Today, it seems that not a month goes by that we don’t see a niche Japanese video game released in the west. However, looking back only a few years ago, this just wasn’t the case. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released on PlayStation 3 in Japan in 2011. Being an enhanced version of the 2010 Nintendo DS release Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn, Ni no Kuni wouldn’t see a western release until 2013.
There was a reason for this, though, Japanese games just weren’t profitable in the west. Online shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield were dominating the gaming space. While AAA RPGs like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim satisfied gamer’s need for any fantasy in their lives. What suffered from all this was the fact that, at the time, PlayStation 3 didn’t have any notable JRPGs available on the console and the genre seemed to be hurting because of it.
The issue was that translations and localization time between the Japanese and western release during these years was extremely long. A game could take up to three years to come west. These games just didn’t stand a chance when compared to AAA graphics and marketing budgets.
Speaking for myself, this was precisely why drifted away from JRPGs. I didn’t even own a PS3 at the time and focused primarily on playing Call of Duty and Halo. Yes, I was that guy. When I heard about Ni no Kuni coming west, something about the game grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Memories of playing JRPGs on my PlayStation for entire Saturday’s growing up came rushing through my mind. I knew it was time to see what the genre was up too.
I purchased the game on launch day and was not disappointed in the slightest. The game’s anime-style designs and Studio Ghibli artwork made the quality of the game of a higher standard. The story was long, and each destination on the adventure offered many new things to do with new characters to meet. I felt like a kid again.
As the protagonist, Oliver is young but also capable of handling adult situations, and his curiosity almost mirrored my own. He begins his adventure as a scared child, which shows in how he cowers during early battles. However, over time, he grows confidence within himself and the people around him, and you watch him grow before your eyes. The best part about this is that as a player, you are developing with him. Becoming skilled in battles and taking on challenges are just a few things Oliver and his friends will need to get through.
Essentially, Ni no Kuni reignited my imagination that I had lost growing up and I was once again enjoying a solo story based in a fantasy world. I was always eager to see what was coming next and wanted so badly to see Oliver through until the end of his adventure. I never felt this from reaching the month in-game playing mark on Call of Duty multiplayer and from this point on I never returned to online shooters.
After the release of Ni no Kuni, Tales of Xillia released in the west (a full two years after Japan) and that’s when things started to change for western JRPG fans. The last few years of the PlayStation 3 generation were full of great niche titles like the Atelier series and The Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Plus, the wait time between game announcement and localization was becoming shorter and shorter.
For me, Ni No Kuni changed a lot about who I am as a gamer. The amount of fantasy, imagination, and great storytelling found in that game will possibly do the same for any who play it. I hope that the popularity of the genre today reignites other gamer’s imaginations. Perhaps this release will introduce them to a brand new experience that could open the door to this genre for them.
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