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Parental Guidance: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch Screenshot 072

This article is my first contribution to a newer series of features here at RPGFan: Parental Guidance. Cat Quest and Kingdom Hearts have already been wonderfully covered by Monica and I encourage everyone to read those pieces as well. This feature aims to achieve the same goal: to aid parents in making educated decisions about the games their children play. 

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has quite a bit going for it to make it appeal to RPG enthusiasts of all ages. If I had to summarize the game in just three words, I would say “Studio Ghibli Pokémon.” Originally released in North America for the PS3 in 2013, the game was followed by a sequel in 2018 and a remastered version in 2019. A major component of the game is the cutscenes, produced by famed Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service).

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch: Ding Dong Well. The main character and one of his familiar creatures are in a fantasy-themed sewer system.
Use familiars to battle foes.

Ni no Kuni follows a young protagonist named Oliver. Oliver lives in a small town called Motorville with his mother Allie, and lives a typical childhood. A traumatic event soon unfolds that leads Oliver on a journey to the fantasy world of Ni no Kuni. This fantastical realm exists in parallel to the “real world” where Oliver has grown up. 

Each person in the fantastical world has a soulmate (in effect a parallel version of themselves) in Oliver’s world.  What makes this interesting is that each version of these characters is affected by their parallel counterpart. Players traverse back and forth between the two realms solving problems and battling monsters in a quest to rescue the world from the control of the evil wizard Shadar. 

Controls

Ni no Kuni uses the full button layout of modern controllers to navigate various in-game tasks.  It utilizes the standard dual-analog controls for character and camera movement. Most interactions in the environment are completed with the same button, but there are multiple menus to navigate when in the field. The game features a real-time battle system with its own full set of controls. In fact, the battle system is the most complex aspect of the game. 

Oliver and his familiars engage in battle with monsters in a desert. Oliver can issue commands to his creatures with a dialogue-bubble-themed menu in the bottom left.
There can be a lot going on during real-time battles.

In battle, players control a party of up to three characters, each with three familiars (friendly creatures for battling foes) to manage. This makes for a good bit of party and strategy management both in and out of battle. However, players only directly control one party member at a time. The remaining party members execute actions automatically based on their set tactics—which can be adjusted at the start of battle and on the fly. Overall, combat requires a solid level of understanding and effort, especially for tougher boss battles. This puts the game a bit beyond the capacity of most younger children, but the level of complexity is a good fit for older kids with some RPG experience.

Strategic Thinking

If you do any research on Ni no Kuni’s difficulty online, you will encounter opinions ranging from “this game is laughably easy” to “I can’t believe the difficulty spikes!” The game does have difficulty choices, and I would personally recommend the easiest difficulty for first timers. The difficulty can be adjusted mid-game, so if the game does become too easy, it can be raised. As for the difficulty spikes, I did not find this to be the case. It should be noted, though, that my kids and I played on the aforementioned easiest difficulty. 

In my experiences with the game, I found that the primary culprit for increased difficulty was an under-leveled party. For this reason, Ni no Kuni is a game that may introduce kids to the time-honored RPG concept of grinding. I’m not talking Bravely Default levels of grinding, but there are points where going into a boss encounter below the expected level will lead to a wipe. Losing can quickly lead to frustration for kids—heck, for adults too. So kids who find the concept of level-grinding foreign may need some guidance. The game never feels too grindy or repetitive though, and the real-time battles continue to be fun and engaging. 

Oliver carries a bag of groceries down a city street lined with pedestrians, cars, and shops.
Oliver’s home world is just as charming as the fantasy realm.

Aside from battles, Ni no Kuni inspires kids to think critically and creatively to solve puzzles in order to progress the story. Oliver and company travel back and forth between two worlds to help fix problems or cure ailments like brokenheartedness (that was a very Kingdom Hearts sounding sentence). This usually manifests in finding a “real-world” solution to a problem in the fantasy world via an NPC’s soulmate. For example, to cure an anthropomorphic cat may require the player to help someone’s pet cat in Motorville. Kids are clever and will start using their powers of imagination and deduction to figure out these connections. If there is a point where they get stuck, the game provides more than enough (perhaps a tad too much) guidance and hints to get back on track.

Reading Level

There is a large amount of dialogue and text to get through in Ni no Kuni, which is pretty standard fare for a JRPG. Only about a quarter of the text is voice acted, meaning to fully enjoy and understand the game requires solid reading skills. There are no overly difficult words, but the sheer amount of reading involved may be too much for younger gamers. All the Studio Ghibli cutscenes are fully voice acted though, which helps players to get truly immersed in the story and setting of the game.

Maturity Level

Ni no Kuni’s story and characters all feel as though they were designed for a young audience. None of the game’s enemies are overly dark or frightening. The game carries an E10+ rating from the ESRB, which cites alcohol/tobacco reference, fantasy violence, mild language, and simulated gambling. In my view these instances are very mild. There is a character depicted with a pipe, and one of Oliver’s companions uses a thick British drawl full of slang and a few uses of “damn” and “hell.” 

Oliver eats a breakfast of eggs and bacon at a kitchen table alongside his mother.
Great JRPG comfort food for older kids.

The game’s story centers around the ideas of trauma and loss. This can be a rather heavy topic, especially for very young children. However, the game shines in presenting a strong message of coping with tragedy and turning a negative into a positive. It takes players on quite an emotional journey but is overall full of colorful and fun characters and settings. 

In this parent’s opinion, Ni no Kuni is an excellent choice for older kids or those with RPG experience. I think the E10+ rating is appropriate, as I would consider that age a minimum to fully enjoy the game. Younger kids can certainly find enjoyment in it, but may require a helping hand. This also makes it a great option for parents and their kids to enjoy together. It is a beautiful game with classic JRPG tropes and influences throughout the adventure.

Jimmy Turner

Jimmy Turner

Jimmy has been a fan of RPGs since the SNES era of his childhood. Now—as a father of four—he loves playing RPGs both old and new with his family and seeking validation for his love of the classics. Along with video games he likes playing board and table-top games as well. Other family time is spent watching either anime, WWE, Big Brother or Ghost Adventures, and conducting their own paranormal investigations.