RPG developed by Level-5 in conjunction with Studio Ghibli and published by Namco Bandai for the PS3. The game has finally been localised and has release over a year after the original made its PS3 debut in Japan.
The game tells the tale of Oliver; a small child living with his mother in the town of Motorville. After some mischief and an “accident”, dire consequences strike Oliver for his actions. Oliver, now stricken with grief awakens Drippy; Lord High Lord of the Fairies, with his tears. While being thankful for being freed from his plushy prison; is quick to the point and asks for Oliver’s aid.
While only a child, Oliver is also brimming with magical ability and is known to be “The Pure-Hearted One”. This “Pure-Hearted One” is fabled to be able to defeat the Dark Djinn, Shadar; who has outlawed magic and curses those who would defy his will. Shadar, along with Drippy both belong to another world that runs parallel to Oliver’s. After collecting some important wizarding equipment, they transport themselves to this other world in order to begin their quest to defeat Shadar once and for all.
Much of the game will consist of travelling around the world and fighting all creatures great and small. You can avoid encounters by either making sure to avoid creatures outright, outrunning them (not always viable) or passing them by when their backs are turned. Creature killing is important as you will need it “grind” your way to a high enough level to overcome the often difficult enemies and bosses.
The combat is a sort of action-turn-based affair. To begin with you only control Oliver but you will soon unlock your first familiar to fight for you. Later on you will gain more familiars and eventually more characters; that in turn can each use familiars themselves. Your health and mana are shared between each character and their familiars, so you have to be aware of how much damage each familiar will take compared to each other otherwise you will easily have a knocked out character on your hands.
You begin each battle with selecting one of the characters or one of their familiars to do battle with. From there you can select an action to perform or just run around the battlefield. Each action you choose to use will be on a timer so once you start using it will continue to automatically do whichever action you ask it to unless you cancel it. Selecting attack for example will do all movement for you whilst the action is in use. Some familiars will get more attacks in the others and may even attack from longer distances.
Each familiar will have attack and then one other base move. Some will have defend; just like the characters, which reduces damage greatly if timed right. Others have evade which last a much shorter amount of time but if used correctly will completely negate damage and will avoid status effects too. Lastly is “psych out”; a move that allows a creature readying itself, allowing it to increase its damage and chance to interrupt with its next attack command. It can help [ninokuniwrathofthewhitewitch] out greatly if used right but does leave you open to attacks.
Familiars can only be used in combat for a set amount of time before they need to be swapped out to rest for a little while. There is a gold bar around the familiars portrait to indicate how much they can be used, once depleted they do little damage and are at a larger risk of taking damage. It does have a countdown that makes you very aware of the situation so you can easily swap out familiars and let one recover.
Spells generally only come from Oliver during combat and as such he has the best ones. He will amass a fair few elemental spells for use in combat so it is worth using him instead of familiars all the time in combat. The second character in your command will be a more supportive role and will also be able to occasionally charm a creature into becoming a familiar.
Glims are small orbs that will occasionally pop out of creatures as you hit or when you make a successful counter, defend or evasion. These range in size and colour but blue ones will restore the mana of whoever picks it up (AI will go for them) whilst green ones will give health. The size of the glims will also dictate [ninokuni6] how much you get back. It’s never a huge amount but over a long battle will add up.
Gold glims are the third type you’ll encounter. Very occasionally after a good hit or a nice counter you’ll get to see one. They float downwards for a while and if you’re able to pick it up before it floats off again then you’ll be fully healed and can cast a special ability. It is interruptible though so it should be used wisely; especially in boss fights where they can easily knock you over. Every familiar (evolutions within a species share the same move) and character has their own special move. It varies greatly but is always powerful; it is normally a heal and buff to aliies or a high damage area attack. It is always worth using though regardless of who ultimately gets to use their ability. As there is no way of knowing what each one has outside of trying it in battle it is up to you to remember who it is best used on.
The AI will take control of any other characters you may have at that time and play as the tactics you have set dictate. The options for the AI however are quite basic and as handling multiple tasks can get a little difficult they don’t have quite the depth they need. More often than not the AI won’t defend adequately against the larger attacks and they spend mana quite freely. Although it can be remedied by the “don’t use abilities” tactic it does leave you open [ninokuni1] to being knocked out when your allies are quite responsive to healing you when you’re in need. Well so long as they have the mana to spend.
Familiars come in all shapes and sizes and on top of that have differing elemental affinities as well as specific star signs which confer a rock, paper, scissors sort of dynamic among status effect resistances. Familiars can be most adequately compared to Pokémon in how you train them up. You can catch them in any of their four forms and as you level up the less evolved creatures they will eventually be able to evolve to become more powerful.
Each familiar has a first level form, an evolved form and finally each can then evolve into one of two final forms. It should also be noted that each time a familiar evolves it will return to level one but can then learn a new set of skills. Each time a creature evolves it will gain a modest boost to its stats (which is overshadowed by the lack of seeing the stats its pre-evolved form started with) and some will change/ add/ remove affinities and resistances.
