Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Hands-On Preview: Get Ready For a Beautiful Adventure

There are many Japanese games I get excited about, even if they never end up coming here. But there’s one that I’ve been especially excited to see hit these shores for a very, very long time. I was pleased to finally be able to check out a demo – anything is better than nothing! And I can confirm that the demo for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is just as amazing as all of those words make it sound.

Platforms: PS3
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Level-5, Studio Ghibli
Genre: My Neighbor RPG
Release Date: January 22, 2013
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

I was in love with Ni No Kuni from the title screen, partially thanks to the beautiful, RPG-esque music that put me right in the mood and enhanced that “new game” feeling. I set the game to Japanese audio (I love that that’s even an option!) and dove right into “The Deep Dark Wood – An Errand for Old Father Oak.” Level-5 throws you right in the middle of things, sending you on a quest to confront a guardian after getting a brief synopsis of what the main character, Oliver, and the Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Drippy, have been up to.

The fighting is very interesting, even if the demo doesn’t really give you much of a tutorial. You can fight as Oliver, or throw out his familiar, Marr Mite. Your options as Marr Mite are Attack, Defend, or Cut Loose, the first two doing exactly what they sound like, while the last one lets Marr Mite go so you can start fighting as Oliver. He’s got even more options – Run Away, Attack, Defend, Spells, and Provisions. Provisions are things that can up your HP or MP in a fight. Your spells take up MP in a fight, and are very basic in the tutorial – Healing Touch, Gateway (to go between worlds), Form Familiar, and Fireball (which can work offensively in battle or also to light lanterns).

The fighting was very intuitive. You use the Directional Pad to go between your options, while the Analog Stick moves your character around. It felt strange at first, but the more I did it, the easier it felt. I kept throwing Fireballs at the guardian, so I’d move away from him, choose Spells, choose Fireball, make sure he couldn’t hit me where I was standing, and then Oliver would stop to perform the spell, and a timer would count down to when he could use that again.

The only thing that was tutorialized was the Defend option – once your HP goes down low enough, the game stops to warn you to use Defend, and shows you how it’s done. It stops some of the damage, but it also freezes you in place as the timer counts down. You can also get something called a “Nice” bonus (a little “Nice!” pops up and a voice says it as well), which appears when you defend at the right moment or get in a good hit, though what the bonus actually does for you wasn’t entirely clear in the demo.

Once I defeated the guardian, I gained some money and experience points, and also received a page describing the monster I killed, which I’m assuming is a page added to my bestiary. I’m always fond of cute and clever ways to populate the bestiary, and this was no exception to that. I also unlocked a story, which is a cute little cutscene explaining the significance of what Oliver has done and what he needs to do next.

After the cutscene, you can walk around the world map, which is beautiful and 3D and has a smaller minimap in the corner to show you where your next objective is. (The minimap is also present when you’re not on the world map, but is much smaller in scope.) As you’re walking around, you can have encounters with the monsters walking around – in fact, once they see you, there’s a cute little noise, they get an exclamation point over their head, and they try to run at you to set off an encounter with you. This can be especially tricky if you’re walking around in a wooded area, since you don’t know a creature is there until the little red exclamation point pops up.

It might go without saying, since one of Ni No Kuni’s greatest assets is its artwork by Studio Ghibli, but this game is absolutely gorgeous. Everything from walking around to the fights to the cutscenes and especially the world map is done in incredible detail, and it’s so adorable that it’s like you’re playing a Ghibli movie. The music goes perfectly with it – light and lovely and very typical of an RPG. The game is not childish at all, but it feels very childlike, and made me even more excited about its impending release.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch will be out for the PlayStation 3 on January 22. I’ve waited this long, so I’m sure I’ll be able to wait just a few more weeks, but I’ll definitely be playing this demo again. Oh, also, it’s a timed demo, which in itself gives you plenty of reasons to play it over and over again – I know I’m going to try to go back and beat my time! Fans of RPGs and Japanese animation will be so pleased with this demo. I only hope that the game is as wonderful as this little snippet we’ve been allowed to see.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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