Ni No Kuni: The Menace of the White Witch - Review

Author: Mattia "Zave" Ravanelli
Date: 2021-01-26 12:07:28
Thirty-eight years, that's how long it took "Smile", Brian Wilson's disco-chimera, to reach the shops. The work, which began in 1966, when Wilson was still the leader of the Beach Boys, literally accompanied Brian to madness, dragging him into a vortex that first sucked and disintegrated the group, then forced the author to disappear from the scene for decades. Only in 2004, "Smile" found a definitive form, reaching the shops of a world that, in the meantime, had profoundly changed. What was Brian Wilson looking for when, after filling his living room with sand to have continuous contact with his true muse, the beach, he sat in front of the piano for the first time in 1966? He was looking for the perfect pop song, the perfect record, the one that would allow his Beach Boys to deliver a lethal blow to the opponents of the time, the Beatles.

There is a belief that it is a historical misunderstanding, when it comes to pop, of everything elementary, shared, known, theoretically easy to digest: that it is easy. Ni No Kuni wants to be the Japanese pop role-playing game par excellence, the one that is good for any season, capable of addressing any audience, almost the archetype of its genre. By choosing a similar path, Level 5 (assisted by the Studio Ghibli of His Holiness Hiayo Miyazaki) did not make the task easier, as you may understandably suppose. Of course, experimenting is complicated, breaking new ground means opening the door to potential and sensational failures, but following the main road is no less dangerous. Because if on the one hand, when you try to do something different at all costs, it is easier to communicate the unique characteristics of your project to the public, the opposite path instead puts you in front of a continuous comparison. With all those who have preceded you, with the accusations of banality and old age, with the possible boredom and the distracted disinterest of those who "no, thanks, I've already played this".

The taste and sensitivity of Studio Ghibli pervade every moment of Ni No Kuni's play.

And that's right, you've already played Ni No Kuni. You probably did it years and years ago, when the Japanese RPG genre saw its first dawn and knew the joys of childhood, when it colonized its country with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest hits, gradually conquering the west of the 16 bit, reaching its peak with the media and public explosion that accompanied the descent of Final Fantasy VI and VII in this part of the world. This is not to say that Ni No Kuni can't have anything new to say or that, more simply, it's not worth playing. When I say that Ni No Kuni is "pop" and refers to the most classic tradition of the genre, I mean his themes, his style, his way of presenting himself and his narration, which includes the characterization of his characters.

The work done by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli has worked: the partnership has not only led to an amazing technical realization and an artistic direction that immediately place Ni No Kuni as one of the most deserving titles ever to appear on PlayStation 3 (and, in general, in this generation), no ... he also contributed to the creation of an adventure that is typically Studio Ghibli, without wanting to remove a nail of the merits that must be ascribed to Level 5. Oliver, the protagonist, is not a teenager with crowds and rudeness ready to gush from every pore. He is not a mighty fallen warrior. He does not have a weird clothing and the promise of eternal love already given to him by the blonde princess of the case. Oliver is the basis of everything, antiquity: a kind, well-educated, pure-hearted boy, determined to embark on a fantastic journey (in the literal sense of the term) not so much to save another world, which is the very meaning of title of the game, how much more to have the chance to hug his mother, taken away from him by a stupid accident. To do so, he will have to explore the four corners of this other world, between green plains, bubbling volcanoes, cursed forests, deserts capable of making you dry like a twig in the middle of the highway during the August exodus and rugged snowy peaks. Everything already seen, right? True. But Ni No Kuni is thought, packaged, embellished and enriched in a delicious way.

Arsuino, Oliver and Ester: they are certainly a trio, but alert and full of panache?

After so much looking for something new and different, who can say with certainty that it is not so exciting to go home? Going back to an RPG with ways of doing and presenting oneself reminiscent of the old school, yet so capable of assembling game mechanics that, without ever revolutionizing, manage to be said to be modern and profound? The combat system draws heavily from the previous works of Level 5, but honors the insights of the Tales Of saga and makes a great bow to the idea first and foremost had by Game Freak with his Pokémon. It makes no sense to repeat it now because it turns out well done, the invitation is to read the full-bodied study published a few days ago.

