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Studio Ghibli has been responsible for heartwarming movies in Japan since 1985. With legendary animator Hyao Miyzaki at the forefront, Studio Ghibli has produced movies such as “Princess Mononoke,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Ponyo,” and most recently “The Secret World of Arrietty.” When they gave Disney their blessing in regards to releasing their movies in a dubbed format within the United States, their fan base grew even larger. So when gamers, Studio Ghibli fans, heard that they were partnering with developer Level-5 and Bandai Namco publishing to create a role-playing video game, it seemed like an obvious match made in heaven.
As a result, “Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch” has become a critical darling with critics and fans alike falling over themselves with the cute, innocent nature of the characters. But however lovable the characters may be, does this marriage of Studio Ghibli and video games work? Studio Ghibli’s stories usually have a theme that is heartwarming, with grown up sentiments tied together with amiable characters, together with fantastical landscapes and environments. No matter how well done a story and environment is, within the confines of a video game the game play has to be in the same league as the visuals to be concise and a success as an entire product.
Studio Ghibli’s contribution to the game is your typical Studio Ghibli fare. You have your hero, Oliver, the chosen one, with a buddy on the side, in this case a sassy fairy named Mr. Drippy. He learns and loves and gains some companions along the way just to even out the cast, as well as give the player different skill sets to fight battles with. The color palate is bright, optimistic pastels, with solid animation to back it up.
However, the player only sees the animation in very limited cut scenes. In the meantime, the game designers decided that cel shading would be the most complementary style to go along with Studio Ghibli’s art style. It was a logical choice but does not flow exactly with Studio Ghibli’s smooth and bright animation. Oftentimes the animation out-shines the cel-shaded gameplay and distracts one from enjoying the play.
It feels as though the designers wanted a “Grandia” type of feel, with both the gameplay and cut scenes coalescing into a whole, unified atmosphere. But cel shading does not marry well with Myzaki’s beloved art style and the result is a disjointed gaming experience. The cel shaded scenes and gameplay gave off an “Eternal Sonata” (also published by Bandai Namco) vibe and atmosphere, with darker tones which do not always match the animated contributions of Studio Ghibli.
An example of this disjointed experience: just before an animated sequence finishes, the scene fades to black a little too quickly and a mini load screen comes up before the cel shaded sequence pops up. It’s almost as though the game wants to speed through Studio Ghibli’s animation to get to the next sequence. This places the player in an uncomfortable place between wanting to be invested in Studio Ghibli’s story or wanting to play the game.
Cut Scenes should add to the experience and create an entire atmosphere in order to tell the gamer a whole story. Throughout the whole game, one continues to see more of the limited scenes Studio Ghibli contributed, which is probably not what the designers had in mind for their game as a whole. In addition, the game does not take full advantage of Studio Ghibli’s talent. A majority of the scenes are that of the cel shaded variety, which would anger a Myizaki fan who bought the game not only to play a role playing game but to play one that featured the talent of a beloved animation studio.
In the end, what the gamer gets is a role-playing game with a few Studio Ghibli scenes thrown in, which is fine for a casual gamer but not for one who truly loves Studio Ghibli and their art style.