At its core, Ni no Kuni plays very much like an old-school SNES or even NES RPG. A treversable world map, lots of towns and dungeons, the Get on the Boat
and Global Airship
tropes, a small party and a relatively simplistic plot... all these should be familiar. That's not a bad thing though: given how much RP Gs
have changed these days it's almost refreshing to see one like this again.
Clearing up a few misconceptions: first, I wouldn't call this an "action RPG" at all. Really the only thing "action" about the battle system is movement, you still pick your actual attacks from a menu and use them like you would a turn-based RPG. Second: this game is nothing like Pokemon. The Familiars are more comparable to the monster allies used in Final Fantasy XIII-2 or even Persona, they exist to give your main party members access to different attacks, rather than being party members themselves.
But really, the main thing that will draw most to this game is the Studio Ghibli label. On that, the game really delivers: you really do feel like you're playing a Ghibli film. The visuals are fantastic and what you'd expect from the company, and the orchestral soundtrack feels like it belongs in one of their films too. And like a Ghibli film, the plot is equal parts hearwarming and heart-wrenching, with White and Grey Morality
and a few surprising twists despite its simplicity.
No game is without flaws though. Personally, I find the biggest flaw in the game to be its final act, which I detailed in the YMMV page under Disappointing Last Level
. In short: the "new" portion added for "White Witch", with the exception of the final dungeon, feels like a tacked-on afterthought. You go through a few short areas you've already visited, fight 3 bosses, visit one map area you could have visited before, and then final dungeon time. The biggest dissapointment is the new party member, who's basically just a slightly worse version of Oliver, making him pointless since Oliver is always required to be in the party.
I can really understand why Japanese players found White Witch generally inferior to the DS version, and if we got the DS version like them I'd probably think so too. But we didn't, so as it stands White Witch is an amazing game... with just a slightly weak final act.