Ni No Kuni

The Hand That Feeds

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch offers up a magical, satisfying treat.

By Steve Heisler • January 28, 2013

Do yourself a favor. As soon as you start playing Ni No Kuni, go into the options menu and turn off the little indicator that tells you where to go next. Turn off the hints, too. And while you’re at it, you might want to have this role-playing game, ported over from Japan, speak to you in its native tongue with English subtitles instead of the soap opera-emotive overdubbing. Ni No Kuni wants to whisk you away into the unfamiliar. You’ll visit a sepia-toned, post-industrial metropolis where everyone wears pig costumes because their leader lost his ability to see beauty. Or, minutes later, a casino run by the undead, deep within a graveyard that is itself deep within a narrow mountain path. It’s a magical game that slowly extends its hand. Take it.

The game first grazes your fingertips like a stranger on a plane about to go down, grabbing across the aisle for any human contact. Oliver, a 13-year-old boy who lives in Motorville (in other words, Anytown, U.S.A.) is joyriding in his friend’s go-kart when it plummets into a stream. His mom rushes to the rescue—he’s all she has, and vice versa—but dies saving him. Oliver cries, gripping a relic of his mother’s life, a hand-stitched doll with a big schnoz.

Ni No Kuni

The first of many surprises slaps you across the face. The doll springs to life, invigorated by Oliver’s seemingly miraculous tears. This is Drippy, a resident of a parallel universe where wizards are real, and Oliver just may be the strongest wizard yet— the “Pure-Hearted One,” capable of restoring peace. Drippy offers Oliver a second chance in this mysterious place. Everyone has a double in his world of Ni No Kuni, Drippy explains, even dear mum—worshipped there as the great sage Alicia. Perhaps if he joins Drippy, he will feel his mother’s embrace again.

The game is gorgeous. Studio Ghibli, notable for anime films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, developed the look of the game—bright at times and brooding at others, with shades of purple and gray lifted from many a Rhode Island School Of Design admissions portfolio. But everything pops. Oliver, Drippy, and the rest of the gang resemble characters from a children’s picture book, sharply drawn, while the lush backgrounds shift and fade like a chameleon. A desert oasis is crowded and dusty; when you end up inside a stadium-sized fairy, the innards look like a nursery mural. The evil villainess who watches Oliver from afar captures the overall visual aesthetic perfectly: She’s drawn with clean lines and pale shades, and the inside of her long cloak contains all the swirling planets of the infinite universe.

Ni No Kuni

Curiosity is a prerequisite. The map sprawls as you scamper along—you’re a speck on a stretch of abandoned railroad tracks or in a ritzy oceanside fishing town. There are glimpses movement in the distance—monsters prone to similar wanderlust, who attack on sight or scamper away in fear. And whether you travel by foot or by sea, Drippy is your constant companion, egging you on in his Viking-like burr and encouraging you to search every nook and cranny for those who need Oliver’s help. It’s not a mandate, though. Drippy knows that ultimately this is Oliver’s decision. You were kind enough to trust the game by locking hands, and Ni No Kuni honors that bond.

This sense of “there are no wrong answers” becomes important when it’s time to navigate the game’s complicated fighting system. Thrown onto the battlefield, Oliver finds himself in command of three “familiars”—former enemies coerced into fighting on your side. There are hundreds of different enemies who can serve as familiars, each with their own strengths. Maybe you’ll recruit floating gear with a gear-face. Or a chicken with a huge mohawk. Or a bushel of bananas with arms, holding two bananas in his hands, like he’s a grocery store gunslinger. Or the sun. Collect them all!

Ni No Kuni

Later, two allies join your quest, and each of them is capable of commanding three familiars of their own. It’s like trying to coach three basketball games at once. You can leave your computer-controlled allies to manage their own teams, or you can micromanage every little decision: Do you burn through lightning spells with your obese pheasant or spank the monsters repeatedly with your monkey (not a euphemism)? Even the downtime matters—familiars travel with you, and you build up their strength with companionship and by feeding them the occasional treat.

It sounds overwhelming, but Ni No Kuni doles out new wrinkles with a deliberate pace. Drippy teaches you how to operate one familiar before giving you two, for instance. Meanwhile, Oliver carries around a mammoth tome called the Wizard’s Companion, which provides spells and background facts about various familiars. Many pages are missing, and your travels dictate how the book gets filled in. You never feel like you’re flailing. Ni No Kuni has your hand the entire time, gently tugging you forward until you’re a veritable champion.

Ni No Kuni

When you’re not laying on the hurt with a robo-rabbit or admiring the immaculate scenery of an autumnal forest, you march around towns, restoring warm feelings to citizens who are “broken-hearted”—those who have had their essence stolen by the evil witch’s rag-doll henchman Shadar. Many of the stories are almost as sad as Oliver’s: One little girl back in Motorville is in pain every time her parents fight. Oliver discovers it’s because her dad’s been corrupted by a nightmarish specter. On his way to getting that precious hug from his mom, Oliver wants to touch others as well—he knows the healing power of human contact. It’s at moments like these that I would glance at the clock and realize that I’d been playing for five hours, or longer. When I wasn’t paying attention, the game inched its hand over my shoulder and wrapped both arms around me. I didn’t want this big banana-hand hug to end.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch
Developers: Level-5, Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: E

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143 Responses to “The Hand That Feeds”

  1. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    *sigh* Another PS3 exclusive?  I would love to get this for my wife (a huge Ghibli fan) if it weren’t for the system we don’t own.

    Turning off the objective markers worked for Dishonored, so thanks to whomever suggested that.  It’s far more fun to figure out where to go on my own.  I assume the same would be the case for this game.

    • Cloks says:

      Technically not a PS3 exclusive, if you’ll allow me to be pedantic. It was originally released as a DS game in Japan (with appropriate accoutrements) and was later ported to the PS3. Given that this version has been translated and the handheld hasn’t it’s likely to be a PS3 exclusive to English-speaking countries.

      • Asinus says:

        You are technically correct– the best kind of correct.

