Demo: 'Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch'

Kristina PinoComment
The ultra-hyped Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch finally had a demo released on PSN this week, so of course I had to try it out. The fact that Studio Ghibli handled the art and animation and Joe Hisaishi scored the soundtrack is a huge plus, though. I didn't need much convincing.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
Studio: Level-5
Publisher: Namco Bandai

[My full thoughts are below the cut!]

When you fire up the demo you'll have two story options as well as several language options. Story option: the first is to head over to the zone Deep Dark Wood and run the mission "An Errand For Old Father Oak."

In this section, you're immediately plunged into a boss battle with the forest guardian, which reminded me of FFXI-type Goobbues (just, you know, all green instead of purple), but nonetheless - without any kind of tutorial as to how you're supposed to use the battle system. It only took me one failure to figure the controls out, and that being said I'm not sure how I feel about them.

Rather than a standard menu, you've got rotating bubbles available to select commands, or you could switch between Oliver and his familiar. The standard items on the menu are "Attack," "Defend," "Spells," and "Provisions." If you or your familiar have any special attacks, they'll be their own bubble. Simple enough.

The problems arise when I'm trying to "Defend" twice in a row, and can't because each time I pick an action it resets back to "Attack" again afterward. Another annoyance was that when you initiate a battle with anything, the first option you can hit "X" on is having your familiar fight instead of putting Oliver in the front line.

Those minor flaws are balanced by the merciful pause in the battle whenever you've got an action selected but haven't picked a target for it. Even if you only have one enemy, whenever you hit "X" on an action in battle, everything freezes until you confirm what you want to do. The spells and use of provisions are pretty much instantaneous as well, so fights are fast-paced. There's a cool-down between uses of the same action, but in "Attack" mode for example, Oliver will smack the enemy until the timer is up for the next round. In other words, your character doesn't just stand around. You could also run around freely during battle.

Once the boss fight is over, you gain some items and skills, and then are tasked with heading to a nearby town. This bit is short, but it gives you a grasp of some of the game's mechanics. Oliver will be given the power to take excess happiness, enthusiasm or whatever from people's hearts and transfer them to others who are in need. You gain merit by doing nice things for people, and the spell looks rather cool. The animation is a lot like the magic sparks from Howl's Moving Castle.

The second story option takes you to The Mountain of Fire and you're tasked with the mission "Eruption Interruption." This section takes place a bit later in the game -- you'll be higher level (around 18 instead of 5 like in the Woods story bit), and you'll have a companion called Esther.

Eruption Interruption begins with a timed rush up to the crater of a volcano to stop it from blowing up. On your way, you'll have to battle monsters and once at the top, one of the game's big baddies, Shadar, shows up to sic a monster on Oliver and co. called Moltaan. This is where I learned that if Oliver is KO'd, Esther will take his place so you don't suffer through an instant "Game Over." You could use an item then to revive Oliver and keep going as you were.

The enemies in this game are very aggressive and will come at you from a surprising distance. The good thing here is that you can see them coming, so encounters aren't entirely random. You'll have to pay attention though, because it's possible for them to start a battle with the "upper hand" if they take you by surprise and attack you from behind. You'll know they're coming if you see a red exclamation mark appear on the screen where the monster is on the map or in the zone.

Overall, though short, Ni no Kuni's demo is rather nice. I saw just enough to know that there's plenty of heart in the game, and that Drippy (Oliver's plush-turned-real companion) is one sassy sidekick. His dialogue is pretty funny, and Oliver is sweet and likeable. The only thing I didn't like had to do with those minor battle-related hitches and the backgrounds, though pretty, didn't seem to match with the character animation. Maybe I'm just being too picky? It was more of a problem for me during the forest bit than it was during the volcano section. Maybe it's because so much more was going on, or maybe I'd just gotten used to it.

Either way, I'm definitely inclined to grab and play the game once it's finally released in January 2013. For more information and media, check out the game's official page. All images in this post were taken by myself (can't you tell by the weird lines?) but the content is Copyright Namco Bandai.

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