Oh, how we could fling superlatives to describe how utterly wonderful Ni no Kuni is. Forgive us, then, for choosing the word tidy. Yes, tidy is the right word to open our review of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered. Not just because this is clearly the tidiest edition of the game so far, but also because it’s precisely what our Welsh-accented, lantern-wielding sidekick Drippy would say. He’s a real charmer, that one, so let’s play along.
A collaborative effort between Japanese RPG studio Level-5 and best-in-class feature anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni is just as tidy as you would hope – chock full of character, bursting with colour, and positively overflowing with wit and charm. It’s everything it was when it first came to PlayStation 3 in 2013, only more, because it’s cleaner and tidier than it ever was before. But then, it should be, right? It’s been six years and a console generation. For fans of the game, it’s surely an instant purchase. Right?
The thing is, all the magisterial adjectives we can use are the same ones we would still place on the PS3 original. Don’t get us wrong, it looks really great on PlayStation 4 – but it already looked great, and this remaster offers little more than a resolution bump and a place in a slightly more future-proofed library. And of course that’s absolutely fine, so long as you know what you’re getting.
Ni no Kuni offers a timeless art style and it already played wonderfully. So what does this remaster offer over the original? Buttery smooth 60-frames-per-second, and that even applies to base hardware. Pro users with a 4K TV have an option of playing at higher resolutions, with a 4K option at half the frame rate. There’s no HDR in sight, however, which is a shame because the sequel really benefitted from the feature, looking truly radiant on compatible screens.
So it’s the same game, only tidier. But let’s look at this another way. What all of this really means is that Ni no Kuni Remastered is still absolutely wonderful. For Japanese RPG fans, it’s nigh-on essential; for those who missed the original and enjoy the genre, well, you’re in for a real treat. You’re also in for an emotional rollercoaster, so buckle up.
We play as Oliver, a young boy who suffers a tragic loss at a young age. In his grief, his doll companion springs to life, promising to help bring back what he has lost – if only he comes to his “world”, a colourful land full of magic where the Dark Djinn Shadar has interfered with the hearts of its citizens. As it turns out, the people of this other world share a soul mate with those from Oliver’s world, and thus if one was to be healed on one side, it might do the same on the other.
It’s truly a heart-wrenching tale, and it’s told with a childish innocence at its core. Some might be put off by this, but it would take a stone-hearted soul not to fall for its charm. It’s the kind of narrative that takes you back to being a kid, where imaginations run wild and the limits of reality extend beyond the confines of what society deems so. Here a book is no mere volume but a Wizarding Companion that can give us the knowledge to teleport to other regions and fix its rotting ills. “Look for something small and sticky – like a stick – that ought to do the trick,” our adorably brash fairy sidekick tells us early on. The imagination of the young working wonders as we search beneath trees for a “wand” to transport us to his world. It might be as “magical as a flippin’ cabbage,” but it does the trick, allowing us to open a gateway to an abundant world of colour.
Ni no Kuni is traditional in many ways. There’s an overworld map that you traverse between location hubs, and beasts wander the plains itching for a scuffle. Combat is a slightly altered version of the Active Time Battle system used in older Final Fantasy games, with a pinch of Pokémon on the side. You can charm and collect the beasts you encounter, taking them as unique combatants to help you on your journey. They grow up with you, evolve over time, and have their own strengths and weaknesses. You have full control to move around the battle field, collecting health and magic glims that spill out of enemies, but it’s not the same free-form whack-and-slash from the sequel. This is a little more thoughtful and tactical, and certainly about more than giving them a whacking and sending them packing.
On the journey we meet countless heartbroken individuals who require our aid. As a wizard, Oliver must borrow the missing part of someone’s heart from another and share it with those in need. See an overly exuberant captain aboard a ship? Let’s borrow some of his Enthusiasm and give it to those who have lost their get-up-and-go. Sometimes what we need rests in the alternative world. When the cat king of Ding Dong Dell goes missing, his soul mate, Timmy the store lady’s pet cat from Oliver’s world, leaves clues for where we must go.
It’s a most charming adventure, filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud moments. Ni no Kuni benefits from excellent writing and a genre-defining localisation script. No two characters are confused for others, they all have their own unique manners. Some of the locations you’ll visit are some of the most memorable in any entry into the genre, and Ni no Kuni frankly set the standard for what a localised voice-over ought to be when it was first released. We would venture to say it’s still the best in its class. While it’s a shame that not every line is voice acted, it’s a testament to the character of its prose that you’ll find yourself reading lines in much the same way you expect to hear them.
It’s fair to say that Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch didn’t really need a remaster at all, but we won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and choice is a good thing. It’s undoubtedly nice to have this standout last-generation title running so smoothly on PS4, and it’s just so tidy. After all, it’s also fair to say that this was and is a truly special game. Far more narratively focused than its sequel, this is a tentpole title for lovers of traditional Japanese role-playing games.