      • Girard says:

        As I understood it, though the two versions were (necessarily, due to the wildly different hardware and interfaces) pretty significantly different games. I don’t know if it’s fair to call this a “port” of the DS version – that feels a bit like arguing that, say, the Gameboy Color and Playstation versions of “Tomb Raider” are essentially the same game.

      • I’m with Girard on this one, they are not exactly the same game. They share characters and a central story (somewhat like The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons) but were treated by Level 5 as two wholly different projects with different quests and plots and such. That’s why the two have different subtitles (the DS game is Ni No Kuni: The Jet Black Mage).

        Its also my understanding that the hardcover wizard’s book that was a bonus for some preorders of the PS3 game was mandatory for playing the DS game, as it contained all the spells needed to be cast on the touchscreen or somesuch, and that the cost of translating and printing a copy of the book for every DS cart was one of several reasons the game was not released outside of Japan. That last part may have just been rampant internet speculation, though.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          Not only does the book contain the spells, it also includes hints and a substitution cipher needed for certain sections of the game (so in a way it’s also an anti-piracy measure, I guess). Of course you can just digitize all of that, but while looking up spells gets old quite fast, I love having a solid feelie that ties into the gameplay.

        • @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus : I guess piracy of DS games is really bad, so that makes sense.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @twitter-493417375:disqus Totally. Then again, that kind of deterrent never worked for me. I can’t be the only here who had binders full of photocopied manuals and code sheets for Amiga games back in 6th grade.

        • @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus : Flashing back to so many stories of people renting Metal Gear Solid and having to run back to the video store to copy the radio frequency from the back of the box. Or people who rented StarTropics and were totally lost without that packed-in note you were supposed to submerge in water (which I never did with my copy because Nintendo Power just printed the code at one point).

        • Citric says:

          The worst part about that MGS case is when you’re really drunk and are constantly searching your inventory for some CD case that you’re sure you missed because you’re drunk.

          A friend and I tried to do MGS while super drunk, we got to Ninja.

      • rvb1023 says:

        I had a roommate play the DS versions, it only covers about half of the PS3 version, which serves as both a remake and sequel. And probably overall a better game.

    • Asinus says:

      You get Tales of Vesperia, so shove it! Though so far this game could end up beating out Vesperia in my book. 

      I’d say that for this game, Valkyria Chronicles, and 3D Dot Game Heroes it would be worth getting a used PS3 (not to mention how well Netflix works on it). I’m sure there are others that are worth playing, too, but these three are the most salient at the moment. 

      • Link The Ecologist says:

         The same three games are tempting me towards a ps3 as well. But first, I need to get a ps2 for Dragon Quest VIII, Ico, and Dark Cloud 2. This will happen someday, but that day might be 2 or 3 years away.

        • Asinus says:

          Watch ebay for a 20gig PS3. They don’t have WiFi (but do have ethernet) but do have Emotion Engine hardware built in, so PS2 compatibility is hardware, not software. They also tend to go for considerably less than their 60gig brethren (same generation but have card readers and wifi). Hard drives are very, very easy to upgrade, too. 

          I’ve been watching for a super cheap 20gig PS3 because of the SACD over HDMI (as LPCM, not DSD, but it would be better on my system than using the analog out from my DVD changer). I’ve been seeing them go for very little money. 

          ETA: Also, check out PCSX2. If your system is beefy enough, you can play PS2 games at HD. I’d think that SD wouldn’t be too terribly hard for recent PCs (though I don’t know. I should test it on my 2nd system). Since PS2 games are just straight DVDs, you can play retail games with or without ripping them (though making ISO images does help the games play a lot faster). FFXII at 1080 is pretty impressive.

        • signsofrain says:

          Dude, do you really have Super Audio CDs that you actually play? I’ve never even SEEN a super audio CD. How many do you have? What’s in your collection? Wouldn’t it be easier to just download FLACs or something?

        • I expect that a copy of “Dark Cloud 2” will cost more than the PS2 hardware.

        • Asinus says:

          FLACs aren’t multi channel. Primarily my SACDs are classical and jazz with a few rock albums in there (the Tommy remix is really good as is The Dark Side of the Moon, though neither are a reproduction of the quadraphonic albums, which would have been interesting). Also, FLACs at SACD quality are huge and a major pain in the ass to get to any other media (I’ve tried building DVD-As, and that is surprisingly hard to make work). 

        • Reuben says:

           Search Ebay for CECHA01 PS3 model. That’s what I bought. It was one of the first few generations of PS3’s that still had the old PS2 GPU inside of them, so they can play PS1 and 2 games perfectly.

      • Girard says:

        3D Dot Game Heroes, Ni No Kuni, Heavy Rain, Journey, Unfinished Swan, Noby Noby Boy, and The Last Guardian (which may just be a mirage) are all on my “I should just buckle and get a PS3 already” list. As are a number of non-exclusives that I haven’t played yet because I don’t have a 360, either (Brutal Legend, Catherine).

        • Asinus says:

          I only played the demo of Heavy Rain, but between this video and the mini game “Press X to Jason,” I did enjoy jokes at its expense. 

        • Girard says:

           Yeah….I don’t actually expect that game to be very good, especially after the shitshow that was Indigo Prophecy, but I’m curious enough to check it out, and certainly would if I had a PS3.

    • ly_yng says:

      Damn these PS exclusives. One day I’ll play Shadow of the Colossus. One day…

    • fieldafar says:

      Agreed on the exclusive stuff. I might as well buy a used PS3 (or wait for the next-gen option if it has backwards compatibility) 

      • Girard says:

        That’s pretty much my plan. I’m probably not going to get any of the new/upcoming systems any time soon, but with prices dropping (inevitably moreso in the future), it seems like a good idea to snag a PS3 and catch up on the ‘sclusies’ I missed.

        Actually, this is probably as good a place as any to ask – have any folks here bought a used console recently? Is there a preferred/safer place to get them, with a decent warranty or anything like that (online, Gamestop, something else)? Or is it not worth the savings considering the crapshoot of buying used, and you should just get a factory-fresh warrantied new system?

