I got a chance to play Level 5′s beautiful collaboration with Studio Ghibli today, and despite loving both of the companies that were involved in its development, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch kind of left me feeling a little underwhelmed.
Ni No Kuni certainly makes a great first impression though: the graphics in this game are absolutely astounding. I suppose you shouldn’t expect any less given Studio Ghibli’s (best known for creating animated classics like Princess Monoke and Spirited Away,) involvement with the game’s production. The characters all animate fluidly, and the environments are filled with lots of neat little details. The game has a sort of painterly quality to its textures that genuinely succeed in making the game look like it was drawn and painted in with inks and watercolors rather than being made of polygons and texture maps. The game’s music is just as beautiful: the game’s soundtrack was composed by acclaimed composer Joe Hisaishi, who also composed the scores for most of Studio Ghibli’s animated features.
Unfortunately, the game’s combat kind of fell flat: like in a Tales Of game, you can see enemies before they attack you and you can avoid them if you’re fast enough, but if they touch you you’re whisked away to a separate battle screen. The game’s battle system is kind of similar to Final Fantasy XII or Xenoblade’s MMO-style combat: you’re given free reign over your character’s movement during fights, but battle commands have to be selected via a menu at the bottom screen. Selecting attack causes your character to auto attack the targeted enemy, while the other characters behave according to general commands that you can change on the fly at any time during a fight. All characters have unique special attacks, but each special ability is restricted by a cool-down timer that keeps you from simply spamming your most powerful attacks.
Unfortunately, it seems like there just isn’t that much technique or depth to Ni No Kuni’s battles. Spamming the basic attack is enough dispatch most enemies, and each character’s selection of abilities was pretty basic: a ranged attack spell, a healing spell, and an extra strong super attack that cost a lot of MP and had a long cool-down period. The combat’s simplicity should make Ni No Kuni a good game for younger audiences or people who have never played an RPG before, but genre veterans might find the super simple battles to be shallow.
Of course, it might just be that the demo was simplifying things in order to make the game accessible to the trade-show audience. RPG demos are notoriously inaccurate at capturing the appeal of the full game, and while I did play a fair amount of battles, the demo didn’t really give me a feel for the game’s story or character development options, both of which could be enough to compensate for the game’s shallow combat if they’re well done enough. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Watch got pretty good reviews when it was released in Japan, so despite my disappointment with the demo, I still might give the game a shot when Namco Bandai releases the game in the US in March 2013.