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Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch review

Tuesday 22 January

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a match made in heaven for lovers of Japanese culture – it’s a collaboration between one of the nation’s best animation companies (Studio Ghibli, the team behind the likes of hit movies Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) and one of its most talented game developers (Level-5, best known for the Professor Layton series). Such lofty expectations can often lead to disappointment, however – is this whimsical action RPG really up to scratch? We take a look.

The good

As you might expect from a game co-produced by one of the world’s foremost creators of hand-drawn animation, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch looks positively sumptuous. There are plenty of anime cutscenes to set the story – which is a wonderfully poignant tale of a young boy skipping between the real world and a fantasy realm – and the in-game 3D visuals do a good job of replicating the same look.

Although Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch features a lot of Japanese RPG tropes, its battle system is refreshingly original. When you’re plunged into a combat situation, the game switches to a 3D arena where you and your team can move around freely, dodging attacks and getting in close to deliver your own blows. Moves require recharge time so it still possess an element of turn-based gameplay, but there’s more freedom here than you would normally find in a game of this type.

The other big difference is the ability to capture creatures called Familiars and put them to use in battle. Here, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch feels a lot like Nintendo’s insanely popular Pokémon series, as each Familiar has a different appearance and unique abilities. They grow in power the more you use them in battle, and finding the right selection becomes a challenge in itself. This element of the game is almost involving enough to be a stand-alone release in its own right, but the fact that it has been incorporated into such a rich and vibrant tapestry makes it even more remarkable.

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The bad

There’s very little to complain about here; Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a real triumph that rarely puts a foot wrong. It’s not going to be for everyone, of course – if you’ve never had any particular affinity for Japanese role-playing games then you’re unlikely to find yourself drawn in. Similarly, fans of the western way of doing things might find the adventure too cute to stomach – which is a shame, because there’s arguably just as much fun and enjoyment on offer here as there is in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The bottom line

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has taken a while to get here and has built up some pretty impressive hype during that time, but the wait has been well worth it. Two masters in their respective fields have come together to create a video game which is arguably one of the finest pieces of software on the PlayStation 3, and certainly one of the best exclusives the console has seen in recent memory. A heartwarming story, wonderful presentation, excellent music and deeply involving combat system make for a fantastic experience, and one that we highly doubt can be bettered throughout the entirety of 2013. A masterpiece.

5 out of 5

Ten games you need to play in 2013!

  1. Mario Kart 8
  2. Watch Dogs
  3. Wolfenstein: The New Order
  4. Grand Theft Auto V
  5. Titanfall