        • Cloks says:

          I bought a PS2 semi-recently at Gamestop and if you’re going to buy used, they’re (sadly) the way to go. It’s one of the few places where you can get a warranty on it which I very much recommend for a used piece of hardware. Mine actually broke about a week in but was replaced with no hassle.

        • I got my PS3 at Blockbuster which do a 12 month warranty (assuming they don’t go completely bankrupt, which they may). Paid the equivalent of $160 for an 80Gb model which was a great deal all things considered.

    • Girard says:

      This is certainly another entry on my “some day, PS3, some day” list.

    • I continue to dream of a platform-neutral world, but that seems unlikely. If anything, I suspect that Japanese developers will completely ignore Microsoft’s hardware in the next cycle.

      • Girard says:

        It’s interesting how over here consoles seem to be less and less relevant as PC gaming becomes more popular, and large multi-platform releases include PC, and the major platform split seems to be between PC and mobile rather than console and PC at this point – whereas in Japan, PC Gaming has become the seriously niche (probably part of why the XBox does so poorly there) domain of eroge enthusiasts and “Western game buffs” who play StarCraft or whatever, and consoles are still huge. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially with Valve’s imminent launch of their set-top PC.

        Having recently built a PC that can play most current games, and having a Wii for various first-party Nintendo things, I almost feel like I’m in a platform-neutral world. Certainly moreso than a PC has ever made me feel in the past. But if the country where all the main consoles come from doesn’t really follow that model at all, I imagine they will continue to make consoles, which people will opt to buy for the handful of exclusive titles and their relative ease of use.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           I certainly know this feeling. It seems the PC has become my most-used system for gaming at home, though I’m still an avid handheld gamer away from home. The PS3 is used more as a Blu-ray player than anything. The occasional exclusive is the only reason to break it out.

          It often comes down to this. If a new game comes out, the PC version will likely look better, I can customize my controls and choose a controller, I can mod it, and the online community is likely better if I decide I actually want to play multiplayer for once in my life. And it’s often $10 cheaper.

          That said, Atlus and Nintendo just announced Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem for the WiiU so I suppose I’ll still be breaking out consoles for a while.

        • valondar says:

           As someone who’s never owned a console, all these arguments about different console versions and titles go largely over my head. I’m aware that more often than not if I want to buy a triple AAA game, I’m usually getting something that was designed with consoles in mind.

          This was particularly galling for say Dragon Age II and Skyrim, both of whom were releases in game series that were originally CRPGs, and from two companies that had defined CRPG gaming since the 1990s. I’d given up on the FPS genre I loved as a kid sometime around the time Halo came out, but man, that was betrayal.

          On the plus side, though, PC gaming remains the unimpeachable reserve of the strategy game, which has basically been my favourite genre since Civ 2 and the original Age of Empires (and the Paradox series I’ve loved since schooling days), so I’m pretty okay.

      • Asinus says:

        Game consoles are becoming more and more of a puzzle, especially when it comes to MS vs Sony. The comparisons between ports of the same game often come down to screen grabs of a frame or two and an argument about which one looks better. They’re virtually identical, and the differences are marginal. This isn’t NES vs Master System vs. 7800 or even the early days of hardware 3D accelerators (in the latter, the differences were obvious, but often qualitative– 3Dfx man, mahself). 

        No, I am NOT denying differences in speed or visuals, but since people are fighting about which system is better for playing the exact same game on (instead of arguing over which platform has the best game), we just need to agree that there is far more overlap than areas of separation between the consoles. 

        No, I don’t know what the solution is. No big company is going to go for a unified platform, though that might be a way to go as long as it’s handled better than the 3DO. IBM will probably be the big winner, anyway. 

    • Fluka says:

      Part of me wishes that I could enjoy in the warm, life affirming, beautiful Ghibliness of it all on my lonely lil’ PC.

      The other part of me is grateful that I have an excuse to not add something else to my backlog.

      *Goes back to plummeting to her death in Mirror’s Edge instead.*

      • valondar says:

        It’s weird, I love Ghibli, and yet I can’t remember the last time I ever played a Japanese game. I’m guessing Wario on my GameBoy sometime during Clinton’s presidency. It’s the console exclusivity, I wager.

        • Fluka says:

          Yeah, same here.  It’s funny – I love RPGs, and I’ve been known to enjoy me some anime in my time (*polishes her “Team Sub” medals*).  But JRPGs just…don’t appeal to me.  Maybe it’s something you have to grow up with?  But yeah, my not owning any consoles or portable devices doesn’t exactly give me a chance to find out.

      • Reuben says:

         It’s funny, I got in to JRPG’s back in the SNES days, and then for a long while after that generation, I was console-less and only did PC gaming, arguably during the golden age of JRPG’s (on Ps1 and 2). But my love and nostalgia for them has never died, and now I’m getting back in to some. Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger will forever be in my top 5 games of all time.

      • Chum Joely says:

        Oh yeah, how’s Mirror’s Edge working out for you? Lots of death by plummeting, apparently?

    • Malice Pure says:

      Unless you really really love dancing or shooting, I can’t see a reason to have a 360. J/s

    • Reuben says:

      The only reason I bought a PS3 was for the exclusive franchises. I do everything else on PC. While on an academic level, I find exclusives to be asinine, every system has them and it makes complete sense from a marketing perspective. But if you’re someone with an Xbox (or even a PC) complaining about exclusives, well… pot and kettle and all that.

  2. caspiancomic says:

    My copy is in the mail, thank God, and I really can’t wait. I’ve been drooling over this title for years, and almost can’t believe it’s finally here. I won’t be starting it right away- I’ve got another 1.5 Mass Effects to put away first, and classes are in effect until April, but having this beauty sitting on my shelf unopened for several weeks is going to be damned tempting.

    • Asinus says:

      I’d gotten to the point where I gave up on and eventually forgot about it. When suddenly, I remembered “that Studio Ghibli game” and googled it just before Christmas and saw the release date. I’m glad it hasn’t been disappointing.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Did you ever play the Scribble Kingdom series (localized as Magic Pengel and Graffiti Kingdom)?  Some of the in-game creations are mindblowing, it’s a solid role-playing game (better than this one, I think, but I’d guess that general opinion would be split were they directly compared), and it has some Ghibli input in the 1st game and Mitsuda soundtracking the 2nd game.  I’m not sure how rare they are at this point, but I’d think they’re inexpensive.

