The PS3’s most anticipated role-playing game, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, was released in Japan on November 17th. We’ve been playing it since day 1, and offer some thoughts on whether importing the Japanese version is a good investment.
First of all, there are no English options. It’s all Japanese, so even the most basic actions require Japanese reading ability. However, people familiar with Dragon Quest IX may be able to wing their way through it, as the two games are virtually identical in terms of gameplay. Some basic Japanese ability, as in being able to read katakana and hiragana, is enough to get through the menus and not get stuck too often. There is also an automatic help system in the game, a star marks your next destination on the minimap, so stumbling blindly is an option. But to enjoy the story, you’ll need to read and understand quite a lot of Japanese.
Why import then? Playing the game now is a big draw, as there’s no English release date yet. Level 5 tends to take its time localizing, just look how long the West had to wait to get the Layton games in English. And then there’s the book. The game comes with an absolutely gorgeous book called Magic Master. Hard cover, illustrated, about 350 pages – the guide book contains tons of story, enemy, and item information. Take a look at this video guide:
Is the game itself actually good? Definitely. It’s very much an old-school Japanese RPG with a deep story, large world, and a huge variety of characters. The graphics are spectacular, thanks in no small part to the brilliant art from Studio Ghibli. The music also gets help from the animation studio in the form of an orchestral score.
Unfortunately, there is one major design flaw: the boss battles. The game’s combat system allows one character to be directly controlled at a time, in real time. It’s possible to swap between allies and issue general orders, but for the most part, you’re relying on the AI to manage your two supporting partners. This becomes a devastating handicap in boss battles, where managing mana, switching between defense and offense, and positioning are required. The AI simply cannot survive a boss fight, and so the battles end up taking extraordinarily long as you’re forced to run circles around the enemy, slowly draining its health. Power leveling is pretty much required as well, which can become quite tedious.
In the end, it’s definitely not a good idea to import Ni No Kuni without some knowledge of Japanese. The Magic Master book is a big draw if you’re a collector, but probably not worth the shipping plus the game’s already steep price. Bandai/Namco has been signed on for English localization, so it should happen sometime in 2012. There’s no word on whether the guide book will come with it though. Hopefully everything will make it through translation and there will be some minor tweaks to the combat system, but even a direct port without the Magic Master book is still a great purchase for any RPG fan.