At this moment in time, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is currently basking in critical acclaim from Journalists all over North America and Europe. It is currently sitting at a very pretty 87 on Metacritic, and it seems that most gamers are excited about this brand new JRPG. The interest in the Level-5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration seems to have sky rocketed since the publication of Colin Moriarty’s IGN Review, in which he awarded the game an ‘Amazing’ 9.4/10, and a lot of journalists seemed to have followed suit, each one praising Ni no Kuni for it’s storytelling, breathtaking visuals and dynamic gameplay.
However, my question is, how long until this hype dies down, and is Ni no Kuni destined to be pushed to the side-lines and forgotten just like so many other JRPG’s of this console generation?
The JRPG was King back when the PS2 was at the peak of it’s popularity, so many games labelled as classics, such as Final Fantasy X and the Persona series. However, with the introduction of the HD Console era, JRPG’s have taken a back seat, losing in popularity to those created in the Western world, such as Bethesda’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls series and Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age. A lot of gamers have slammed the archaic mechanics that JRPG’s seem to embrace and are frustrated that Japanese developers continue to produce these games like this, despite the Western world seemingly having moved on. Even Final Fantasy XIII, despite selling well, was not a hit with gamers, with most claiming the series as dead.
From Software blew a breath of fresh air over the industry with the release of their brutal but critical acclaimed offerings Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. These games provided a more westernised RPG experience, a dark story set within a Medieval world with fast paced real time combat. The unforgiving difficulty put a lot of players off, but those that stuck with the games were treated to one of the most satisfying and rewarding JRPG’s in recent memory.
The sales of those games were good, Dark Souls in particular which now has an official sequel in the works, but Ni no Kuni again appears to embrace the more traditional aspects of the JRPG.
I believe that the release window of Ni no Kuni has not done the game many favours. In just a few short weeks, more popular and well established IPs such as Dead Space 3 and Crysis 3 will be releasing on consoles, both offering single player campaigns as well as online multiplayer to increase the longevity of the experience. Ni no Kuni is a single player game with no online modes to speak off. I come from the school where I believe that not all games need an online component shoehorned in to make it a fantastic game, however the general gaming public would seem to disagree and love a good game of Team Deathmatch or some kind of equivalent. Both Dead Space (the new one at least) and Crysis are ‘Shooters’ and in the western world Call of Duty has proved that the Shooter is King. Those are just two upcoming titles. We still have Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V and a new Gears of War game on the horizon that are going to offer consumers countless of hours of gameplay, that for the most part will be shared online with friends.
It seems then that Namco Bandai games had no choice but to release the game at this moment, as to avoid the post E3 hype and chaos of next generation consoles looking more likely to be revealed and potentially even releasing by the years end.
Ni no Kuni is also releasing as a Playstation 3 exclusive, which is why I’m sure there was the Ninostarter Campaign in North America, the most popular territory of the Xbox 360, in order to entice people to invest in the Wizards Edition of Ni no Kuni and generate more interest for the game.
At the moment this appears to have worked, the Wizards Edition is sold out almost everywhere right now, so sales of Ni no Kuni will at least be acceptable.
My issue is whether or not gamers are going to stick with Ni no Kuni through it’s 40+ campaign and hours more of level grinding, when these other well known IPs are just around the corner. If history tells us anything then the answer would unfortunately be a resounding No. I believe that Ni no Kuni will unfortunately remain a niche title, as so many other JRPG’s of this console generation have become. Who remembers the likes of Eternal Sonata? Lost Odyssey? Resonance of Fate? Infinite Undiscovery? Did they produce any sequels? Better yet, who actually played them to completion? Not a lot I am guessing, and yet these were all games that were released to some form of critical success in the west, but like Ni no Kuni, they had little to no marketing push outside of the online realm.
I have genuine concerns over Ni no Kuni, not about the quality of the product, but about it’s legacy. It’s clear that so much love and attention has gone into the creation of this game, and after playing through the demo I realised this was the JRPG I had been waiting for, and I’m thoroughly excited about playing through it. I just hope I’m proved wrong and Ni no Kuni will not fall into obscurity like so many that came before it.
Only time will tell.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White witch is out now in North America and 1st February in the UK.