What amazes most about Ni No Kuni, however, is the disproportionate amount of care and true love that the development team has infused into the project. There is no careless screen, a “pulled away” menu, a stupid enemy with no personality or a place that, while retracing classic themes, does not turn out to be the best interpretation of the same, ancient, canvas. Because the difficulty, when you want to be pop and you want to be great, is having to prove that you can do what so many have already done. But better. And although it makes no sense to try to define Ni No Kuni as the best RPG ever (I don't even enter the discourse), it certainly can be said to be an interpretation of great depth, strength, evocative power and amused lightness. His world, as mentioned, does not fear comparisons, although it never bothered to upset the habits. Also in this case I invite you to retrieve the article dedicated to the style and mechanics connected to the world of Ni No Kuni.

Dubbing is only available in English and Japanese, no Italian.

Level 5 has moreover prepared a journey as long as it is exciting, capable of never lowering its pace beyond the limit threshold, thanks to the curiosity instilled by the artistic realization (there is always the stimulus to want to discover the city or the next setting) but also to the boundless army of familiars. To capture, feed, evolve, study to decide which one best suits your style of play ... or even just manages to be more likeable. Dozens of hours (around 40) await you to complete the main story, but if you decide to explore all the possibilities granted by the family-catcher career or by the many secondary missions, you risk doubling the figure without major problems. Even in the case of side missions, Level 5 has done a good job, avoiding the feeling that they have been inserted to make volume: while it is true that in part they prove to be overly mechanical and predictable, it is also true that they can lead to Oliver and his group real advantages in the actual game, thanks to the prizes (which go well beyond a handful of coins or some provisions).

As anticipated yesterday in the article dedicated to some “lateral” aspects of Ni No Kuni, it is the Abbecedabra that gives all the measure of the work assembled by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli. A virtual tome that testifies without the possibility of denying how much and what kind of passion the game is imbued with. A real love for one's work, aimed at offering the best “traditional” RPG possible. Which will be little, but instead it is very much. So much so that you can turn a blind eye to some problems, such as a defensive phase that sometimes appears not entirely balanced and a little confused or to the artificial intelligence of your teammates that alternates great performances with some (occasional) moments of impasse difficult to recover. Or a system of spells, out of combat, which at least in the main story appears too guided and automated (in front of a bridge destroyed by time, the magic "Komenuovo" is used, when the bridge is missing one relies on "Magiponte", and away of this step).

Lucciconio and its Roman dialect: an understandable but questionable choice.

The last paragraph could not fail to be dedicated to the Italian re-adaptation of the game, which appears to be influenced by the same care originally placed by the Japanese development team. The names of the cities (Muccakesh, Gatmandù, Piggsbruck ...) are fun and cunning, as well as those of the many familiars, which you can then rename according to your preferences. The language is easy but never scruffy, so much so that the entire translation would be rewarded with a furious series of pats on the back ... if it weren't for that problem. The one that many fans who played the Ni No Kuni demo are already aware of: one of the main characters, Lucciconio, speaks in Roman dialect. As well as all the fairies (genre to which Lucciconio belongs) found in the game. It is a delicate choice, which certainly follows in the footsteps of the original work, in which the character was characterized by a Japanese dialect, and of the English version. It is up to you to decide whether a world of pure fantasy, with such a distinctly Japanese matrix, can be scarred by a series of (well-kept) dialogues at the base of: "daje!" and “show us hers!”. My opinion is that I thank Level 5 and Namco Bandai, because bringing my mind back to the romanesco of Final Fantasy IX they rejuvenated me for a few years. No, my real opinion is that the gap between the dialect of Rome and the world of Studio Ghibli is always perceptible and therefore the choice becomes highly questionable. But it is equally true that, during all the hours of play, I got used to it quickly and without particular effort, not feeling any real weight or discomfort. But be careful: at the beginning of the game you can choose whether to use Italian or English for the texts. The dubbing, on the other hand, is present only in Japanese and, again, English.

Mattia Ravanelli , Editor of IGN, wrote this review listening to the Beach Boys. After he went back to playing Ni No Kuni, he could continue to tell you about it through his Twitter account.