Almost ten years ago, in February 2013, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released on PlayStation 3 for Western console owners. Itself an enhanced port of a Japanese-only 2010 Nintendo DS title, it brought in legions of new fans following the global rise of Studio Ghibli. It was a love letter to timeless JRPGs with a few modern twists. Time has since progressed enough that Ni no Kuni is now considered as timeless as its peers.
Announced as finally coming to Xbox and Xbox Game Pass at Tokyo Games Show, it has been well worth the wait. This is the remastered version making its way to Xbox, similar to the PlayStation 4 version, but it does also come optimised for Xbox Series X|S. Smart Delivery once again makes sure you get the correct version for whichever console you choose.
In Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered, you are introduced to a young boy named Oliver. He lives in Motorville with his mother, a small village with a closed community. One night, he and his friend Phil sneak out and take Phil’s kit car for a test drive. They plow it straight into the water but are rescued by Oliver’s mum. However, in doing so, she tragically dies, leaving Oliver on his own. As he cries into his teddy that his mum made for him, he comes to life.
This teddy is a fairy known as Drippy, and he talks with a deep Welsh accent. He introduces to Oliver the notion of soul mates, that is, that each person in Oliver’s world has an attachment with someone in Drippy’s world. Oliver reckons he can bring his mum back to life if he finds her soul mate in the other world. But to do that, he needs to rescue her from Shadar, the Dark Djinn. With Drippy as his tour guide, he enters this unknown world and embarks on an adventure like no other.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is very much your traditional JRPG. A starting area shows you the ropes, you’ve got a world map to traverse, towns to visit and dungeons to conquer. It is a slow-paced game – almost snail-like at times – as it wants you to fully take in the whole and be taken in by it.
But what a world it is. This is a simple remaster of a PlayStation 3 game but it looks utterly stunning. This is thanks largely to the artstyle, as it tries – and very much succeeds – in replicating the style of Studio Ghibli. The character models are incredible, the environments and surroundings are stunning, and the cutscenes that are animated by the studio themselves are perfection.
All this is complemented by a soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi, who has composed almost every single Studio Ghibli film. Here, he is producing some of his best work; the soaring sounds when on the world map, the peppy battle music and the town themes that fit with their aesthetic perfectly.
Ni no Kuni does throw in some modern touches though: There is a Pokémon style proceeding to battling. Called familiars, you can catch enemies and train them up as your own. Each party member can have up to three familiars, along with a reserve pool of another three. This can be metamorphosized as well into stronger familiars. The caveat here being that each metamorphosis drops the familiar back to level one. Their stats will increase more quickly than the previous version, but it does normally put them out of action for several battles until they are back up to speed.
Whilst seeing the sheer number of familiars to battle, collect and train is fun, once you have an established party, you will rarely deviate. This is thanks to the leveling of them; even the majority of new familiars will join your crew at level one and the only way to level them up is to put them in your party. But this is at the cost of another party member, who then won’t be receiving EXP.
Whilst the battle system is more like a modern action RPG than a turn-based affair, the rest of the game is a very traditional JRPG. That means, you will be playing for many hours, and rather than going from A to B, you will regularly need to go via C, D and E. Sometimes maybe even F. This means that there is a slowness to Ni no Kuni’s progression, one that can feel grating at times, particularly when you are walking backwards and forwards through the same area at a very slow jogging pace.
Along with standard side tasks and bounty hunts to undertake, Ni no Kuni has another game long subactivity. Oliver is a wizard in training, so along with filling up his wizard’s compendium with spells, stories and a bestiary, he needs to fix the broken hearts of numerous folk. Shadar has been placing curses on people, removing a significant part of a person’s heart. Not literally though, but a person may be missing their kindness, or lacking in restraint.
Oliver has a magical locket that he can use to administer pieces to those that are brokenhearted. By finding those brimming over with certain emotions, you can take these to give to those who need it most. With Drippy by your side, it is easy to work out which piece of a person’s heart is missing but these little tasks can provide a fun distraction.
The years have been kind to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered, and its arrival on Xbox and Xbox Game Pass should win it legions of new fans. The artstyle is near perfection and means the game will look as good in twenty years as it does now. The Studio Ghibli collaboration can be felt everywhere: the story, the art, the music and just the general charm of the game. What was once a homage to JRPG classics can now rightly be mentioned in the same breath as many of the other classics.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is on the Xbox Store