Evolving familiars is unfortunately a balancing act. Even though each one may have higher base stats than its predecessor its overall stats are set to level one; making the overall loss in power quite high until you have levelled your creature somewhat. When you first gain the ability to evolve your creatures, many of [A] them will be ready to evolve, leaving you with the choice of keeping your party stronger now or making it weaker from more long term benefits. It’s a difficult choice to make and is made even harder by the addition of unlockable skills and skill slots.
Each familiar has a set of skills it can learn and a set of skill slots to unlock. Up to four slots are available for slotting in abilities and you will always have at least one slot and an ability to fit in it. You can check your familiars to see what tricks they learn and what level they learn them at but it won’t always fit in with the level they can evolve at. Some will learn all their tricks well before evolving and others will be set to evolve before learning their full repertoire of tricks. On top of that they can earn more skill slots but each has an unknown level they unlock it at; making it difficult to juggle the increase in power with how many skills they can use. Fully evolved creatures do seem to unlock skill slots as well but how many and how long it will take you to get them is a guessing game (until you look at a guide explaining it all).
Familiars also have a little stat tweaking in the form of feeding them and increasing a familiarity level. Each familiar can increase stats though consuming food of various types. Each food type relates to a separate stat and stat bar which is slowly filled by eating whichever food you choose. They also each have a [Golden-Grove-1024x576] favourite type that increases your familiarity with each monster and gives a bigger boost to a stat bar. You can only eat up to 10 weight in food then, your pet has to work it off in battle before it can eat any more. You can only increase 10 points in stats per level of familiarity though so you do need to choose wisely and feed your pets accordingly.
Familiars do range in how humanlike they are and while all of them can equip three pieces of equipment, not all of them can equip amours. There are various weapon types which all creatures have one of; these are your swords, claws, hammers and spears. Along with that each familiar can also carry an up to two other items which may range from armours, badges, scales, shields and other equipment; sometimes being a mix, sometimes two of the same. It adds another layer to picking your familiars as some may be powerful but lack the ability to defend themselves adequately without that extra equipment.
Errands and bounty hunts are a nice way of gaining an assortment of bonuses that will give you a hand later in the game but also give you some quick and decent rewards upon completion. You can pick up both in the “Swift Solutions” shop that you find in the towns; though Errands can be found and accepted at the person involved, Bounties can only be started and claimed within the shop. Upon completion you will receive item(s), cash and a few merit stamps.
Upon receiving merit stamps, they will fill the remaining spaces on your current merit stamp card. Each card has 10 slots and once filled, any excess stamps will overflow onto the next card. You can then hand the cards in for [ni-no-kuni-1] special bonuses at Swift Solutions. They have a wide variety of enhancements from movement speed buffs, extra experience in battle, cheaper shop prices and much more. They are however non-essential so it doesn’t matter if you overlook them, but it can’t hurt to earn the rewards either.
Brokenhearted characters play a big part in both the games story as well as being a regular appearance in errands. Shadar has stolen fragments of people’s hearts all over the land. Oliver is able to take excess heart from people who have certain traits in abundance and store it in a locket around his neck. The traits range from enthusiasm, kindness, restraint and more, though you can only hold one of each trait at a time. Once you’ve found someone who is broken hearted you can then give them their missing heart piece to restore them to their old selves.
The game has an unfortunately slow start but fear not; after an hour or two it’s pace begins to quicken. It picks up steam for many, many hours after that. The more you put in the more rewarding it becomes. That having been said there is still a significant “grind” in the game and there are some rather large difficulty spikes here and there.
One of the most interesting things in the game is the Wizards Compendium; an in-game book filled with lore, information on almost everything in the game world and tips on where to find almost anything. When you first receive it, it is missing more than just a handful of pages but as you learn new spells, visit new places and complete quests; you’ll add pages back into the book for future reference. It is an incredible source of information, and will even provide hints to what lies in store for you if read the right pages. While it is very simple to navigate there are a few niche sections that are slow to arrive at, as they aren’t covered in one of the main sections.
Alchemy is another level of depth added to the game. After (sometimes during) battles you will sometimes receive items. Some of those will have an ingredient tag in their description. You can then follow formulas that you have unlocked or try your hand at finding recipes by mixing and matching ingredients. If you fail there are no consequences; so you can try all variations if you think it may produce something of worth. The Wizards Compendium contains a wide range of formulas that won’t appear in the alchemy menu. So it’s worth a read now and again to see if you can make something with the resources at hand.
An interesting and well written, though somewhat predictable story; you’ll see many things coming anything from 10 minutes to several hours before they occur. That doesn’t make it any less interesting though; the characters are charming and will keep you in the heart of the story. The most interesting parts are generally the full anime cutscenes and it’s a shame that there don’t last as long as you’d love them to.