Since its release in March 2017, the Nintendo Switch has quickly become the go-to destination for role-playing games for many consumers. It’s easy to see why as its portable form factor allows for players to play console-quality games on the go, which is a perfect fit for RPGs that often span dozens if not hundreds of hours. While plenty of original titles take advantage of the system like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Oninaki, we have also seen publishers look deep into their back catalog and port some essential classics in the genre over like Square Enix did with the Collection of Mana. The latest hit from yesteryear to make its way to Nintendo’s console-handheld hybrid is 2011’s NI NO KUNI: WRATH OF THE WHITE WHICH, a collaboration between developer Level-5 and famed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. And despite its age, its still quite the RPG.
Ni no Kuni is eight years old yet still constantly wows due to its fantastic art direction. Everything from the enemies you face off against to the villagers you talk to during your adventure look absolutely marvelous and are filled with character and charm. The world these characters inhabit is also cute and its wholesome tale has withstood the test of time thanks to the aforementioned charm and solid writing. While it has some memorable faces, Drippy, a stubborn fairy that promises to help the protagonist bring back his recently deceased mother, is the highlight. Depending on if you’re using the English or Japanese voice tracks, he either has a thick Scottish accent or speaks with the Kansai dialect. Either way, he is constantly hilarious and makes even the most mundane system explanations entertaining, which is a great thing since Ni no Kuni is a dense RPG filled with dozens of different systems.
From Pokemon-like creatures called Familiars that can be brought into battle (you even have to forget old moves to make room for new ones as you level them up) to a variety of emotions that the player can use to cure broken hearts, there are plenty of layers to Ni no Kuni. While the pacing is quite slow at first and tends to drag on during the later parts of the adventure, the RPG does a solid job of evenly distributing new gameplay mechanics throughout the lengthy story (which is also filled with an equal amount of meaningful narrative moments). There’s constantly something new for the player to dive into, and there are in-game compendiums to track every sort of object. It’s a completionist’s dream.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Switch Review | A gorgeous game even on Nintendo Switch
Another treat that makes the lengthy adventure a less arduous one is that there are gorgeous animated cutscenes by Studio Ghibli that help add an exclamation point to big story moments and major accomplishments. While there are only around 20 minutes of animation in total, and a lot of it is disproportionately during the opening hour, they always remain a delight when they pop up. While it’s easy to wish for more of it, the standard cutscenes using the in-game assets are nearly just as appealing and the voice acting is all top-notch. Even though some of the surprises are a bit by-the-numbers, the big narrative reveals work due to some great writing and the story can get quite emotional at times due to the relatable subject matter of losing a parent. The stylish presentation is a real feather in its cap, and it’s one of the major reasons why the game doesn’t feel dated at all.
The combat is another strong suit and it takes a lot of elements from the Tales series as players can openly run around during battle in order to set up attacks or dodge the incoming blows of enemies. All of the other actions that the player and their Familiars do is selected via a menu, so it’s a blend of turn-based gameplay and real-time movement. It’s a bit awkward at first as you have to go through the menu with the directional pad while moving the character with the analog stick, but it becomes second nature after a few battles. It winds up being a satisfying mix of action and tactical play as players switch Familiars in and out in the heat of battle and prioritize moves that are effective against different elements (once again similar to Pokemon).
The performance is the one thing separating the new Switch port from the remastered release on PlayStation 4 and PC. Both of those versions can output the visuals at higher resolutions (going up to 4K on a PS4 Pro) and run at a steady 60 frames per second. The Switch version features none of these additions and outputs at 720p while running at 30 frames per second. This is an understandable compromise as the hybrid console isn’t nearly as powerful and the game doesn’t really need to be running at a higher frame rate. After all, the action is mostly turn-based and it’s not like a racing or fighting game where more precise movement is needed. Overall, the Switch version looks just as good as the original release and runs without any issues.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Switch Review | The pros outweigh the lesser frame rate
The perks of being able to take Ni no Kuni on the go is the real draw of the Nintendo Switch version, and it far outweighs the technical limitations. Considering a speedy playthrough will still take nearly 50 hours and double that for a complete run, having the ability to play the game in smaller chunks either while in bed or on a daily commute is a huge selling point. A lot of the more monotonous elements, like grinding against enemies or trying to fill out your list of Familiars, are also less of an annoyance when you can simply play it in handheld mode while watching a movie or television show. The portable nature of the port helps hide some of its less appealing aspects, and whether it is docked or not, it retains the gorgeous visuals that look great on a high-definition display.
Thanks to one of Bandai Namco’s best localization efforts and the fantastic work of both Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is still a joy to experience almost a decade after it was originally released. Both the story and the world it takes place in is full of heart, and the new Switch port is a great way to take it all in. While this adds nothing new besides the ability to play the game portably, the core product is good enough to earn its spot on your Switch.