It takes time to realise exactly what makes Ni No Kuni such a special game. Its mechanics are actually fairly rote to anyone who’s played a Japanese RPG before, presenting as it does a pleasant mash-up of Dragon Quest and Pokémon – the exploration, combat and item crafting of the former, with the monster raising elements of the latter. However, pour some time into it and you’ll realise that its sheer artistry – both visually and narratively – makes it far more than the sum of its parts.
The epic journey follows Oliver, a young boy whose sorrow over his mother’s death awakens a fairy, Drippy, from his slumber. Together, they cross into a parallel world where magic is real and the inhabitants strangely mirror the folk of Oliver’s home town. The quest is simple – save the linked realities and Oliver’s mother may be restored to life. Along the way, the inevitable crew that joins up often prove to be interesting subversions of RPG archetypes, each carrying a particular tragedy with them that adds a heartfelt depth to the story beyond the surface sheen.
What a sheen it is though – Ni No Kuni is a wonder to behold. Developed in conjunction with Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Ponyo), it succeeds in bringing the acclaimed Japanese animation house’s gorgeous work to life. The fully animated cut-scenes alone would be cause for applause but even running around the 3D game world, developer Level 5’s stunning art direction and cel-shading techniques perfectly replicates the Ghibli style. Wandering the strange and beautiful environments is a feast for the eyes like no other. The score, composed by Joe Hisaishi, also deserves special attention – as close to perfect as a suite of game music gets.
An emotional and impactful journey, Ni No Kuni is a superlative effort that is as much of a thrill for animation and movie fans as it is for gamers.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen