We've been playing Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for three days straight in an effort to get a review up at some point, but it's quite a long game. At the very least we'd like to share our initial impressions (and by initial, we mean 20 hours in) now that the game is releasing today.
Developed by Level-5 (the studio behind some Dragon Quest titles and other games) and with animation by Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo makers Studio Ghibli (plus an excellent score by Joe Hisaishi), Ni No Kuni is rather unique as far as JRPGs go these days—mostly in that we don't hate it.
Yeah, it's been a while since we played a JRPG that brought some new elements to the table without going completely off the rails like the Final Fantasy series has lately. But there are so many different elements to Ni No Kuni's gameplay that it's hard to nail down what's really at the core; there's typical JRPG fare like an overworld to navigate between towns (though it's a gorgeous overworld), trivial side quests, and a dearth of meaningful interaction with the world (mini-map markers tell you exactly where to go next 99 percent of the time).
But at the same time, Ni No Kuni has an involved battle system that mixes real-time and turn-based mechanics, making for fast-paced and intense fights. Rock-stupid ally AI brings it down somewhat during harder battles, but once you overcome the learning curve it's a fun system. On top of that there's a Pokémon element where you capture wild creatures and train them to fight for you, adding another layer to the already complex combat.
And, of course, the game's aesthetic is breathtaking, hearkening back to great Studio Ghibli films, and the look, feel and sounds of its world make playing it a joy even when it otherwise wouldn't be.
We may post a full Ni No Kuni review sometime soon, but in the meantime we can tell you that it's definitely worth checking out.