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Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and 10 Years of Magic

The magic of stepping into another world.



10 Years Later — Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

In the inevitable and merciless forward march of time, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch reaching a decade old feels like a particularly cruel blow.

Because, after ten years, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has undeniably etched its place into the JRPG history books. It proudly built off the foundations of its predecessors while having the courage to break new ground in a genre that was wilting upon its arrival. It’s a game about heartbreak, a game about self-discovery, and a game about finding the best in people. It’s also a game about collecting and battling cute anime monsters, flying around on a purple dragon, and exploring worlds born from some of the most creative minds in animation.

And after ten years, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch hasn’t lost a fraction of what made it so magical.

Characters of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Image: Bandai Namco / Level-5

Ghibli’s Other World

When Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch first released in the west in 2013, the number one talking point from critics and gamers alike was that “it’s like playing an anime”. This particular phrase had been used for other games before – including developer Level-5’s previous work Dragon Quest VIII. But, of course, Ni no Kuni didn’t look like just any cookie-cutter anime. It had one big Ghibli-shaped advantage over all the rest.

Studio Ghibli is one of the world’s most respected animation studios – Japanese or otherwise. Level-5 collaborated with the studio to inform the game’s art style, character designs, and even got them to create some gorgeous animated cutscenes. And the results speak for themselves. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch hasn’t aged a day in the ten years since, and its fantasy world is brimming with the life, vibrancy, and wonder that you would expect from a film like Laputa or Spirited Away.

And just like with some of Ghibli’s greatest works, Ni no Kuni isn’t afraid to get weird. Some of the highlights? There’s an entire dungeon set inside a giant fairy who is being plagued by evil jellyfish. You also visit a seaside village that has a law in place demanding its citizens only wear swimsuits. And finally, there’s a cutscene of two fairies performing a stand-up comedy act, and it is genuinely hilarious.

The other benefit from collaborating with Ghibli was that Ni no Kuni’s soundtrack came from legendary composer Joe Hisashi. His career has been built on creating highly emotive film soundtracks that tug at the heartstrings in all the right ways. The game’s music effortlessly glides from eliciting feelings of whimsy to adventure to melancholy without missing a beat and further immersing us in this other world.

Oliver, Mr. Drippy and Familiar in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Image: Bandai Namco / Level-5

A Story of Mending Broken Hearts

In some ways, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’s story treads very familiar territory for a JRPG. A young child is transported to a fantastical world where they must team up with other heroes to take down an oppressive evil force and save the day. But at its heart is a far more intimate and personal story. It’s about a boy trying to bring back his dead mother while learning how to overcome his grief in the process.

That boy’s name is Oliver, and he isn’t your typical JRPG protagonist. His motivation for exploring this other world remains grounded throughout most of the adventure and his kind-hearted nature never devolves into unnecessary edginess for the sake of appeasing fans of the genre. While the world is filled with magic and wonder, his grieving is kept painfully real and your heart breaks alongside that of his character.

This makes the game’s theme of mending broken hearts all the more poignant. We feel Oliver’s hurt and that of all the other characters. But as they gradually learn to move forward from their pain by embracing companionship and self-belief, we also feel an overwhelming sense of triumph at just much they have had to overcome.

Overworld of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Image: Bandai Namco / Level-5

A Role-Playing Retrospective

Ten years ago, there was real fear that the traditional JRPG was dying on home consoles. Final Fantasy XIII took the series in a direction many believed betrayed its roots, and there hadn’t been a new mainline Dragon Quest or Persona game in years. Fans were crying out for a game that simultaneously felt fresh, while still harkening back to the glory days of the genre in the 90s. Enter Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

When it first released on PlayStation 3, Ni no Kuni played like how people want JRPGs to play. You explore towns, dungeons, and an overworld, leveling up your party by battling monsters, and completing side quests for various NPCs. If all of this sounds like a standard day in the office for this type of game, that’s because it is. But back in 2013, gamers weren’t sure if this formula would exist anymore on home consoles. Not only did Ni no Kuni show that it could be done, but it proved that this classic approach could be effectively modernized and achieve commercial success with a twenty-first-century audience.

Not every aspect of Ni no Kuni’s gameplay was universally adored by gamers. Its Pokemon-style Familiars felt tacked on to some and its real-time menu-based battles weren’t the most intuitive in history. Interestingly, both elements were dropped for its 2018 sequel. But alongside games like Xenoblade Chronicles, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch breathed new life into JRPGs and heralded a renaissance for the genre on home consoles that we are still enjoying to this day.

Ten years on, Wrath of the White Witch game continues to spread its magic across the JRPG genre and beyond. And that magic isn’t showing any signs of dimming any time soon.

Harry's friends got sick of him talking about video games all the time, so he decided to write about them online. When Harry isn't cosied up with a good fantasy novel, chances are he'll be grinding his way through a JRPG or obsessively backtracking through a metroidvania.

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