Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered Review — As Bewitching As Ever
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered brings a classic to the current-gen. But how does this enhanced version stack up?
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a JRPG originally developed by Level-5 and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It was released on PS3 back in 2011 in Japan and then for the rest of the world in early 2013.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered, developed by QLoc for PS4 and PC, is a proper graphical facelift of the original title. PS4 players enjoy the game at 1080p resolution and with a super-smooth frame rate of 60FPS. PS4 Pro users, as well as PC players, can also opt for a 4K resolution at 30FPS or 1440p at 60fps. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch version is a traditional port that runs at 720p resolution and 30FPS docked.
The plot follows a young boy named Oliver whose mother passes away at the start of the game, after rescuing him from a mysterious accident. He soon meets a fairy named Drippy who tells him about the evil that plagues another world and that he is the “pure-hearted one,” the one who can end the evil wizard Shadar’s reign. With the hope that by doing so and freeing the Great Sage Alicia — his mother’s soulmate — he can revive his mother from the dead.
And that’s where Ni no Kuni really kicks off.
The plot is more or less straightforward. It doesn’t bog itself down with meandering plot twists or spend too much time navel-gazing. Which means that there’s more time devoted to building the characters, world, lore, and overall atmosphere. This gradual building is what turns what would otherwise be an ordinary story into a charming and engaging tale of magic, heroics, bravery, and a boy who just wants his family back.
Supporting the plot is the equally alluring art design. The cel-shaded graphics manage the arduous task of mimicking beautiful painted artwork. The visuals come straight out of a Miyazaki film, as all the designs and animations come from the world-famous Studio Ghibli, which means lush greenery and an incredible amount of detail bursting in each frame.
Dungeons are no exception and are teeming with life and activity in a way that few JRPGs can match. And enhancing things further are the animated cutscenes also done by Studio Ghibli, adding another level of whimsy, charm, and dimension to the story-telling.
What’s more is that the overworld map is literally a painting of the current area, lending even more of a storybook feel to the world of Ni no Kuni as you traverse the various landscapes. It’s a lovely touch that adds even more charm to a game already filled to the brim with it, not to mention how well it functions as a detailed and practical map.
The character models, while simple and slightly dated in their animations at this point, are expressive and blend in well with the setting’s overall aesthetic. But what truly shine are the creature designs. They’re whimsical and unique and give the setting that extra boost of charm, finishing the job of fully immersing you in the storybook-like fantasy world.
Coming from the original PS3 version, Ni no Kuni Remastered’s resolution and textures in both backgrounds and character models have been greatly improved. These upgrades have the added bonus of making the already gorgeous visuals even more striking. And as mentioned before, it’s nice to see that PS4 Pro owners have the option to enhance their visuals and/or frame rates even more, depending on the kind of experience you want.
Gameplay also follows the story’s rule of staying simple, allowing for a more organic lead into depth and strategy. That depth is most realized during the boss battles throughout Ni no Kuni.
When Oliver first picks up his wand –er, stick— and takes to battle in the otherworld, he starts off with the basic commands of Attack, Defend, and Provisions. The gameplay is decidedly turn-based but with an action flare as you can directly control the movements of Oliver, using that to dodge simple close-range attacks. And while long-ranged and special attacks are not avoidable, you can time the Defend command to greatly reduce damage.
Oliver, later on, acquires the ally-ship of creatures known as Familiars. They can be summoned in place of Oliver at the start off and during battle. They have their own special abilities, stats, and attacks, and are useful in expanding Oliver’s offensive and defensive capabilities. However, they cannot be used as damage soaking shields since the Familiars and Oliver share the same HP, so caution and regular healing are necessary.
Each familiar also has a stamina bar, which denotes how long they can be summoned before you must recall them and let their stamina recharge. Ignoring this means they’ll be forcibly pulled out of battle and you have to wait a set period of time before re-summoning, putting a damper on your strategic options.
