It has taken some time, but JRPG fans are finally getting their just due. With everything from the Atelier titles to White Knight Chronicles II , followers of the role-playing sub-genre have several options on store shelves, and another drops early next year: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch . It’s beautiful and compelling and quite traditional, despite the real-time combat.
You will step into the shoes of Oliver, who misses his deceased mother. Strangely enough, a childhood toy springs to life and Oliver learns he can resurrect his mother…but only in a different dimension called “Ni no Kuni,” which translates to “Second Country.” It’s like his very own wonderland. Everything he encounters in reality gets a fantastical version in Ni no Kuni so Oliver really is experiencing two separate dimensions. Along for the ride are friends Marle and Jairo.
Oliver and his allies can bring the helpful imajinns into battle. The imajinns can be raised and fed; their performance depends on your treatment of them. In the Nurturing Cage screen, imajinns will receive their nourishment, which seems to focus on junk food and candy of various kinds. If they get what they want and they’re happy, the imajinns are more potent in battle, which means more critical hits and greater strength and agility. Sorta like keeping pets, I guess.
Combat does happen in real-time and you have to select the imajinn you wish to accompany you; your summoned helper can only stick around for a certain amount of time, though, so it’ll be necessary to switch between imajinns using the L1 button. The triangle button switches between an offensive and defensive focus for your team, and Oliver has a bunch of spells at his disposal, too. Marle is more of a healer (and she can even turn enemies to your side) and support character.
One interesting combat feature involves the orbs that are dropped from enemies when you cause damage. The green restores health while the blue restores mana, and I have a feeling they’ll be essential for survival in tough situations. Big golden orbs will occasionally pop up, too; these let Oliver cast a super powerful spell that could end a battle instantly. So obviously, we’ll have an interesting mix of strategic and real-time elements that should prove engaging.
And above all else, that art style is absolutely stunning. Some will accuse it of being kiddie or cartoony but in truth, it’s just damn pretty. For some reason, I’m reminded of all the hand-drawn artistry in Legend of Mana . As for the White Witch, well…she’s sort of in hiding but I’m sure she’ll pop up at exactly the wrong time. They always do. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch could end up being an RPG lover’s dream in early 2012.