  3. rvb1023 says:

    My Wizard’s Edition is coming tomorrow, though my PS3 is still in transit. I’m just happy this game finally came out.

  4. Citric says:

    It’s so relaxing, this game. Gentle music, gorgeous graphics – I find myself exploring nooks and crannies just to see what they look like – and a relative lack of urgency just makes it such a nice world to spend time in.

  5. Asinus says:

    I downloaded it from PSN and have been having a blast with it all weekend. I don’t think that Ollie’s over-arching motivator, the hope to bring back his dead mother, can be over stated. It just adds this thread of melancholy throughout the entire game which is easy to read as a child’s escapist fantasy to deal with the death of a family member. The parallelism of the two worlds is akin to the sort of mental gymnastics we had to do in childhood to bring our fantasies into the real world with us. Sure, this looks like my house, but really it’s my elaborate quarters on an enormous space ship! 

    I have no expectations that it will be “all a dream,” just that the game itself is that escapist fantasy. I was probably around the age Ollie is supposed to be when my maternal grandpa died (did they ever say his age? If they did, I missed it). I had so many dreams that I could bring him back; in one particularly vivid dream, I had a plain-looking but magic cup. First I used the water in it to revive a baby bunny my friend’s cat had killed, and then I decided to use it to bring back my grandpa. I don’t think I ever told anyone about that dream, but it really has stayed with me.

    In Ni No Kuni I see the same sort of dream being played out beautifully. It really has struck a chord with me in that respect. Add to it the amazing animation, story telling, child-like (but not pandering) dialog, and the music (my god, the music), and this is shaping up to be a great gaming experience. It almost makes me wish I had kids to play this game with (it’s like watching a Ghibli film, really, I didn’t think it could actually look as goo as the screen shots made it seem).

    Oh, and if anyone had told me that there was this Monster Rancher-like component to it, I probably would have been less enthusiastic, but I’ll be damned if I’m not proud of my Mite! 

    • jessec829 says:

      You’re so right that this game has the “It was all a dream” quality of Wizard of Oz but grounds it differently. I’m just loving the hell out of this game, and posted to FB earlier today that I almost wish I had kids to play this game with. Solidarity, brother and/or sister!

  6. Celebith says:

    This makes me wish that I had a)a PS3 and b) enough time to make buying this and a PS3 worthwhile.  Maybe it will encourage me to bone up on enough of my Japanese to play the original on the DS at some point.

  7. Mr. Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here. My belated review of the NES launch title,  Wrecking Crew is finally posted. Read all about Mario’s shifting career ambitions at

  8. Enkidum says:

    OK, buying this “for the kids”. It’s gotta happen.

    • Asinus says:

      Within the first hour of starting it, I started texting and trying to get a gamer friend of mine on the phone to demand that he buy this game immediately. He has a 7 and a 3 year old– I appreciate that this game is accessible to children (in my opinion) but as some game play and story elements that work for adults. Even if kids are too young to really enjoy playing it, it’s got to be fun to watch.

      It makes me think of Eternal Sonata for some reason– but Eternal Sonata that hadn’t crawled up its own ass (I really tried to like that game almost solely for its frame story). 

  9. jessec829 says:

    I’ve been playing this game more or less nonstop since Saturday evening, and it’s so goddamned adorable. My first advanced-console RPG was Dragon Quest VIII, and this is super reminiscent of that game, only better. It’s just so cute!

  10. feisto says:

    As somebody who bought the DS Ni no Kuni on release day and ended up hugely disappointed with it, all this praise for the PS3 version makes me really happy. In a way, it sounds like a well-deserved corrective to a game that just didn’t make any sense. They crafted a gorgeous book designed for players to refer to constantly to progress through the game, but released the game for a system that most people play outdoors, on trains, and in other situations where you’d hate to have to juggle a book and a game device at the same time. They hired Ghibli to create some lovely animation that promised a large, fantastic world with lots to explore, then dumped it onto a tiny screen and into a game world that looked blocky and felt constrictive in both size and the way it kept telling you what to do.

    I don’t know if Level 5 realized halfway through development that the DS just wouldn’t do this game justice and that they need to develop a PS3 version as well (they sure didn’t announce a PS3 version when they first announced the game at Tokyo Game Show), but if it’s as much fun as all of you guys are saying, I think I’m going to have to buy it, at least to get the experience I hoped I was going to get two years ago.

    Oh, and hints can be turned off? That seals the deal for me.

  11. Crusty Old Dean says:

    I still can’t decide whether to get this or not!

    I haven’t enjoyed a JRPG since pretty much the nineties yet I keep buying them like an idiot, thinking that the magic from my early teens will reappear. Then I give up after 10-15 hours or so of boredom (most recently with The Last Story).

    But this is so pretty!

    • jessec829 says:

      I found this one to be a slow start, and I was feeling disappointed, and then it got its hooks into me (kind of like the Persona games). So if you do get it, stick with it! 

  12. DrFlimFlam says:

    If the PS3 were cheaper than $270+, I’d consider it. Is it just me, or is the cost of consoles this late in a generation insane? I get that they started out higher, PS3 especially, but come on. I’m just hoping this game is still available in a year, when the system is more reasonable due to the next Xbox and impending PlayStation 4.

    • Girard says:

      Actually, when adjusted for inflation, console prices aren’t as bad as they used to be (or at least aren’t much worse).

      The glut of affordable electronics these days is due to the largesse of multinational electronics companies who are willing to use Chinese sweatshop labor and African slave-mined raw materials, and pass the savings onto us. It truly is a golden age!

      It’s true the PS3 price-drop has held at the over-$250 level for a while now, despite that being higher than, say, the Wii’s launch price. I think the factors contributing to that are its initially very high asking price, its also being a Blu-Ray player, and Sony not charging after the fact for the on-line component (a 4GB XBox is only $200, but after only one year of XBox live gold has ended up costing you $260, and will continue to cost you into the future).

