the hopes of bringing back your mother.
Once you arrive in this strange, new world it isn’t long until you realize that something isn’t right. An evil wizard known as the Dark Djinn has made many, many people throughout the world “broken hearted” which means that pieces of their heart are missing, but not literal pieces, pieces like Hope, Love, Courage, and so on. If you want to have any hope of defeating the Dark Djinn, the save the world and in turn save your mother’s soul mate, you’ll have to go from kingdom to kingdom, restoring the hearts of those who have had their’s broken.
The game’s overall feel, as you would expect, is almost like Dragon Quest meets Studio Ghibli. There is a big, expansive overworld, reminiscent of Dragon Quest VIII, with many different towns and dungeons to explore. Enemy encounters are handled similar to Blue Dragon and Dragon Quest IX, with enemies appearing in the world and battles occurring when you walk into them. Musically, there is a very epic and grand feel to the whole game. Sadly, while the music is downright amazing, it doesn’t really stick with you; it’s recognizable but not memorable.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is easily the battle system. Its a completely real time battle system with your companions acting on their own based upon tactics that you choose. The arena is a completely 3D plane and its not just a rush ‘n’ attack type of fight style. You fight with monsters (familiars) that you capture throughout the game and train up like Pokemon. There are magic based creatures, heavy creatures and agile creatures. Elements also play a huge part in the fights. Its truly like if you were to bring Pokemon into a completely 3D battle engine. Sadly, there is no attack called Fly.
There are also a plethora of side quests in the game. Some boil down to delivery quests but there are also hunts that are reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII. By the time you beat the game, you can easily have most of the quest done. However, upon beating the final boss, you unlock more hunts that are, mostly, powered up forms of the game’s earlier bosses which are a blast to fight. Once you finish all of the newly unlocked hunts, you get to fight the Ultimate Boss of the game and trust me, he is no cake walk.
Level-5 truly hit the nail on the head with this game. Ni No Kuni is a perfect example of how to make a modern JRPG that feels like a traditional one. On top of the great fusion work on their part, the game wouldn’t be the same if they hadn’t had Studio Ghibli work on it alongside them. Studio Ghibli just has some kind of magic to their work that shows through in Ni No Kuni. It is like the stars aligned ever so perfectly so that a JRPG that fans could only dream of was made.
- Great battle engine
- The creature capture system is awesome
- Fantastic art
- Amazing music
- Side quests could use a little bit more variety.