Tighe: Japanese game offers strong gameplay, ageless themes

Columnist Samantha Tighe reviews JRPG game, “Ni no Kuni.”

Samantha TigheIt was just after 6 p.m. last Saturday. I had spent most of the day traipsing through the Fairmount Park area taking pictures for my introduction to photography class. After I got some shots of children sledding and the Japanese House covered in snow, I was feeling upbeat when I opted to swing by the Philadelphia Zoo on my way back to Temple.

When I got home, I was flipping through my pictures and talking to one of my roommates, and I came across a couple of shots I took of the zoo’s zebra. Suddenly, I was seized by the uncontrollable desire to play “Afrika,” a photography game for PlayStation 3 that critics received lukewarmly, but I absolutely adore. Unfortunately, I misplaced the game months ago.

It was a shoddy last-minute rush to find a GameStop that was still open and had the game in stock that led my roommate and I to end up at the store on Oregon Avenue, where we were sidetracked by titles on display.

There was one game in particular – “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch” – that I remembered seeing previews for months ago, but had completely forgot about. Having quietly released on Jan. 22, it’s been out for a few weeks now. I thought it looked sweet and adorable. My roommate chastised my description, instead saying it looked cool. She picked up a copy, too.

That night, with our televisions set up side-by-side, we played our respective games. I played about an hour of “Afrika” before I put it aside to check out “Ni no Kuni.” It looked heartwarming enough and different, and I thought it’d be a nice change of pace.

I’ve logged more than 15 hours of play on that damn game since then.

I started playing “Ni no Kuni” with minimal background information about it. I was aware that Studio Ghibli, a Japanese studio famous for movies like “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke,” did the most of the animations. I’ve never been particularly interested in anime, but I like Studio Ghibli’s work.

“Ni no Kuni,” meaning something along the lines of ‘Other World’ in Japanese, is the story about a boy named Oliver. After a tragic accident affects Oliver’s life, his plush toy, Mr. Drippy, awakens to reveal his true fairy form.

Mr. Drippy informs Oliver that not only is he a wizard, he is the ‘chosen one,’ the boy prophesized to save Mr. Drippy’s world from the Dark Djinn, Shadar. Lurking in the background, however, is an even stronger enemy – the White Witch, whose magic caused Oliver’s tragedy in the first place.

Now, I know that the synopsis of the story makes it seem rather childish, but there is something about “Ni no Kuni” that makes it ageless. The themes within the game itself, of growing up and the value of camaraderie, are carried through strongly by story elements.

The game’s graphics are a mixture of silent dialogue boxes, typical voiced cut scenes and the occasional full-scale animated clips.

The gameplay itself is a classic take on typical Japanese role-playing games. There’s a considerable amount of battling within the game, all of which is a mixture of turn-by-turn and free reign battling. The play style that is found within JRPGs has never been my cup of tea, which is why I shied away from games like “Final Fantasy.”

This game changes that. “Ni no Kuni” makes me want to experience more games like it.

What is surprising, too, is that there is Pokémon-esque element to it. Fighting alongside you and your companions are small beasts called ‘familiars.’ These creatures can be tamed and can be categorized into familiar classes – fighting, magic and even one that resembles rouges. They also have the ability to ‘metamorphosize,’ or evolve into larger and stronger counterparts.

Overall, I give this game a resounding round of applause and urge everyone to try it. It’s a game that one has to invest time in – don’t expect to barrel through the main quest in a couple of hours. I don’t regret picking it up, and I eagerly look forward to the additional content that is scheduled to release. Expect to place “Ni no Kuni” in your permanent game collection.

Samantha Tighe can be reached at samantha.tighe@temple.edu.

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