      • DrFlimFlam says:

        If I had zero systems, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I just replaced my 360 for $400 (for the Star Wars Kinect bundle) last November because my ancient one was overheating at the tail end of ME3 matches. I just can’t justify that investment on a system with only a half dozen exclusives of interest.

        I also know that with the next generation pending, it would be foolish to buy in right now if I don’t have to.

      • Asinus says:

        Not a big deal at all, but the Wii launched at 300. I do remember that the PS3 was (and is?) a loss leader; even at $500 they were taking a ~$200 hit on it while Nintendo was making a profit on Wii hardware. 

        @drflimflam:disqus  – You wouldn’t still happen to have your overheating Xbox, would you? I know most people probably aren’t like me and don’t hoard their hardware and electronics, but I’ve been wanting to get hold of a working one (even if it’s over heating) and try doing some crap like mounting the board in an ATX case. 

        • Girard says:

          Do you live in the US? It launched at $250 in my neck of the woods,and that was the SRP at launch, which was part of the reason why it’s the one console I have.

        • Asinus says:

          Wow, I swear to god mine was… oh crap! I remember now– I bought it new from someone who sold it to me for retail (at the time, people were doing crazy markups, so that was very friendly of him), but he also sold me Twilight Princess, so I paid $300 but that was for a sort of bundle. 

  13. Baramos x says:

    Looks amazing, just like Dragon Quest VIII (except even better).

    Only problem is that the battle system doesn’t sound up my alley (I don’t like these games where you collect monsters to do battle for you…even DQ8 had that and I felt it was an unnecessary affectation).

    • Asinus says:

      If I had read about it first, I wouldn’t have been as excited to buy it. It’s not quite like a Pokemon or Monster Rancher game in that the main character can fight. Ollie is a caster and has some pretty powerful spells, he just can’t take a beating. It ends up being a fun mechanic that I have honestly enjoyed. I find myself swapping between the Mite familiar and Ollie quite a bit, especially in longer battles. At a distance, Ollie can do some damage. 

      • Is the game oriented towards having as many familiars on the team as possible, to handle different situations, or is it more oriented towards building up a specific one to super-levels to handle everything?

        • Asinus says:

          I’m not far enough into it to answer that yet. I am a little ADDish, so I’ve been playing it in fairly small chunks to keep myself from getting bored and rushing through things, so I only have 3 familiars right now, and only one of them seems to be worth a damn at the moment. They have celestial signs associated with them (though I believe there are only 4, not the whole zodiac), however, based on how I’ve been building and feeding them, only one is worth while. Even in situations where he shouldn’t be the best, his defense is so high that he takes far less damage than the others. Supposedly, there should be better and worse situations, but since i’m just barely 8 hours in (and just got the “Now the adventure REALLY starts!” talk) I can’t say how well it works. I could easily foresee a situation where juggling familiars will be important. 

          In the boss fights I’ve had so far, I’ve mainly thrown in my Mite, who is kind of a tank/melee familiar, and once he starts to lose health or his stamina starts to wane, I sub in Oliver to cure and throw some fireballs or other offensive spells, then when the Mite’s stamina is back, I sub him back in. It makes sense that there will be some monster at some point that will change its sign and that will need to be countered by switching familiars, but my 2nd and 3rd familiars get wafflestomped. 

  14. Let the record show that Steve Heisler is a member of the Subs camp and is heretofore banished from the Dubs camp.

    –Dispatches from the front lines of the Anime wars–

    • But there could be peace if only the Subs would listen!

    • Asinus says:

      I also am a fan of subs in game, so count me among their ranks! Usually, though, it’s because voices in English are distracting during combat and, when combat happens frequently, in combat and post combat blurbs get on my nerves pretty quickly (Tales of Vesperia being an exception in recent memory). Valkyria Chronicles is a good example of pointless in-combat chatter– there is always radio noise and in English it drove me crazy, but since I can’t understand Japanese, it just becomes more ambient sound.

       However, I can understand enough to know that the translation of Ni No Kuni isn’t literal (I’m pretty sure they even changed someone’s name for no apparent reason). Then again, tone can carry a lot of meaning, too, and it’s possible that the translators got closer to the spirit of what was said, because it doesn’t seem like the English translation chosen fits the cadence of the lines better (e.g. in one scene, Olliver’s mom says, in Japanese, “Thank you, Oliver!” which takes 7 syllables, and the English translation was either “Thanks, Sweetie,” or “Thank you, Sweetie”). I’m not griping or anything, I just find translation choices interesting. This isn’t DBZ or anything– the first time I got one of those DVDs I turned on English subs and the Japanese track (but I didn’t pick the literal subs) and it was amazing how often there was dialog when the Japanese track was silent. The translators added and changed so much that they sometimes really altered characterization for the worse (making it more “kid-friendly,” I suppose). 

      • Chum Joely says:

        It would really be asking a lot to want “literal” translations from Japanese to English anyway (depending on how literally you mean “literal”). The languages and cultures are so different that, unless you already know the whole culture very well, anything approaching a word-for-word translation would be incomprehensible… or just bizarre e.g. I think Japanese speakers address each other by name or by honorific title (“big brother” etc.) way more often than English speakers would do in a similar context, so you can’t translate that literally.

        I think it’s definitely necessary to adapt the language, and even content and tone to a certain extent, for the benefit of foreign viewers or players (I work in video game localization). But the situation you mention for DragonBall Z sounds like overkill, for sure.

        • Asinus says:

          Oh, i didn’t mean LITERAL literal (unfamiliar idioms can lead to some interesting cultural learning sometimes, but I don’t think that’s a game designer’s concern), just knowing what I know of any other language, a word-for-word, 1:1, translation often doesn’t or can’t work (e.g. going from an inflected language to a largely uninflected language often requires restructuring sentences). Just when I can tell what is being said (which isn’t often) and it doesn’t match the subtitles, it makes me uncertain exactly how many liberties the localization process took. 

