Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
By Sam Marchello
Back in 2012, I had the chance to visit Level-5 International offices in Los Angeles, California. Of all the places we were visiting on our Run to the Sun excursion, Namco Bandai's Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was the game I was most anticipated to see, and from the little bit I had gotten to play, it lived up to my expectations. What I thought I was getting from the game was a Bildungsroman, and what I actually got was the worst case of Scooby Dooing I had ever seen.
From a game that boasts lustrous graphics and ear candy tunes, it pained me that the story was such a mess. The characters in this game were treated with no respect, and as if they were completely oblivious to the world that surrounded them. It baffled me how they were always so surprised at a big reveal within the story, meanwhile, it's so obvious to the player. The surprises in this game were petty, pathetic, and laughable. I've read middle grade novels that can do plot twists better than Ni no Kuni ever could. For example, Swain being the Emperor of Hamlin's eldest son, it took the game two hours for the characters figure this out, meanwhile, I had already figured it out the moment I had talked to Marcassin hours prior. The surprise on Esther and Oliver's face was simply a joke, because how they couldn't figure that out was beyond me. I get that they are children, but the game suggests in a lot of ways that children aren't smart enough to figure things out on their own. I don't buy that.
And this is essentially my issue with the game on a whole: the characters are not characters, but rather are hollow shells. When Oliver's mother dies at the beginning of the game, that is the most powerful and emotional scene. Nothing tops it, and the more the game tried to have a sappy approach, the more it came across forced or awkward. Much of the time characters couldn't see a bigger picture, no matter how obvious it was for the player. Ni no Kuni is like watching an episode of She-Ra: one minute someone will say, "Where's Princess Aurora?" and she'll say, "Here I am!" and then someone will say, "But wait, where is She-Ra?" and Aurora will transform into She-Ra, and the cycle continues. After the second time, it should be obvious to anyone that there are a lot of plot twists in this game, and yet Ni No Kuni never takes the hint that it does this excessively.
The worst offender of this is the horrible, tacked on, and wonderfully pointless White Witch arc. The game should have ended with Oliver's big reveal, but considering the game forgets the existence of Pea, frequently, it felt the need to add-on more content. The problem with the White Witch arc is that it feels completely disjointed with the rest of the story, and even though Pea is in the main story, she is never organically given any development, and this arc attempts to justify her being within the story, except it just feels tacked on and very pointless. It also doesn't help that her story is repeated three times within the arc — did I mention it gets irritating after a while? Yeah, it gets painful.
I thought Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch would ultimately appeal to my sense of childlike wonderment, and instead I found so much disappointment with the game. As someone who adores middle grade fiction, having a protagonist like Oliver should have been an easy connection for me, and yet I found myself disliking the story and its characters as the game went on. Ni no Kuni was not only too long for its own good, but it couldn't even tell an interesting enough story to get me emotionally invested.
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