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Review: “Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch” (PS3)

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Oliver is like any young boy you’ve met. Between sneaking out of the house to build a car in his friend’s garage and looking idly at girls from afar in his hometown of Motorville, it seems that Oliver is living a very happy and normal life, until the unthinkable happens. Tragedy strikes and it is up to Oliver not only to save someone he loves, but also to prevent an unknown world from utter destruction.

It is with this goal in mind that you set off in “Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch,” a game which may go down as one of the best JRPGs ever made.

The JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game, for all you laymen) used to be the staple of quality gaming. Titles like “Final Fantasy,” “Chrono Trigger” and “Dragon Quest” took players to imaginative worlds where, with the help of friends and magic, they could conquer the unconquerable. However, in recent years, the genre has taken a nosedive. Shooters and action games dominate the market to the point where JRPGs not named “Pokemon” rarely make their way over to the U.S.

Two years after the game hit the shelves in Japan, we now have a translated version to call our own in the states. Having played roughly 30 hours of the game so far, I can tell you that if you own a PS3, this game is a must-own.

Studio Ghibli, the Pixar-like company that made such animated movies as “Ponyo” and “Spirited Away,” provides the visual style and story for the game — both of which are phenomenal. The hand-drawn landscapes and characters look gorgeous and give the game a signature look you can’t find anywhere outside of a Studio Ghibli film. Oliver and friends will travel through deserts, oceans, volcanoes and even fairylands on their journey, and each locale has its own feel, thanks in large part to an original score  performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The sights and sounds in a video game really don’t get any better than this.

The story is also fantastic. Although the dialogue may be a little simple and cheesy for some (it was originally a Japanese game after all), the characters that are introduced throughout the game range from goofy to scary to emotionally devastated. The game keeps a smooth pace that allows the player to gradually move from location to location at their will to continue the narrative.

And while story and visuals are important, “Ni No Kuni” would just be a great movie if it weren’t for the gameplay. Luckily, Level 5, the other company that worked on the game, uses staples of the genre well to provide challenging but fair obstacles to overcome.

The gameplay is a lot like “Pokemon.” Oliver and his friends all have “familiars” — little monsters that they can control in a battle — that can attack or defend. There are two notable differences though. The first is that Oliver and his friends are not helpless. You can choose to use one of the humans to dish out devastating spells or eat different foods to heal during battle. The second is that the battles are not turn-based or static. Everything happens in real time in a confined, circular area. This means you have to be quick on your feet and recognize when enemies are going to attack in order to get out of the way.

The game does a good job of introducing new elements slowly, giving the player time to learn the complicated battle mechanics. You can also serenade new “familiars” to join your squad, adding a “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality. “Ni No Kuni” is also a good value; there are easily enough side quests and “familiars” to serenade to give the gamer more than 100 hours of content to go through.

Even now as I’m typing up this review, I just want to go back and train my “familiars” to continue with Oliver in his heartfelt quest. If you didn’t think this game would be good, or didn’t even know it existed, then you are truly missing out on a one-of-a-kind experience.

Score: 9.5/10

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