By: Lara Murray
Ni no Kuni is the collective project of developer and producer Level-5, of the Professor Layton games, and the Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, whose notable movies include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. Ni no Kuni tells the story of thirteen year old Oliver, who sets off to restore the life of his late mother by rescuing her soulmate in an alternative world filled with magic and monsters. Along the way he visits multiple kingdoms and befriends many people, whom come to rely on him as not just a destined hero but for his genuinely good intentions to help those whose broken hearts must be mended.
The 3-D, cell-shaded graphics are as brightly colorful as a Disney film, and at pivotal plot moments there are animated cut scenes the help move the story along. All the characters and the creatures in the game have a fun stylization that makes them cute or cool, but not scary. The music is beautifully orchestrated and most scenes, whether animated or computer graphics, have voiced dialogue that makes the story fun and easy to follow.
The theme heavily focuses on family and friendship, and consults issues like death and running away from life’s problems. It may be too much for younger children to understand without an adult there to explain the concepts, but older kids can grasp the ideas presented in the game. Violence is conceived in a bloodless manner where characters faint from exhaustion if their health drops to zero, or monsters simply disappear in a puff of smoke when defeated. There is no sexual content or suggestive language, but there are several times where the word “damn” is dropped in conversation by an adult character.
Ni no Kuni offers only two modes of difficulty for players: “Easy” and “Normal”. Once a new game is started, it’s easy to switch between modes if the game proves to be too easy or too hard. At first it starts off with just Oliver and a familiar, but as the game progresses more party members are brought in and the ability to capture creatures and train them as familiars (similar to the Pokemon series) is gained. Players can switch between party members and control them or their equipped familiars, and when they’re not under the player’s control these party members will act independently based on the commands players chooses from a separate menu.
The battle system is designed on executing your moves at the right time to cancel an enemy’s attack or block significant damage, and by pulling off these counters will cause “glims” to appear, which will either restore health, magic, or more rarely, unleash a super charged move. More battle commands become available at a staggered rate throughout the entire game, but a child has to be able to read and understand complex instruction. Kids who have already played a few role-playing games shouldn’t have much difficulty picking up the battle system, and worst case scenario, it’s very feasible for a player to patiently force their way to victory through any battle by using the same character to run in circles and use normal attacks.
Ni no Kuni is a great game with a lot to offer, but younger children will be better off watching on the sidelines as an adult or an order sibling plays through the game, or to avoid altogether if they’re too young to understand the more mature themes. There’s enough content, from concluding the story to the aspect of collecting all the familiars to the completion of the many sidequests and secrets tucked into the game, that will keep most members of the family engaged.
Overall score: 8.5