          It has to be a hard call, of course, when, say, a character’s dialect is an important trait of the character, and finding a suitable way to make that point in another language (in this one, they made Drippy, the thing with the lamp on his nose Welsh, because, IIRC, it was localized in the UK). I don’t believe it’s as simple a thing as I seem to have made it out to be in my last post. There are so many nuances to language and audience considerations that have to be taken into account that I actually feel a little embarrassed that I seem to have taken a “Just do it the best way!” position. 

      • Citric says:

        I love Valkyria Chronicles’ battle chatter. Hector’s cry of “I don’t wanna do anythiiiiing” has become part of my regular speech, even if it was super annoying in game when he’d fail to execute his actions.

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      *plaintive flute melody*

      Dearest Martha-chan, I fear that this will be my last missive to you. We march on the Subs’ stronghold at dawn, as soon as the Commander finishes powering up his super attack. I’ve polished and re-polished my battle robot’s chromium armor in prepartation, yet the glistening sheen of its servo-motors cannot drive the memory of your smile from my mind. How I miss your enormous, milk-white eyes, the way your ten pounds of hair flow in every direction, the way your mouth rapidly changes shape as you whisper your words of love. I even miss the way you occasionally change into a man. If though some deus ex machina I make it home to you once again, I swear we’ll move to someplace beautiful and peaceful, and free of wizards.

      I can hear the electric guitars tuning, and the credits sequence is almost upon is. When it’s over, in two hours at the least, we go to glory. If my hair were not already blindingly white, I am sure my fear would have made it so. As the quartermaster passes out our enchanted swords blessed with the souls of our ancestors, I will be thinking only of you. Farewell, my love. I only hope that we shall meet again, in the non-canon direct-to-video movie.

      Damn these Anime Wars.

      Love, Stanley.

  15. HobbesMkii says:

    Do people not call it RISD (pronounced Riz-DEE) outside of Rhode Island? I’d grown up under the impression it possessed the same cachet MIT has.

    • Chum Joely says:

      That’s how I know it, but then again I was born in Rhode Island (and spent my first 6 months there) while my parents were at Boston University and Brown, respectively. So I might not count as “outside of Rhode Island”.

      I feel like I’ve also heard lots of people use that nickname for it in various things that I’ve read and heard about Talking Heads (best band EVERRRR), several of whom started out as students there.

      • Girard says:

        Liked for liking Talking Heads. Woo woo!

        I just got an email from David Byrne (some mailing list from ordering his & St. Vincent’s album, I guess) that mentioned in passing that he saw a high school production of “Stop Making Sense.” WHICH SOUNDS SO AWESOME.

        I want to become a high school drama instructor, despite hating acting and having no musical talent, just so I can put on a production…

        • Chum Joely says:

          Liked for liking my like! Have you ever seen this hour-long concert they played in Rome? Adrian Belew at his finest. This is right up there with his best performances on “The Name of This Band…”

          The collaboration with St. Vincent is not as great as it could be. I could never get into his “world music” sound as much as the early-eighties TH sound (Fear of Music being the pinnacle). And her freaky guitar sound and vaguely disturbing vocals seem watered down in this context.

          A high-school production of Stop Making Sense sounds crazy. Could it actually be any good?

        • Girard says:

          I have not seen that concert, and will tuck it away in my “to-watch” tabs for later…

          I think the David Byrne / St. Vincent thing couldn’t possibly hold up to the high expectations such a collaboration engendered. It has some good moments, though, and live performances from the collaboration has yielded some interesting takes on both TH and St. Vincent standards, which is cool.

          I think a high school production of Stop Making Sense is the sort of thing that would end up being good in some way regardless of how “good” it was in terms of polish/musicianship. I could imagine it as some kind of weird lost scene from True Stories or something.

    • Asinus says:

      I don’t know about other states, but I don’t hear much about anything in Rhode Island here. This isn’t causally related to that at all, but I was curious so I checked– the largest county in my state is 6x larger than Rhode Island (though it probably has the population of a moderately large apartment building). 

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      I’m neither a Rhode Islander nor a designer of anything, so I didn’t even know if he was referring to a real school.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Yeah, it’s perhaps the country’s most prestigious fine arts school. Ironically for Heisler, while it does have a portfolio as part of its admissions process, the most famous part of its application is for prospective students to draw a drawing that “references” a bicycle using only a graphite pencil.

        • His_Space_Holiness says:

          Yeah, the only fine arts school I’m familiar with is the one that has you copy a cartoon turtle, so I am clearly not the right audience for that reference.

    • Girard says:

      When I was in art school in Pittsburgh, it was always pronounced Rizz-Dee, and held in generally high standing.

    • Girard says:

      I’m not entirely clear what the reference was implying – my read was that the color choices were technically sound, but kind of cliched/amateurish, as you’d expect from a high school artist applying to a competitive art school. But I had to do most of the legwork on that interpretation.

    • GaryX says:

      I went to Pratt, and it was always referred to as Rizdee there as well.

    • Reuben says:

       I’ve been in the DC area all my life, and I only know it as RISDEE

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Everyone: Okay, good. I’m just surprised, because I’ve never seen it rendered in its full non-acronym anywhere. Maybe once in the New York Times.

  16. indy2003 says:

    Excellent review. I really can’t get enough of this one – I’ve played about 19 hours thus far. As others have mentioned, it really is a rather relaxing game which really encourages the player to take things at their own pace (though some of the boss fights can be pretty ferocious if you haven’t devoted enough time to leveling up and collecting a diverse batch of familiars). It’s still too early to say for sure, but this might be the finest JRPG I’ve encountered.

    I will say that I have to respectfully disagree with Steve’s comment on the dubbing – I’ve been playing with the English-language track on (of course, the vast majority of the dialogue is presented via text, anyway) and have found the vocal performances excellent. The actor playing Drippy is nothing short of fantastic.

    Also, while the game is consistently gorgeous, I have to admit that I get really excited whenever the hand-drawn cutscenes turn up – man, I love the fluidity of Studio Ghibli’s animation.

    • SirColemanFrancis says:

      For most movies and such, I tend to prefer subtitles to dubs, but Ghibli films/this game are the exception to that rule. Even if I find the voice acting irritating or overloaded with name actors (which distracts the hell out of me) I find I don’t like having my eye and attention drawn away from the animation to shift to the subs. And in the case of this game in particular, missing the English Drippy performance (what is that, a welsh accent?) would seem a shame.

