First off, a little background. Ni No Kuni is a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) from Level 5, creators of the phenomenal Professor Layton series, the latest Dragon Quest games and many others, and Studio Ghibli, a world-renowned Japanese animation studio that has created countless wonderful and charming movies, even winning an Oscar. Naturally, a collaboration between the two could only be something special. And it most certainly is.
The most immediately striking feature of this game is undoubtedly its graphics; the game is a gorgeous blend of Ghibli's signature hand-drawn animated cutscenes and gameplay inspired by that very art style. At times it genuinely looks like you're playing an anime, and this art style lends a degree of charm to the world I haven't encountered since the likes of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Also of note is the quality of the voice acting, with the majority of actors doing a truly spectacular job. Somewhat disappointingly the game isn't fully vocalised, but considering the number of lines of dialogue in there it's understandable.
Both Ghibli and Level 5 are accomplished storytellers, and this shines through in what is quite probably one of the most emotive, charming and well-told video game stories ever. It follows the main character Oliver and his hilarious companion Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies, and their quest to save Drippy's world and bring Oliver's recently deceased mother back to life. Along the way they will meet numerous memorable characters and visit all sorts of exotic locations, and travel between Oliver's world (our world) and Drippy's in order to save the day. Don't be fooled by the somewhat cutesy characters, this (much like Ghibli's other work) is truly a story for all ages, and definitely not just children.
The trouble with many RPGs is that the gameplay is simply a means to progress the story and is consequently somewhat lacking. Thankfully with Ni No Kuni this isn't the case; the battle system is an immensely fresh mixture of the pseudo-realtime action of the Tales series and the monster collecting of Pokemon. In the game you will encounter monsters crawling over the world map and around dungeons, and aside from the bosses every one of them can be recruited to fight alongside you in battles as your Familiars. Much like pokemon they evolve (or 'metamorphose') into more powerful forms, giving you an edge in combat. This provides a potentially limitless number of battling possibilities, and serves to prevent the gameplay stagnating. Pleasingly you can also pamper your recruited Familiars to improve their stats, and watching their little faces as they chow down on their favourite food never fails to draw a smile.
Also the game is huge. You can expect to sink something like forty hours into it just to complete the main quest, and lord only knows how long it would take to do absolutely everything. Don't let this deter you however, as it never feels like a slog. The pacing is brilliant; I never once had to level grind, although I did do a fair few of the side missions which served to boost me a little. Incidentally, this game is chock full of side missions. In recent years JRPGs have become immensely linear, providing little to distract from the main story. While it isn't exactly Skyrim, Ni No Kuni is brimming with side quests, all of which offer tangible rewards, and they very rarely get repetitive.
It's hard to fully express how in love I am with this game. I have yet to do everything, but as soon as I do I will start right over just to experience the spectacular story again, maybe mixing up my party of Familiars to change up the gameplay. Coming from someone who has never played a game through twice on the trot I honestly can't give it any higher praise than that. If you have a Playstation then I urge you to buy this game. I have never played anything that I have loved as wholeheartedly as this.
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