Release Date: September 20, 2019
Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 and up)
System(s): Nintendo Switch/Playstation 4/Steam
What's It All About?
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a sprawling masterpiece about a boy named Oliver, who's swept into another world full of magical creatures you can tame, a dangerous djinn trying to destroy the world, and fairies with thick Scottish accents. The cinematic cutscenes are done by Studio Ghibli (yes, that one) and the wonderful score is done by Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi. Don't be fooled by the whimsy or childlike demeanor of the early parts of the game. The story that unfolds is darker and deeper than it initially appears, and by the end of it all, you might need a tissue or two.
I'll be honest. This was my favorite game on PS3 when it originally released in 2013 in the West. It remains one of my Top 3 video games of all time. But…I'll still try to be as objective as possible here. After all, this is a review for the Switch version of the game.
There's a lot to love about this game. The art style, animation, and music are all excellent. There's also plenty of fun action-RPG combat and a monster recruiting system that's more akin to Dragon Quest V than Pokemon, in that just about every monster is tamable but relies on RNG to befriend them once they're defeated. You can keep three monsters (called familiars) on each person's team.
The game does a good job of introducing players to this deceptively simple concept, since your ability to defeat bosses late in the game relies heavily on how much time you spend feeding your familiars to boost their stats, teaching them abilities, and evolving them (like Pokemon) through Metamorphosis. This mechanic seems very easy early in the game, but players will soon learn you have to spend a lot of time here if you want to battle successfully.
The story is also great, and it's one I won't spoil here. Suffice it to say that fans of Studio Ghibli movies and other Level-5 games (Yo-Kai Watch, Rogue Galaxy, Fantasy Life, etc.) will recognize story beats in Ni No Kuni. The characters are memorable, especially your core party members of the boy wizard Oliver, the harpist Esther, the mysterious thief Swaine, and the loveably rude faerie Mr. Drippy. In fact, Ni No Kuni has one of my favorite cast of characters in any video game ever. You can't help but love them.
And if you enjoy side content like I do, then you'll find plenty to do here. There are Errands that function like side quests, Bounty Hunts, stamps to collect and exchange for prizes, a swanky skeleton casino, and a battle arena. For the completionists, there are also maps to 100%, dungeons to clear out, and 100 Hidden Treasures to find in the overworld. So, in case you were wondering: Yes, this game is massive and well worth the $50 price tag.
The problems from the PS3 version of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch still exist. The beginning of the game is extremely slow and will surely turn off some players. Having played the game several times myself, it doesn't really ever feel faster, even after knowing what you have to do and where you have to go. If you're looking at the world with a new eye, however, then it may not bother you at all. Just be aware that if you think the game feels too childish or too slow, it WILL pick up eventually. You just might have to slog through a few hours of gameplay first.
Having to micro-manage your familiars can be another turn-off, especially if you don't like spending time in menus or caring for digital pets. This was one of my initial complaints with the game way back in 2013. I got tired of messing around with my familiars and training them up. Replaying it on Switch, however, I didn't notice it as much. This was, most likely, because I knew what to expect already. If you're expecting an action-RPG like Kingdom Hearts or a Tales game, then this isn't it. You'll rarely fight with your human party members until late in the game.
My biggest issues with the game aren't with Ni No Kuni itself; it's with how it runs on the Switch. I've never played a game on Switch or any other console that crashed this much. I went through a solid 20-30 hours of the main story before the crashes really started. But once they began, they never ended. One time in particular was right after a boss with two phases and several long cutscenes. I had to fight the boss's forms again, but I took advantage of the game's Skip Cutscene option to save a little time. Still, it was really annoying to do it all over again. And crashes like this happened at least half a dozen times! The game would simply crash and have to be restarted.
Once, in Nevermore, Oliver and Mr. Drippy completely disappeared from the screen. While I could still see the environments and enemies, none of the buttons would work and I had to reset the game. Another time, the game lagged so bad in a fight that I had to restart it, and on the second attempt the game froze completely and had to be closed and then booted back up. So…yeah, not a huge fan of these issues. From my understanding, it seems to mostly affect the Switch version of the game. So if you're playing the remastered version elsewhere, you hopefully won't have these problems.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an amazing game and one I truly adore. I highly recommend it (and recommend it to people often). However, I'm not so sure the Switch version is the best way to play it. Because of this, I'm giving the game two reviews, since so much of the game's problems seem to stem from the system it's on. One is for the game itself, and the other is for the Switch version.