  17. Chum Joely says:

    Hmm, this would definitely be yet another totally new genre for me– only last year did I finally get into Western RPGs via New Vegas, which I loved, and now the first of 3 Mass Effects– but this review makes it sound like a pretty great place to start.

    Turn-based combat, right? I’m a little bit averse to turn-based combat. Like for example, this probably sounds heretical and/or extreme, but I didn’t even like Final Fantasy VI because of the combat system (mainly). Then again, I stopped playing after like 4 hours, and I’ve “grown” quite a bit as a gamer since then…

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      The PS3 version’s combat is in real-time. There’s a demo on PSN that’s pretty lousy at explaining itself, but you should be able to see if it’s for you or not.

      • DrKumAndGo says:

        It’s real-time? Crap. The promise of turn-based combat was the only thing that was stopping me from running out and dropping $60 on this. There goes my “never spend more than $20 on a game” rule …

      • Chum Joely says:

        OK, thanks. A demo is about all the time I can devote to this game right now anyway, so thanks for the tip.

      • The demo reminded me a lot of the ATB system in most Final Fantasy games, except confusing as hell.

        • I’m not sure I agree, based on the demo, it seems exactly like the ATB system but with LESS options.  I suppose having to worry about navigating around the battlefield is an added wrinkle, but after a a couple of months of Dark Souls, endlessly circling giant enemies clockwise is second nature to me.

        • Crusty Old Dean says:

          The battle system is what’s still keeping me from placing an order right this minute… I like battle systems to be either all action-y or all menu-based, not some kind of hybrid.

      • Reuben says:

         The PSN demo is atrocious. It nearly put me off the game entirely. I think I’m a fan of turn based when it comes to the JRPG battle format.

      • Chum Joely says:

        Just got and played through the demo. I’m pretty surprised at how much I liked it. The hybrid combat system works for me, it’s sorta turn-based but mostly real-time (so it seems to me as a non-JRPGer). I’ll still have to borrow this from a friend or something and get into it for a while before I consider actually buying it, but it was fun. The fights are kind of ridiculously frequent, though, at least in the demo.

        You’re right, the  explanation of what’s going on is pretty crappy (they explain exactly one move: “Defend”), but I can see how it would be a pain to try and cram tutorials in for that whole complex menu system in a demo version that is strictly limited to 25 minutes per session (cutscenes included! but you can skip them). Once I found the “Spells” and especially the “Provisions” menu, I was good to go.

  18. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    It absolutely kills me to say this, but I don’t think I’ll be buying this.  This is one of a handful of games I’ve been actively following and excited for in I don’t know how long, but the more I discover about the actual game play, the more I realize that honestly, I probably wouldn’t be able to give it the attention it deserves.
       I am sadly at a place in my life where I can’t really indulge in long, grind-intensive RPG’s with fussy battle systems and long dungeons with a dearth of save points.
       And it kills me, because I haven’t seen a single shot from this game where I haven’t been completely enamored of every single visual element.
       It’s tough as games get more sophisticated that what you respond to in art style and what you respond to in game play can go down increasingly divergent paths.
       Oh well. Maybe after my kid is in college I’ll find a copy along with an old PS3 at a garage sale for the low price of forty neo-pesos and can finally give it the attention it deserves.
       I guess in the meantime I’ll just watch posted game play videos on Youtube.

    • Fluka says:

      Part of me just wishes this were a Ghibli movie without all the JRPG nonsense thrown in.

      • indy2003 says:

        I will admit that this is the first game I’ve played where I’ve thought to myself, “You know what would be cool? Some sort of tie-in movie.”

      • Girard says:

        I agree. Though I’m happy to hear that the narrative is somewhat sensitive and melancholic, and seemingly more beholden to the Ghibli pedigree than the typical JRPG pedigree, which makes me somewhat interested.

        I’m very curious how they’ll reconcile the Ghibli penchant for no clear big, bad guys with the JRPG tendency to have a giant, monstrous metaphysical super-evil (in three stages) as the final boss.

    • Pandas_please says:

       I hate to say it but there are good reasons not to like the battle system. I’ve mostly enjoyed the game, but it can get kind of tedious especially combined with what I find to be the two of the main flaws of the game, the quickly respawning enemies in dungeons and the near impossibility of avoiding them. Honestly it’s only a small step above random battles, you will be fighting a lot.

      • Is there more than like 3 victory cries in the game?  In the demo after 10 fights I was already getting fed up.

        • Pandas_please says:

           Off the top of my head I’m not sure how many there are but the battle quotes do get very repetitive. That said I still recommend the game, it’s absolutely gorgeous and touching in its own way.

      • indy2003 says:

        The dungeon respawning does get pretty obnoxious after a while. I’ll finish some nasty set of beasts off, walk ten feet to the right to check out a treasure chest and then turn around to discover that those same beasts are eager for another round of combat. It’s the one thing which discourages me from every nook and cranny of the dungeons (the wilderness is a different story, as it’s generally much easier to avoid fights out there).

        • Pandas_please says:

           I really don’t get why they went in that direction, it basically punishes you for exploring, which is one of the main strengths of the game. Still fun, but an odd choice.

    • This comment hits me right in the gut.  I grew up in the golden age spanning Final Fantasy VII to Final Fantasy X, and I dipped 70 plus hours into each one of them because I was a youngin’ with too much free time, hopped up on Zesta crackers and Juicy-Juice. I know now that I can never go back and play any of those games (or any modern ones like them) because I just don’t have the free time I did when I was young.

      It’s like they paved over the sandlot but the sandlot is actually an obtuse japanese video game genre.  That metaphor sounded good before I typed it.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Yeah, I haven’t outgrown JRPG’s in any existential, maturity style way, just straight-up in the number of hours I have in a day style way.

        • Asinus says:

          The feature is Save-almost-anywhere. You can save anywhere in towns (or anywhere town-like) and on the worldmap. Only dungeons have save points, but I’ve never spent much time in a dungeon without coming across a save point. 

