Ni No Kuni Review: A Memorable, Charming JRPG Experience

by Staff March 19, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

From developer Level-5 and animation studio Studio Ghibli comes the collaboration of any JRPG fans dreams in the form of Ni No Kuni. A drop-dead gorgeous effort with some light hearted humor and a serious dose of adult themed issues that I must admit took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting the game to tug at my heart strings but it did. Still does.

Ni No Kuni begins in the town of Motorville and introduces you to Oliver, an average little boy who at first glance is anything but average, something you find out early on. Through a terrible mishap Oliver loses his Mom early in the game, which is something I can sadly relate to. Shortly after losing her Oliver embarks on a magical adventure in the hopes of bringing her back. He soon meets a magical fairy named Drippy who oddly enough was once his stuffed toy and reveals himself to Oliver as the king of the fairies from a magical land called Ni No Kuni. It is in this magical other world that Drippy believes Oliver can find a way to bring his mother back as each person in Ni No Kuni shares a twin “soul” with someone in Motorville.

Convinced that Oliver is in fact a magician capable of this feat, the two venture to Ni No Kuni. Along the way, they meet some amazing characters and a world filled with despair and lost hope. It’s through these characters that Oliver starts to not only act the part of a master magician but become one. As everyone in Ni No Kuni shares a soul with someone in Motorville, you will be spending quite some time travelling between the two worlds setting things right that have gone wrong in Ni No Kuni by restoring what was lost for these characters in Motorville, be it lost hope, courage or simply motivation itself. Oliver gains a spell that gives a missing heart to some or borrows a “trait” from a heart to give to those in need. Oliver learns the reason for this is due in part to a nasty sorcerer in Ni No Kuni terrorizing the inhabitants by stealing their hearts and taking away what is most important to them, be it a needed dose of courage or the compassion they once had. Oliver aims to set things right and above all else, find a way to bring his mother back.


During his travels in Ni No Kuni Oliver will meet, help, and join forces with a cast of characters, as well as learning some amazing magic needed to fulfill quests and solving riddles and gaining helpful pets to join him in battle called Familiars. Eventually, Oliver meets a companion who can tame these wild beasts and uses them to aid him in battle by summoning them. In combat Oliver can move around to dodge enemy attacks, cast spells and summon forth these tamed beasts in a… yeah, I’m going there, Pokemon style to fight in his stead. Much like Pokemon, some Familiars are better suited for the fight at hand than others. Familiars level up and can be equipped, fed, and morphed into stronger forms. Expect to invest quite a bit of time getting to know them and learning to maximize them during battle. The game can be a bit on the hard side depending on who you choose to summon. The combat flows well and while I encountered some bosses that made me throw my controller (seriously, I broke one), I found that with the right strategy and Familiar nothing couldn’t be overcome. I like the battle system, and it’s something I hope the sequel retains, if there is one. Having said that, why wouldn’t there be one? The game is a hit and I hope the sales justify a sequel. From message boards to Twitter feeds, the general response to the game is such that I almost expect the developers are already at it.

Side quests, or rather errands, in Ni No Kuni are plentiful. For those like me that can’t get enough to do in your JRPGs, this game does it right and constantly keeps you busy. Alchemy plays an integral part of the game and is quite the endeavor to undertake, especially if you are going for that shiny trophy. Once you unlock alchemy, it becomes possible to mix items into better ones via recipes. You’ll be able to get recipes from NPC’s, but you don’t necessarily need to have an in-game recipe ready to be a good alchemist. In fact, you can also try to mix and match items; if it doesn’t work out, you’ll get to keep the items. Bounty hunting is also available to hunt down some nasty enemies that may be terrorizing locals as you can obtain merit stamps used for filling up a ‘merit card’ after defeating them, as well as rewards for the undertaking. Other than running errands, collecting bounties, and trying your hand at alchemy, you can also gather items at special foraging spots. These spots can be foraged for items and replenish after time. Ni No Kuni gives you plenty to do and even has some very challenging end game content that will try your patience, test your mettle, and put your party lineup to the test. All in all, to finish the main quest I logged in around 24 hours and an additional 17 or so doing end game quests.

One of the main reasons I wanted to play Ni No Kuni was the graphics, which isn’t usually a factor for piquing my interest. I was hooked after seeing the first screenshots and videos pop up online. Cutscenes make it feel like you are watching an anime episode and rightfully so, given Studio Ghibli has such a creative flair for the art. Bright and beautiful Ni No Kuni is a sight to behold: from the first intro movie to the closing credits. Studio Ghibli even had a hand in the 3D real time events ensuring everything flowed beautifully. The defining moment for me was actually playing the demo. I reached the point where you get to roam the overworld map and was floored. Call me crazy, but it is the best looking overworld I have ever
seen and something I hope other RPG embrace. It really connected the game world and felt alive. Enemies dot the landscape and will give chase if they spot you so beware! Or simply seek them all out in the hopes of taming a new Familiar. The graphics in Ni No Kuni may not be a deciding factor for everyone and certainly not the factor they were for me but the game is pure art. Beautiful, gorgeous, living and breathing art.


Complementing the aesthetics of Ni No Kuni is its musical score which is top notch. From the sleepy town theme of Motorville to the Moorish tunes of the Fairyground everything sounds excellent. The well done voice acting and your pal Drippy’s lifting Welsh accent add to the charm. During the game’s dialogue and cutscene sequences you really do feel as though you are watching a quality anime movie that makes you feel immersed. I won’t lie, I actually told someone I would be there in a “meowment.” Music and sound effects alone may not make a game for me, but Ni No Kuni does it well and I enjoyed it alongside everything else.

Level 5 and Studio Ghibli have created a beautiful world that will surely enchant you. If you have yet to play this masterpiece and are in any way a fan of RPGs then you owe it to yourself to not miss out on Ni No Kuni. It is an experience, a journey, and a treat in so many ways. I may not have done the game justice with my words alone — Ni No Kuni is an instant classic and is something to be cheered. I for one hope for another journey with Oliver. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.