I finally picked up Ni no Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch during a PlayStation Network flash sale last month. I started playing it this week (I also got Borderlands 2 during the sale and summarily compared it to Ulysses) and, man, I should have gotten this game ages ago.
Ni no Kuni is a Japanese RPG with all the trappings of the genre: young kid leaves our world to a fantasy world where he’s gotta save that world from evil. He is, after all, the chosen one. Gifted with a book of spells and aided by Mr Drippy the Scottish-accented Lord High Lord of The Fairies (yes), Oliver’s out to restore people’s hearts and defeat evil (and save his mom). It’s JRPG melodrama at its finest (see also: Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid, basically any anime ever).
But that’s what’s so great about it. Granted, I grew up on a great deal of Japanese melodrama, but there’s something great to seeing such fairy tale-esque concepts played so earnestly. But unlike some other JRPG’s, Ni no Kuni is filled with pure, unabashed whimsy. It may be in part because Oliver’s a child in the same vague age group as a main character from Studio Ghibli (which, incidentally, animated cutscenes for the game and inspired the graphics), meaning the game isn’t going to get real gloomy. But there are other bits here and there that keep it feeling, well, like a fairy tale — in the best possible way. Oliver fights adorable monsters that wouldn’t look out of place as plush toys. He explores places like Ding Dong Dell where he must rescue King Tom XIV (a cat) from Hickory Dock XVII (a rat). It’s wonderful, and so darn happy.
It’s incredibly refreshing to see a story like this. I find that in entertainment these days there’s a huge distinction between ‘serious’ and ‘fun.’ You’ve got the divide in literature between the commercial and literature, where a book must be about Important Subjects for it to be considered truly great and fantasy is straight out unless it’s as Serious as A Song of Ice and Fire. More in the light is the different ways Marvel and DC are handling the adaptions of their comics into respective shared universes. DC’s Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman (both trailers of which dropped last weekend) feels like an answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: where Marvel has been embracing the pulp, DC has been advocating for the dark, gritty, and serious.
Which isn’t necessarily bad. The Dark Knight took a very serious tone and was all the better for it. But what set Dark Knight apart from Man of Steel and how Batman versus Superman and Suicide Squad are looking is the undercurrent of heroism. The central theme was that, yes, there was evil, but there also was good. The tone served a purpose. Man of Steel felt unnecessarily gloomy, as does the early marketing for Fantastic Four. It seems we’re at a point where we can’t take things seriously unless they’re Serious. Even the MCU, considered far more light-hearted and humorous than DC’s offerings, still keeps its enthusiasm in check for the most part.
I think that’s what I find so darn appealing about Ni no Kuni. There’s no attempt to try and dress up its cosmic themes; it’s pure good versus evil, light against darkness. It’s got an unbridled enthusiasm for telling this sort of story as it is.
There’s a time and a place for grit. I love Game of Thrones and am more excited for Suicide Squad than I thought I’d be. But after a while every shade of gray starts to look the same, and that’s when the pure, gleeful whimsy of Ni no Kuni is so appreciated.