    • jessec829 says:

      This might be heretical, but you can put the game on easy mode (described as the mode for people who just want to get into the story). 

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Thanks for the tip.  I’m no gaming zealot, so I don’t find that the least heretical.
           I’m more one of the gaming peasants who mandates the cathedral use an incense censor during service so I don’t stink up the place.

      • ToddG says:

        I made this switch almost instantly.  This battle system is just not for me, and I would like to spend the least amount of time possible engaged in it.  Also, I don’t consider it heretical here, since in grindy games like this, all you’re really doing is making the game shorter rather than easier.

    • hcduvall says:

      So I’m not super far in it yet, but I’ve played one other Level 5 game (Jeanne D’Arc on the PSP), and for what it’s worth, I haven’t found either game grind oriented. I think if you travel from one place to another I generally feel like you’ll be appropriately leveled for whatever’s ahead–much more so than other JRPGs. Like I said, still really early for me, so I’m in just the second main area, and I had a bit of trouble there, but if I had followed the game’s advice to move ahead with  the story–I wouldn’t have. Plus, I think maybe considering the younger audience this game is built for, it might not be as grindy as your typical game (which I would consider a good thing too).

    • Reuben says:

       I know this feeling all too well. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

  19. I am going to buy the shit out of this game.

  20. Dante Kleinberg says:

    I’ve never played a JRPG before. I was turned off from the genre when I watched a friend playing Final Fantasy something for PS2 (maybe 13 years ago?) with summons animations that seemed to last minutes. Also, just generally, I don’t have a lot of patience, and so long, slow games are hard for me (though I love Oblivion and Skyrim, which I would call long, fast games).

    But anyway… it’s January, and I have a Gamefly account, so I’m about 3 hrs 45 mins into Ni No Kuni. So far I like it, though I’m afraid the combat will wear me down before I get to the end. I love how bright and colorful it is, when so many games are way too dark. I think my favorite thing is that the side quests give you stamps on a little card, and when the card is full you get a free item. I don’t know why but that just DELIGHTS me and I want to get more and more stamps forever.

    If even I like it, people who like RPGs will probably REALLY like it.

    But no way am I turning off the quest indicators. My patience level would run out real fast if I had to wander around lost for too long, especially with constant little beastie-battles to contend with. I hate when I defeat a monster, walk down a short hallway, see there’s nothing there, turn around, and there’s another monster waiting for me where I just was.

    • Reuben says:

       I love JRPG’s (at least, the golden-age and 16bit era ones), but I agree with the summons animations bit. It felt like with every new generation, they made the animations for spells and summons and battle-intros even longer, like “hey, look at all these graphics, people! will you look at them?” It’s cool the first time but when you have to go through them multiple times a battle it gets really fucking obnoxious. If a game has an option of making a character in to a really powerful physical fighter, then I always go that route so I can just use them instead of relying on magic that increases battle time by 10.

  21. Citric says:

    Question: Rashaad and his daughter. Genetically, how?

  22. For anyone who is in to JRPGs get this now. For those like myself who used to play JRPGs and this is the first one you’ve played in ages, get it but note that the conventions of the genre are still there. Looks like there will be a fair amount of grinding, overwhelming preciousness and repeated character models (for example the four main stores will probably look the same, and have the same characters). These expected issues out of the way, i’m enjoying the hell out of it.

    Last game i game close to playing through was Dark Souls and I’ve been without a game for just over a year and this thing is the perfect medicine. It’s beautiful, the battle system looks robust and the story, well it is unfolding similar to others in the genre. I really missed the overworld in my RPGs and this has one and it seems it’s pretty large. I’m about eight hours through and at the very boss section 2 of the demo had (some red demon guy atop a volcano). Really good stuff thus far and i project it will get better – even if it is unrelentingly precious. How dare they focus on helping people and pronouncing Shader like New Orleans Drag Queen.

    • Gah… I was resisting buying this before a big price drop, but now YOU’VE STOLEN MY GAMERS IDENTITY by saying you’re coming off Dark Souls and haven’t played JRPGs in years and still love it…

      (do you also recommend turning off hints/map indicators?)

  23. Reuben says:

    I really want to play this game, as I am extremely fond of older JRPG’s and Studio Ghibli. However, after reading some reviews, a couple of things are holding me back:

    1. It’s apparently a grind fest. Like you have to pour countless hours in to grinding to proceed anywhere, and frankly, I just don’t have the time for that.

    2. The battle system seems fairly complex, and I’m easily bewildered by stuff like that. The old JRPG’s (mostly Final Fantasy series) that I’m fond of all had pretty simple battle mechanics. As time went on, JRPG’s started adding in stuff that I didn’t care for, such as quick-time combo moves and overly intricate management systems for special powers. From what I’ve read, this seems like it might fall in to the latter category, so I’m kind of scared.

    • Asinus says:

      So far, I haven’t suffered much grinding (though who’s to say what the future holds?) and have been largely over powered for any event. One boss battle seemed to be a sudden ramp-up in difficulty, but that only took me 3 tries. 

      I think that there are some quick-time things you can do (like countering, that almost seems luck-based, though), but mostly, the battle system has been fairly simple. The ONLY thing I don’t like, is that when you select something other than “attack,” after that action is over, the selector defaults back to “attack.” I missed that quirk in the easy scrub battles, but in that boss battle, I ended up sending Oliver into Melee combat by trying to rapidly cast a spell (usually to heal) immediately after another spell. I’d be taping X because “Spell” was still selected, but as soon as the timer allowed a new action, it was “attack.” It’s not a game-ruining problem. 

      There also don’t seem to be any counter-intuitive mechanics so far or at least no mechanics that seem to be thrown in just to make things difficult. 

      • Reuben says:

         Are you sure there’s no setting for something like Menu Position? I remember every JRPG back in the day had a setting like that which toggled between Default and Remember, so you could either have the menu reset after every action, or have the thing you just used be auto selected

  24. ajmrowland . says:

    While the English dub isn’t great, I didn’t think of it as soap opera-ish. No more than for ghibli’s movies anyway