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Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2019

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Switch Review - 'Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 26, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a fantasy RPG telling the heart-warming tale of a young boy called Oliver, who embarks on a journey into a parallel world to become a magician in an attempt to bring back his recently-deceased mother.

Buy Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered

Looking back at its reception and fandom, the Ni No Kuni series is the most promising new JRPG IP of the last decade. What started as a DS exclusive in 2010 eventually became a loved (and reimagined) PS3 exclusive, which spawned an equally good sequel last year for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. As the name implies, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is the remaster of the PS3 title for PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. While the game is a great opportunity for newcomers to get into the series, there is little in the Switch version to tempt you if you've already played the title.

This is a remaster on the PC and PS4 (Pro), which sport 4K and higher frame rate options. The Switch, however, is a straight port of the original PS3 version with no noticeable differences. The biggest novelty is the prospect of the portability rather than any enhanced visuals or performance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if the game runs well. Thankfully, it ran beautifully on our system when we reviewed it.

Wrath of the White Witch is the product of the collaboration of anime animation studio Ghibli ("Princess Mononoke") and developer Level 5 (Professor Layton) to create a stylish JRPG that features an interesting mix of familiar gameplay systems to craft an intriguing RPG experience.

In Wrath of the White Witch, we control Oliver, who appears to be a regular 13-year-old. A tragic incident at the very beginning of the story, which we won't spoil, eventually sees his loved fairy puppet, Drippy, come alive and reveal himself as "The King of the Fairies." It's clear he is asking for aid to free his world, which runs parallel to Oliver's reality. The basic premise might not be too different from other JRPG games. It turns out that Oliver is "the pure-hearted one" and is the only being capable of bringing down the dark djinn, Shadar, who has corrupted the parallel world and shattered the hearts of its inhabitants. With the help of Drippy, we work to free his world from Shadar's corrupt grip.

While the general premise of the story doesn't seem too different than a run-of-the-mill JRPG, the execution and presentation make the story relatable. Oliver is a naive but well-mannered boy who is the polar opposite of his fairy sidekick, who has an incredibly thick Welsh accent and little regard for etiquette. Throw both of them into a lovely world to mend broken hearts and tame Pokémon-like familiars — more on that in a minute — and you get a believable and engrossing story that carries you through from start to finish. The story is very character-driven and dense with lore, and it takes 30-40 hours to complete the campaign. If you don't find any other reason to play this series, the story is worth your time investment.

Much like the story, Wrath of the White Witch does not reinvent the gameplay wheel, either, but it takes inspiration from many different sources and blends it into an interesting gameplay loop. At the beginning of the game, we're just a boy armed with a primitive wooden stick and limited capabilities, but that changes rapidly in the first few hours. Oliver turns out to be a sage, so he can deal physical damage and use spells.

Spells are plentiful, and by the time we reach the end of the campaign, there are spells for almost everything, including healing, talking to animals, picking locks, and mending the broken hearts of the local inhabitants. Spells cost varying amounts of MP points, but otherwise, we can freely use them for puzzle-solving or in combat. Combat is the expected round-based combat system. We choose our actions, which the character performs on its own, and we can freely move in a 3D space during the fight, so we can evade attacks or pick up enemy drops for MP or HP. We're not only attacking; we can execute spells and special attacks as long as we have enough MP.

This is the point where we circle back to "familiars." Wrath of the White Witch borrows a lot from Pokémon in the sense that we can fight and tame most creatures in the game to fight for us. Eventually, we'll have a party of three humans, each with three familiars at their disposal. During combat, we can swap freely between the three human members of our party and their three familiars to use the best choice for the task ahead. All familiars share the same health and MP bar with their assigned party member, so even though we can switch between them, they don't extend your health. This provides a variety of different tactics, especially since all of them have different elemental strengths and weaknesses. It's important to be aware of who you're up against and how to best deal the most amount of damage while defending your own health against critical attacks.

It sounds like a lot at once, but it's straightforward and incorporates both offensive and defensive skills that are especially important once we face more powerful enemies or bosses, who can kill us with one hit. Since fights take place in real time and there are rare pauses, you'll either be too slow or end up choosing the wrong option when circling through the cumbersome action wheel in an attempt to select the "defend" option.

