Pros: Fantastic cast of characters, Addictive Monster collecting, Gripping Endgame, Amazing music
Cons: Falls into too many RPG cliches early on, Some bosses are unbalanced, Story takes a while to get in gear.
The story starts off in Motorville with young Oliver and his best friend Phil. Phil has designed a new Prototype car. Through a series of events that I won't spoil Oliver is tasked by the Lord of Fairies, Drippy, to go to his world to find what Oliver is looking for and defeat the evil Shadar. During this Oliver discovers that he is a Wizard and by using his new found spell book and wand he crafts a door to another world.
Upon arriving in Drippy's homeland, Oliver begins his mission. After a short introductory quest through a forest and meeting JRPG cliche #107 The talking tree (Not even 15 minutes into the real adventure and we already have one of the biggest RPG cliches...) Anyway, after doing what he says and getting your first spells you are introduced to what I consider the best part of the game, the side quests. Why mention the side quests in the story section? Because they are the story. Many characters in the game are brokenhearted, having a piece of their heart stolen by the main villain Shadar. Oliver is tasked with finding people with these pieces to spare (such as Enthusiasm, Love, Courage...) and using them to restore the person's heart. This system ties into the story nicely with almost every major character having a broken heart in need of mending.
This also links into Oliver's World as every character has a counterpart and helping one can affect the other. This leads to much world hopping throughout the tale. To keep players interested in completing the side quests the game uses a Merit Stamp system that rewards you for completing quests, restoring pieces of heart and doing bounty hunts. Indeed, helping the inhabitants of both worlds will resonate with you more so than the main plot, which is very sparse and cliche filled until the late hours of the adventure. You come to truly care about these people, and none of them are a throw away one off, you see how you have changed their lives as the story goes on and they remain active players in shaping the story right up until the end.
Honestly, you often forget that your true quest is to stop Shadar, he rarely shows himself to Oliver directly and most of the story development is handled with a cutaway to the fortress of evil. If it wasn't for Drippy mentioning him so often I probably would have forgotten about him until I was on my way to his stronghold. At least at that point the story kicks into full gear and keeps going until the end and finally sheds many of the cliches that the story clung to up until this point.
Post Game *Minor spoilers*
Normally I wouldn't comment on the post game directly and I would just file it under extras, but in the case of Ni No Kuni, it is all story related. The DS original ended with the defeat of Shadar, but the PS3 versions adds an Epilogue that features the White Witch and details a lot of the back story to the world. It is a great addition to the game adding a few more hours of play time and the cast of supporting characters get even more time to shine. Even the secret boss of the game, which takes a lot of work to even unlock is related to the Lore of this universe and adds to the story, it is some of the best post game content I have played in a JRPG. Ni No Kuni just keeps giving you reasons to keep on playing.
Welcome to Pokemon... Kinda. Combat is carried out in real time using a fairly basic menu system for selecting basic attacks, defense, spells or abilities. The player can either take direct control of any of the main characters or summon their Familiars. These creatures are the monsters you fight through the adventure, any normal enemy can be tamed and added to your team, and yes, you can tame a Totoro. Familiars can even evolve into more powerful forms after gaining enough levels. (great gameplay excuse for using reskinned enemies later in the game!) In combat, a familiar's HP and MP are directly linked to the summoner, leading to some unique management of your party. Exploration is just like any old school RPG, complete with an overworld. Encounters are carried out by running into monsters roaming the field, no random encounters here. Most puzzles are solved using spells you obtain through the story, such as using the bridge spell to cross gaps, spring lock to open chests and even a spell to talk to animals. Rarely is a spell used only once.
Simply beautiful in motion, easily the best use of Cell Shading in video games. (Sorry Wind Waker!) Never before have I seen a Video game that could be mistaken for an animated movie quite like this. Even the native resolution of 720p and 30fps does little to keep the art style from shining through. Some of the environments feel like they were ripped straight out of your favorite Ghibli movie. I could gush over the presentation for paragraphs, this is a showpiece game if there ever was one on the PS3.
Joe Hisaishi and Rei Kondoh deliver a sweeping score fit for a feature Ghibli movie, this soundtrack does not disappoint. The English voice cast delivers (And is decidedly British as is the translation, which helps lend some more charm to many of the characters) The Western release also includes the original Japanese voice cast offering added value for those who want to experience the story as originally told. I just wish more of the dialog was voiced. Again, I could write paragraphs on this soundtrack and the voice acting, it is outstanding.
It is easy to find fault with the core story as it borrows so many cliches from the grand list, but I have trouble finding fault with this because it really comes down to how the story was told. This game is a great case for the saying "It is about the Journey, not the destination" Ni No Kuni is so full of charm throughout that the faults just melt away, never before have I gotten so attached to a group of NPCs. This game was well worth the wait and I highly recommend it for anyone who was a fan of the old SNES and PS1 RPGs.
Ghibli Shaded Native 720p at 30fps
Disc Install 3847MB
Load Times are short, averaging less than 5 seconds.
I played the game through to completion of the main story in 50 hours on a Sharp 70LE732 using stock speakers.