Video Game Review: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch [PS3]

Today we have a guest video game review from Max @ Impassionedcinema!

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch [PS3]

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
System: PS3
Genre: JRPG
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Level-5 and Studio Ghibli
Release Date: January 22, 2013

An English translation for the highly anticipated Level-5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, has been a long time coming. What more could gamers of JRPGs ask for? Level-5, best known for their work on Professor Layton and Dark Cloud, has been a long-time fan favorite in Japan. While famed anime studio, Studio Ghibli, has been known for their outstanding animated films, taking audiences to worlds we’ve never seen before. On paper it sounds as though failure is not an option. In the end though, how did it hold up?

Ni No Kuni follows the story of a boy named Oliver. Oliver lives with his mom in the quant town of Motorville, where you guessed it, the residents are obsessed with motor vehicles. One fine day, Oliver is asked to sneak out of his house late at night in order to try his friend’s new car that he built. Catastrophe occurs and Oliver’s mother suffers heart complications while trying to save Oliver from an accident. Depressed over the loss of his mother, Oliver locks himself away until he is summoned by his doll, Drippy, to save an alternate world. Saving this parallel universe might allow Oliver to save his mother.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

There’s enough story in Ni No Kuni to fill a novel, but how does it play? Level-5 has imagined the gameplay of Ni No Kuni to be a hybrid of Pokémon and the Tales Of… series of games. Oliver and his companions control familiars in combat that share the same health bar, but have different attributes in attack, defense, magic, etc. Battles are initiated by running into the world map avatar of the enemy and conducted in real-time.

Collecting familiars is still as rewarding as it was in Pokémon all those years ago, but the payoff and percentage of captures are poorly balanced. Most players will be satisfied leveling and grinding their starter familiars till the end game. Most of the world map battles can be summarized as repeatedly tapping the attack prompt to overpower your enemies. If you aren’t powerful enough yet, expect to spend at least an hour grinding up your familiars. Casting spells is also troublesome. If your character is waiting to cast a spell, but another familiar on the battlefield casts before, get ready to enter the queue again. This is especially troublesome in the late game when trying to craft items by stealing from enemies. Most of the time they will be dead before you can even cast the spell.

The other problem is that tougher battles will likely be determined by how fast you can block as opposed to anything else. Most of the villains will have tell-signs before they summon a deadly spell and with those five seconds canceling an attack and setting up a block can be the deciding factor. Blocking has always been an underutilized aspect of JRPGs, but with battles playing out in real-time, it’s a race to set up the block. About twenty hours into the game, your companions are given the ability to set up their block by pressing a button on the controller. This is right after one the most difficult battles in the game. Why couldn’t Level-5 given you that ability far earlier?

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Up until this point, there’s been a lot of focus on the chunky battle system. Rightfully so though, because when the playtime of Ni No Kuni will likely exceed 60 hours, it should be fair and enjoyable. Luckily, the overall presentation should be enough to guide players to the end. Ni No Kuni is simply one of the best looking JRPGs ever created. While actual anime sequences become few and far between after the beginning of the quest, the character design and worlds exemplify the artwork from Studio Ghibli. It’s almost as if Oliver is another hero in the long legacy of Ghibli greats and the story could easily fit into the overall catalog of great films. The score of the game is composed by Studio Ghibli veteran Joe Hisaishi. While Ni No Kuni suffers from having only one piece of music for battle sequences like most JRPGs, it’s always exciting to visit a new town to see the spectacular art design and music come together.

Although the battle system leaves a lot to be desired, Ni No Kuni was the first JRPG I’ve completed this generation of consoles. Whether it was the hope that there would be a satisfying ending (there wasn’t) or seeing what Studio Ghibli had concocted for the next villain or town, Ni No Kuni held my interest to the end. When a game is entertaining enough that the final quest gets put off until the last possible moment, it has done something right. While Ni No Kuni isn’t the masterpiece Western gamers were waiting for, it is the masterpiece they needed. It has proven that JRPGs that don’t bear the name Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest can still be successful outside of Japan. Even more incredible Ni No Kuni is a console-exclusive to PS3. For an exclusive title to sell as well as it has is an incredible achievement. If you can look pass the mechanic problems of the battle system, Ni No Kuni is a recommended play-through for all RPG fans.

4/5 Stars

 
Written by Max Covill of Impassionedcinema.com

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Video Game Review: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box [Nintendo DS, 2009]

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: August 24, 2009

When it comes to puzzle games, the Nintendo DS certainly does not have a shortage of them. There are several great games in the genre, but one series in particular rises above the rest. The Professor Layton series is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and it has been going strong since 2008. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box represents the second entry in the series (there are now four, with a fifth on the way).

Everyone’s favorite top-hatted gentleman, Layton, and his young apprentice, Luke, are back and looking to solve a new mystery. After traveling to meet the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Schrader, they are shocked to find him dead in his apartment. The circumstances surrounding his passing are peculiar, and rumors are swirling that his death was caused by the fabled Elysian Box, a chest that is thought to kill anyone who opens it. The only thing left behind in the doctor’s apartment is a train ticket for the luxurious Molentary Express, so the duo hop onboard to learn more about this bizarre situation.

While the story is deliriously offbeat, it does a good job of maintaining interest, especially when the train reaches a small town that is enveloped with secrets.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Of course, no one really plays Professor Layton games for their stories — it’s all about the puzzles! Diabolical Box has received a nice boost to the tune of 150+ puzzles of varying styles and levels of difficulty. Some are simple and can be solved in a matter of seconds; others can take much, much longer. Everything is fair game: logic puzzles, brain teasers, sliding puzzles, peg solitaire, and so on. The variety is very much appreciated, as it helps keeps the gameplay fresh throughout.

If you are familiar with the previous game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, then you will feel right at home here. The two games are similar in scope, with the differences being a new story and puzzles, as well as different mini-games.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

An example of a key puzzle

As rewards for completing puzzles, you can receive different objects that are used for various side projects. Some are silly, such as obtaining toys that will give a morbidly obese hamster a workout, whereas others are more interesting, like finding new herbs to brew different types of tea. There are also bonuses that can be unlocked that show character profiles, sound clips and other gameplay aspects. In total, the campaign should last about a dozen hours or more, if you take the time to investigate each area for new puzzles.

I don’t think I have ever seen a poor review for a Professor Layton game, and there is a reason for that: they are just great, quality titles. It doesn’t hurt that Layton and Luke are a charming tandem, two classy chaps who always take the high road. With 150+ puzzles, a lengthy campaign, and some fun mini-game diversions, there is a lot to like with the Diabolical Box. My only complaint is that I wish there was a greater punishment for incorrectly guessing answers. You lose points the first two times you provide a wrong answer, but that’s it. This makes it a little too easy to “cheat” the system. Regardless, this is a fun puzzle adventure, and I can’t wait to tackle Layton’s next journey.

8.5/10