Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Switch)

A gem from the Japanese Disney.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 09/19/2019 18:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Beautiful visuals and sounds; engrossing gameplay; lengthy, powerful story
Poison Mushroom for...
A direct port of a 2011 game, with no new content

Many years ago, I sat down on a lazy Saturday afternoon and turned on Cartoon Network, which was just starting to show a trippy little Japanese film called Spirited Away, produced by a company named Studio GhibliI figured I’d watch it for maybe 10 minutes– I ended up watching the whole thing. It was an incredible feat of cinema, deserving of the Oscar it won for Best Animated FeatureSeveral years later, the film studio that created Spirited Away was enlisted to help developer Level-5 craft, of all things, a video game, even going so far as to bring in the composer of that film to work on the game’s soundtrack. The result was Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which released for PlayStation 3 in Japan in 2011, and later in the United States in 2013. Now that gem is getting a re-release, as a port on Switch and a full remaster on PlayStation 4 and PC.  (The Switch version runs at 720p at 30 frames per second, while the remaster versions run 1080p at 60 fps or 4K at 30 fps.) All versions retail for $49.99 at launch.

Ni no Kuni is, in many respects, a classic JRPG experience. You have a young protagonist, an epic journey, turn-based combat, experience points and leveling up, equipment, items, spells, dungeons, and, of course, a plot twist. Players assume the role of Oliver, a young boy from the fictional city of Motortown, who finds himself entering an alternate world of high fantasy in the hopes of saving something dear to him. It’s a charming narrative from start to finish. It probably goes without saying that the production values are stellar. The game uses both animated cutscenes and scenes using the in-game engine, and the animated cutscenes are gorgeous, hand-drawn affairs straight out of the Studio Ghibli playbook. Even the scenes that use the in-game engine, though, are pretty, and show an impeccable attention to art style that you don’t often see in video games. These people are artists, and it shows.

The sound is just as good. Composer Joe Hisaishi, known for a number of Ghibli films, brings a golden touch to a soundtrack that is grand, timeless, and enchanting. You can tell just from the opening menu’s theme that this game is going to be good, and it never lets up. The voice acting is also good, with a range of British voice actors who do their job to great effect.  

In terms of combat, Oliver is a mage who can enter the fray personally, but he also has the ability to collect and use “familiars,” animal-like beings that give the game a bit of a Pokémon vibe. These familiars can be augmented in a number of ways, including through feedings. Oliver and his familiars are joined by others throughout a quest that sees the stakes shift in interesting ways.  

Running around through this hand-drawn world is a joy, be it facing off against ruthless monsters or trying to restore the hearts of people who have been decimated by the world’s grave evil. There’s a lot to do in this game, and the narrative provides ample incentive to do a lot of it. The early hours are a well-paced tutorial, while the later game gives players a chance to really fine-tune their exploration and combat chops. 

I’ve played both the PlayStation 3 and Switch versions, and I’m happy to say that the Switch version is a faithful, clean port. From my vantage point, framerate and textures all look great. Of course, this is a port of a 2011 game, so one would expect Switch to be able to handle it, but it’s still nice that it came out so well. I have no doubt that the remastered versions on PlayStation 4 and PC are also beautiful, but I don’t think a player would go wrong with this version. 

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a game good for dozens of hours of gameplay, and while it’s not an original property for Switch, it is a really glorious addition to the system’s library. Players who enjoy JRPGs with lots of style and even more heart will find this to be well worth the purchase. Highly recommended.  

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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