As we approach the half-way mark in TheSixthAxis’ Top 100 Games of 2011 feature, one core principle of TSA rings true: as a group we have wild and varied tastes in games. This should be viewed as a positive thing, of course. After all, who wants to read a gaming site where the staff are all blinkered zealots, only passionate about one genre or, worse still, one series? Diversity is the spice of extra-life.
Despite this eclectic inclusive love-fest, there are always going to be games that one group of TSAers like that others do not. This already can be seen with titles such as Diablo III, Dragon Age II and, to some degree, Crysis 2; all games that, from looking at their respective votes, took up their individual places in this pecking order not because they garnered average scores across the board, but because some people rated them very highly while others really weren’t feeling it.
Number 51 on our list, 二ノ国 白き聖灰の女王 or Ni No Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joō, literally “Second Land: Queen of the White Sacred Ash”, is one of the few games I personally gave top marks to, while others cared little for. I’m not bitter. The ordering of this list was determined by democracy, not some sort of autocratic dogma. And if I’m being totally honest, I’m just glad it made the list at all.
Ni No Kuni is not a title many people are aware of like they are Gran Turismo 5 or any of the other mega-titles in gaming. Those of us who do have it on our game-radars, however, are almost beside ourselves with anticipation and wonder at what a collaboration between Level-5 (of Dark Cloud, Professor Layton and White Knight Chronicles acclaim) and Japanese animation house, Studio Ghibli might entail.
Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, the latter winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2002, the only non-English film to have done so in this category, are modern day masterpieces. Hayao Miyazaki and fellow Ghibli director and founder Isao Takahata have consistently produced wonderful works over the last two decades, with Miyazaki-san regarded as the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. A game combining Level-5’s quality and Studio Ghibli’s nuanced and magical universes is truly a match made in any film-inspired gaming heaven.
Featuring themes the studio is renowned for, Ni No Kuni stars Oliver, a young boy whose mother has just passed away suddenly. In his grief, Oliver clings to Shizuku (Japanese for “waterdrop”), a doll his mother gave him before she died. After revealing himself to actually be a fairy from “Another World” (another translation of Ni No Kuni), Oliver uses a magical book gifted to him by Shizuku to travel to this parallel universe inhabited by alternate versions of people Oliver knows. A place where he’s told he may be able to revive his mother. I’m already welling up.
It’s an acquired taste, for sure. If you’re not into Japanese animation or Level-5’s particular slant on gaming then this could be one game you’re more than happy to pass up on. For others though, for people like me in particular with a passion for Japanese, animation, and strong narrative in gaming, not to mention the luscious graphics we’ve seen so far of what literally looks like a Ghibli movie you can interact with (see below), Ni No Kuni isn’t even a “probably pick it up at some point.” It’s a camp outside, midnight launch, call in sick for three days with a mysterious undiagnosable ailment type event.
The PS3 exclusive* will be out in Japan sometime next year. If a Western European date isn’t announced soon – I’ll be booking another trip to see some friends in Tokyo quicker than you can say domou arigatou gozaimasu.
*There is also a separate but connected DS game, 二ノ国 漆黒の魔導士, Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi. This one translates as “Second Land: The Jet-Black Mage.” It shares a similar root but both games are considered separate despite having the same “story axle.”