I could have written about a lot of different things this week. The Last of Us Part II is days away from receiving new information (including a possible release date) at Sony’s State of Play and a media event in Los Angeles. Red Dead Redemption 2 has received another hinted PC release, with a re-release having been recently refused classification in Australia. And OnlySP spoke with actress Amanda Miller about tokenism in voice acting, prompting numerous foolish responses that I believe demonstrate the ignorance of parts of the industry.
But I’ve been playing Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered this week, so I want to talk about that instead.
I first played the original version of the game on PlayStation 3 several years ago and was instantly hooked. From the beautiful art design of Studio Ghibli and Yoshiyuke Momose, to the iconic score by composer Joe Hisaishi, to the incredible narrative written by Level-5’s Akihiro Hino, playing Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch felt like playing a Studio Ghibli video game.
Naturally, when Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom was released in March 2018, it had a lot to live up to—but, despite a valiant effort, it simply failed to imitate the success of its predecessor.
The most obvious change in the second title’s development was the lack of Studio Ghibli’s involvement. While Momose—a former character designer at Studio Ghibli—returned for Ni no Kuni II, the rest of the Japanese animation house did not. Level-5’s design team performed some incredible work on the game, but part of the charm of the original game was lost: Studio Ghibli’s hand-drawn animated cutscenes are the main reason that Wrath of the White Witch felt like the video game equivalent of Princess Mononoke or Howl’s Moving Castle. The game’s emotional and climactic moments felt heightened by the 2D art style, and their omission from Ni no Kuni II was a glaring one, much to the game’s detriment.
Wrath of the White Witch tells the story of a young boy who sets out to save his mother. Oliver is just a regular child who—by sheer and unfortunate happenstance—is thrown into an adventure in another world while trying to protect the one he loves. Everything that Oliver does throughout the game is working towards his ultimate goal for his family—akin to Spirited Away’s Chihiro, who finds herself lost in a magical world and embarks on an adventure to save her parents.
Revenant Kingdom follows the story of a young king as he seeks to build a new kingdom after being usurped from his own. While the narrative has strong emotional moments and similar ties to family, it feels far more impersonal than its predecessors; most players can empathise with the love of one’s mother, but few (if any) can relate to a usurped king.
Finally, Wrath of the White Witch’s Familiars—Pokémon-like creatures who can be captured, tamed, and used in battles. The game features over 300 creatures, each of which can be named and customised by the player. Part of the charm of the original game was finding, capturing, and training Familiars; the second game, however, removed the creatures in favour of Higgledies. With only six types of Higgledies, the game lacked the ability to customise and train creatures, and in doing so lost part of the unique charm of the first game.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is a reminder of what made the first game so appealing—and why its sequel failed to imitate its success. The lack of Studio Ghibli’s direct involvement may make the task difficult, let’s hope that Level-5 can recapture this magic in the series’ third entry.