The biggest letdown of the combat is the AI behavior. When not in control of a specific party member, their AI will kick in and take over, but that's usually to their detriment. We can select certain tactics for our squad, like who should be backup or attack or heal during a fight. Unfortunately, big chunks of difficult fights are spent making sure your party doesn't kill itself rather than taking down the opponent. It's frustrating and makes many encounters artificially challenging.

There's much more to the combat system, such as counterattacks and other little touches. It plays with a lot of familiar ideas but combines them into an interesting and different experience, even though it is far from flawless and often infuriating due to a few avoidable missteps.

Wrath of the White Witch is a bit on the easier side when compared to similar titles. There are very noticeable difficulty spikes that need to be overcome with some level-grinding and training familiars. These skill checks and spikes don't mingle well with the horrid AI and cumbersome defending controls, so expect to get a hefty roadblock now and then. The difficulty isn't on par with some of the older Final Fantasy games, so veterans have nothing to worry about; a certain level of grinding is expected in a JRPG.

Progression is a mix of many things, none of which are unique to this title. Our human party members gain XP, level up, and gain access to additional special skills (as do their familiars). All earned XP is shared with the whole party and active familiars, so it's easy to level up a new familiar without it participating in battle. Familiars also have special skills that they can learn as they increase in rank, until they are able to morph into a stronger iteration. XP is earned exclusively in combat, but the game offers plenty of opportunities to sully our blades.

Another staple in JRPGs, all locations are connected with an overworld map, which we traverse in an isometric view with plenty of random monster encounters. We can seek them out or take on side-quests in towns, and they range from taking down powerful monsters in bounty hunts to running errands. The rewards are items, money and … stamps, which are like a shopping loyalty card. We earn stamps for helping people, and every 10 stamps, we hand in the card for improvements that are only attainable through stamps, such as increased travel speed or higher item drop rates.

That still doesn't conclude the game's offerings. Crafting is an option, with plenty of recipes that can either be obtained or discovered via trial and error. Familiars can be fed treats for individual stat increases, and our magic book actively expands during the story, as we add enemy information, lore, short stories, and spells. None of these are necessary or mandatory, but they offer additional activities for those who seek them out. It's a complete package that borrows plenty and melds them into a wholesome and enjoyable gameplay experience.

By itself, the game looks phenomenal. The anime style is timeless, and the title looks beautiful despite its age, with sharp and detailed character remodels and environments that are vibrant and varied. The familiars aren't nearly as detailed or interesting as their Pokémon counterparts, but they do the job. Add to that the good English translation and voice acting (Japanese is an option) as well as the occasional Studio Ghibli-animated cut scenes and an epic orchestral soundtrack, and you have a captivating audio-visual experience. It's what makes Wrath of the White Witch special, given that its character-driven story matches its top-tier presentation.

A few reports prior to release suggested glitches and game-breaking bugs that severely affected the experience in the Switch port. We are happy to report that during all the hours we have put into our save file, nothing really broke, glitched, or affected our save files, so it does not seem to be a widespread issue. Wrath of the White Witch is easily one of my favorite Switch ports thus far. The game ran mostly without a hitch, with the exception of brief stutters at the beginning of each fight in an isolated volcanic region of the game. Otherwise, the framerate was solid and without any noticeable visual downgrades. The game looks and runs perfectly in docked and handheld modes, even though I saw a few more jagged edges on the big screen and the resolution takes a hit. That is the only real caveat we could find, as it does run as well as the original PS3 release, with the added benefit of portable play. Due to the resolution, portable play may be the best way to experience Wrath of the White Witch.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered on the Switch is a great port of a very good JRPG. Its stellar presentation and unique mix of known JRPG systems make it an engrossing experience that every fan of the genre should experience at least once. It isn't perfect, with some frustrations around its combat system and AI, but that doesn't detract from everything else it does as well or better than many other JRPGs in recent memory. If you have a Switch and are intrigued by Ni No Kuni, you cannot go wrong with this game.

Score: 8.7/10

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