Studio Ghibli is one of the most beloved animation studios in the world. Its entire catalog of films, highlighted by the likes of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, holds a special place in many people's hearts. In 2011 the studio broke from its typical work and tried its hand at working on a video game. Now on Game Pass as of September 15, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a charming JRPG that fits perfectly alongside Ghibli movies in its story of childhood innocence and learning to grow up.
A match made in heaven
After releasing Ponyo in 2008, Studio Ghibli had no immediate projects to work on. At the same time, developer Level-5 was beginning production on the game that would become Ni no Kuni. Level-5 president Akihiro Hino was introduced to Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki and the two agreed to collaborate on the project, with Ghibli producing the game’s animated sequences.
Even before this collaboration began, Ni no Kuni felt like a game inspired by the works of Ghibli. It follows the story of Oliver, a young boy whose mother dies. In hopes of being reunited with her Oliver ventures into a magical world in search of a woman who he has been told looks exactly like his mother. It ticks the traditional Ghibli boxes of being a child’s story about learning to grow and cope with the reality of the world while including fantasy elements.
Unsurprisingly, Studio Ghibli delivered the quality they are known for. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has some of the prettiest cutscenes in video games. The normal world that Oliver leaves is rendered just as beautifully as the fantastical world where most of the game takes place.
In addition to looking like a Studio Ghibli movie, it sounds like one too. Joe Hisaishi the long-time Studio Ghibli composer, provided the score for Ni no Kuni. After hours of playing the game, the beauty of the world is something that the player can become used to, but then the music swells and it feels just as incredible as the first time you listen to the opening track from Howl’s Moving Castle.
Catch em’ all
Beyond just being “the Studio Ghibli game,” Ni no Kuni holds up in its own rights. As a JRPG it offers nostalgia and innovation in equal parts.
Traversing the world occurs on an overworld that the player has full access to from the start of the game. Of course, certain areas are more easily accessed later when Oliver unlocks the use of a boat and the ability to ride a dragon. This will feel especially familiar to those who remember the joy of finally gaining access to the airship in earlier Final Fantasy games.
The battle system is a mashup of Pokémon and the Tales series. Encountering enemies will send players to a battle stage, like Tales games this is an open stage that you can move around. However, most actions will be down by controlling “Familiars.” These are creatures found throughout the game that Oliver can tame and then command in battle.
This combination of tactical choice and action-oriented gameplay gives a greater sense of urgency than many traditional turn-based systems and leads to Ni no Kuni’s battles feeling exhilarating. All of this is also wrapped into a leveling system that incentivizes the player to collect as many familiars as they can to build up a formidable squad.
Ni no Kuni’s combination of satisfying gameplay and the emotionally resonating story makes it one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory. The added bonus of Studio Ghibli’s beautiful animation is just a cherry on top. For anyone who loves JRPGs or who has watched every Ghibli movie more times than they can count, Ni no Kuni is the perfect game to sit down and get lost in.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is now available on Xbox Game Pass