A young boy’s journey to bring his mother back to life becomes an animated epic in the interactive juggernaut Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Namco Bandai Games America and Level-5, reviewed for PlayStation 3, Rated E10+, $59.99).
This pure Japanese-influenced, role-playing game plunges a single player into a lush, anime universe and in control of Oliver, a 13-year-old from the quiet, 1950s town of Motorville.
After his mother Allie dies rescuing him from drowning (she literally collapses from a broken heart), Ollie finds himself on a great adventure in a mystical, parallel world to revive her.
It’s a poignant story of courage and confidence-building balanced by the hijinks of our protagonist’s companion, a bulbous fairy with a thick Welsh accent (and lantern dangling from this nose) named Mr. Drippy.
While mourning his mom, Ollie sheds tears that fall upon a stuffed animal that turns into this wise-cracking, helpful imp.
Mr. Drippy now whisks the fledgling hero to the lands of Ni no Kuni where magic and anthropomorphic characters reign supreme. He also mentors Oliver on becoming a wizard to ultimately defeat the evil Dark Djinn Shadar and rescue Allie.
With art design from Studio Ghibli, the same creative powerhouse that delivered the full-length “Spirited Away,” the result is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscape to play in with a wide-eyed protagonist on perpetual quests that Gandalf would admire.
Just like any serious role-playing game, resource management, character communication and combat are essential to gaining skills and experience to level up and hone a wizard’s powers.
Combat stays fresh amidst nonstop confrontations with whimsical menaces by mixing real-time action and turn-based events to keep the player busy for hours a session.
While in the middle of battle, a player interchanges between Oliver and his newfound collection of familiars (Mr. Drippy remains out of the frays) to fight with.
A player chooses from text bubbles to deliver attacks, cast spells or defensive moves against a wide range of bizarre creatures such as Sleepeafowl, Ruff, Minor Byrde, Rhinosaur, Baatender, Inphant, Whippersnapper, Najas (Heliotosis) and Jabbers.
For example, during a typical ambush by a pair of Oroborus (rolling snakes biting into their tails) hiding in the forest, I chose the spry familiar Mitey to strike with his wooden sword quickly.
Enemies drop lighted orbs called glims during the action and picking them up reloads health and magic meters. Final blows to the foes were delivered by using Oliver’s fire spell and each fallen aggressor burst into a puff of smoke as they perished.
Run out of health points in battle and go unconscious and lose a percentage of your gold guilder collection to return to fight again.
Anyone accustomed to Pokemon will be right at home here with familiars that need to be fed treats to increase skills and managed to learn new tricks and reveal miracle moves.