By CHRIS CAMPBELL | Scripps Howard News Service
Few tragedies can spark an emotional response like a child seeing his mother die, and yet that dark moment allows for the celebration of life that follows in “Ni no Kuni.”
The main story is one of loss and redemption. Early on, Oliver’s mother dies due to his reckless behavior. The sorrow really draws one into the story. Rarely do games tread in such emotionally fraught material in this way.
This plot revolves around Oliver’s attempts to save his mother because, in a parallel universe, she’s alive and well, but held captive by an evil lord. The alternate realm provides the game’s main setting. Meanwhile, stunning visuals and an appropriately moving soundtrack help drive the narrative.
Oliver, thankfully, is not alone on his journey. His friend Esther is alongside, and she’s a worthwhile companion. But the real delight of the game lies with Drippy, a doll from the real world that in this parallel universe is a living, breathing friend with a fantastic sense of humor. Poor name aside, he quickly etches himself into the pantheon of gaming sidekicks.
The list of side quests appears endless even after you break the 10- and 20-hour gameplay mark, as you can easily (and enjoyably) go roaming about for several hours without ever touching the main quest. Exploring caves, fending off large beasts, even simple tasks such as delivering goods to a town on the other side of the world feel rewarding and less like an excuse to drag out time playing the game. The landscapes, be they deserts, rolling hills or flowing lava, burst with life and detail.
When you’re not losing yourself in side adventures, you’ll roam the map encountering enemies to battle or towns to explore. The battles are smartly done, incorporating a Pokemon-style system of using creatures to do the battling for you.
The game blends the fantasy and RPG elements together into a cohesive package that rarely, if ever, appears to lose steam as it encourages you to keep pushing onward.
I’m left stunned, however, that a game of this caliber didn’t get released during the holiday season. Few games have left me this satisfied and eager to return to its beautifully crafted world. Despite a title that on its face could dissuade one from giving it a chance, “Ni no Kuni” is a true treasure that no PS3 owner should do without.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone
Grade: 5 stars (out of 5)