As you progress in Ni no Kuni, you’ll also gain other human ally characters to fight alongside you. They’re AI controlled with their actions guided by general commands (such as “Don’t Use Abilities” or “Do What You Like”) and can command up to three Familiars each just as Oliver can. This means that in total you can have up to 12 party members at once during battle. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Well, it actually works incredibly well.
Battles — especially high-stakes boss battles — can become a cacophony of attacks. Familiar switching, frantic movements, dodging, and magic. But the beauty of this chaos is when you master your battle calm, memorize each ally’s abilities, learn about the more subtle mechanics that can have a huge impact on strategy, and slowly learn how to best use your ally’s specialties on the fly.
For instance, an early boss uses a move that causes Stun. But a recently obtained Familiar is immune to the status effect so you need to quickly switch to it as the foe charges up the attack. This also has to be balanced with the use of Defend when it charges its powerful magic attack, which requires another switch as that same Familiar cannot defend against attacks. And at this point, only Oliver can use healing and offensive magic, so fast switching is vital to keep the party’s shared HP healthy.
What could easily have been a hot, sloppy mess of poorly realized mechanics that serve to be nothing more than an overblown headache instead becomes a tense and exhilarating battle system that rewards both careful planning and lighting fast reactions. Although many normal battles are easy to overcome with a solid party makeup, the boss battles showcase the true potential of the battle system to excellent effect.
Ni no Kuni also has an alchemy system that allows you to whip up tasty foods and tonics to heal Oliver’s HP and MP, as well as create sweet treats for your Familiars. While the human food and medicine are straightforward in their uses, the sweets serve a very different purpose. They boost the stats of Familiars, with the amount it boosts by related to how much that Familiar type favors that kind of sweet. It’s a basic system that offers a wide range of benefits without requiring the player to pour hours into learning an intricate creation tree.
Tying both gameplay and visuals together is the exceptional musical score composed by the legendary Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic. The music, for moments like the post-battle menu screen, are imbued with a level of poise and polish unlike most other JRPGs, and the battle score, overworld map theme, town themes, and all the events in between possess are grand in scale. It’s the kind of emotionally lush, elegant, and gorgeous arrangements that stay with you long after the credits roll.
However, as many praises as I sing about Ni no Kuni, there are a few downsides that can put a damper on the title. One such complaint deals with the matter of gameplay itself. A major complaint which I found is that normal battles do not offer much of a challenge once you adjust to the new foes in each area. What makes this stick out is how grind-heavy Ni no Kuni can often be.
Normally I absolutely love grinding — it’s an excellent way for me to relax as well as properly get acquainted with a JRPGs’s combat system. But this title can truly test your patience in terms of how much grinding is needed between each boss encounter, not just for Oliver, but for every Familiar.
Said grinding is often necessary due to the unexpected difficulty spikes that pepper the game at seemingly random intervals. Suddenly getting wiped out by a boss after coasting through encounters in an entire dungeon is jarring and can put a damper on an otherwise good time.
All this talk really just boils down to one important question: is it worth it to buy this version of the title? And the answer isn’t a very simple one.
Ni no Kuni Remastered only really offers a bump up in graphics, which makes it difficult to justify the price tag. Now if you don’t own a copy of the PS3 version, then this is the perfect, definitive version of the game. But if you happen to own a copy and still have your PS3 around, the few upgrades and no additional content in this version makes a hard case to argue in favor of buying. Unless textures and resolution are wanted by you, dusting off that PS3 and pulling out that original version is a perfectly viable option.
Despite all of this, I have a difficult time not recommending Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered as a whole. The visuals do improve on the experience as they enhance them to a level that better matches other aspects of the game. And I believe the title does stands on its own merits without even regarding the enhancements in this version.
For first time buyers, this game is absolutely worth a purchase, and this is the best way to play it by far. If you’re already a big fan, you arguably could still justify the re-purchase if you want to experience the magic of Ni no Kuni again for current-gen.