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Geek Out

Ultra-Modern Fairy Tale

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IN NI NO KUNI, you play Oliver, a young boy whose mother dies shortly after the game begins. And since this game boasts a story from Studio Ghibli—the same animation studio behind My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away—the death of his mother leads Oliver to open a portal to an alternate dimension where, naturally, he becomes a wizard. I know it sounds weird, but if you described the events of Howl's Moving Castle, would they make any more sense? Exactly. Just trust me when I say the story is typical of Studio Ghibli's efforts: funny, heartwarming, adorable, and never afraid to honestly discuss heavy subjects like the death of a parent.

Aesthetically, Ni no Kuni captures that trademark Ghibli vibe: The world is gorgeous, every moving thing is animated to an extreme degree, and if you didn't know better, it'd be easy to mistake the gameplay for an actual Studio Ghibli film.

On the downside, the roleplaying game system underlying Ni no Kuni is pretty basic—but even that seems intentional. Level-5 is a smart enough developer to realize that the Studio Ghibli story would be the key selling point for Ni no Kuni, so it makes sense that they would create as basic of a gameplay system as possible on which to hang the story. The result is a game that's immediately accessible and simple to understand, yet surprisingly complex and largely engrossing.

Whether you'll like Ni no Kuni depends on what you want from the game: If you want a bloody epic full of wizard/rogue/barbarian sex triangles, homophobic elves, and/or Nordic anything, this isn't the game for you. But if you've been waiting for a chance to play through an interactive Studio Ghibli film—one that's equal parts adorable and tear-jerkingly maudlin—the $60 price tag attached to Ni no Kuni is absolutely worth it.

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