Update: We worked with Bandai Namco to troubleshoot the issues we were having. There wasn’t a specific fix we isolated, nor an exact definition as to what caused the glitches. However, after doing a full-power cycle of the reviewer’s Switch, redownloading to the MicroSD card, and starting a completely fresh save file, we were able to run the game with minimal issues. We still experienced a crash during a cutscene, but it’s important to note that this is the same Switch that was having these issues. If you have any of the same problems we experienced with the game, we suggest the same methods of troubleshooting. We’ve updated the pros, cons, and review score to reflect this.
Original Review Follows
Disclaimer: Bandai Namco is currently looking into the technical issues we experienced. Other outlets with review copies enjoyed a more stable experience. We’ll update you if we find out more.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was the PlayStation 3’s JRPG swansong. It was a stellar collaboration between Japanese video game developer Level-5 and animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli. Akihiro Hino retained the wit in writing here that he imparted to the Professor Layton series. Yoshiyuki Momose, who worked in a variety of animation roles at Ghibli, did the storyboards and character designs. And perpetual Studio Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi composed an emotional score. Unfortunately, something has gone horribly wrong with this Switch port.
Trying to return home with Ni no Kuni
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a JRPG that follows a young boy named Oliver. Along with his fairy sidekick Drippy, he sets off to another world to save it from the evil wizard Shadar after tragedy befalls his family. During his quest, he meets many allies who help him mend the broken hearts of those that have been affected by Shadar.
Oliver also encounters a variety of “familiars” (basically monsters) in combat, which can be tamed to fight for you in the place of your party members. You can even upgrade their abilities by feeding them treats, and they can undergo metamorphosis (basically evolution). They’re like Pokémon. Ni no Kuni allows the player to freely roam around on the battlefield with these familiars or party members, and when you commit to a specific attack or magic spell in the menu, you can still cancel out of it mid-action if the situation changes. So the gameplay in Ni no Kuni is much more active than your typical menu-based RPG. It’s engaging and refreshing.
I played Ni no Kuni on version 1.0.1, the most current patch available at the time. Within the first 20 minutes of my playthrough, Oliver had glitched through his animations on numerous occasions. He would be eating breakfast talking to his mother; then she would nightmarishly glitch through her voice-over and Oliver would clip across the room. There were many times where the audio would experience an issue like this and get hung up on a particular line, leading the dialogue to be out of sync for the rest of a cutscene. Issues like these required me to restart the game, which solved the problem only briefly. These issues persisted outside of battle, with the audio still having issues even during the hand-drawn anime scenes. Re-downloading the game to system memory made no difference.
A world of ethereal fantasy, but not as I remembered
Visually, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the type of game that holds up better than others from that era. The hand-drawn aesthetic brings to life a gorgeous fantasy world that has the same level of detail as Studio Ghibli’s films. Environments look lived in and were crafted with passion by designers. Unfortunately, the Switch port doesn’t even faithfully carry this aspect, due to blurrier textures and an uneven performance when compared to its PS3 counterpart.
Notably, with all the hours of voice-over dialogue and cutscenes that take place, the install file for this game on PlayStation 3 was nearly 22 GB, whereas the Nintendo Switch install is 5.7 GB. Perhaps botched compression is to blame for some of the port’s problems.
Making the best out of a disappointing port of a great game
Despite everything, playing Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch handheld was still inherently delightful, getting to enjoy its world, characters, and presentation again. I was likewise swept away by the gorgeous orchestral score, and I would relive the emotional tenacity of the game’s messages on childlike empathy.
Then the game would freeze itself in the middle of a cutscene, and I would have to restart the game. I would suddenly scrutinize the visual artifacts, try to ignore a noticeably fluctuating frame rate, and worry that there would be another game-breaking issue prior to me saving a significant portion of my playtime.
Much as it pains me to say, Ni no Kuni — an otherwise masterpiece — is not worth your time on the Nintendo Switch. Its issues are simply too frustrating to work around or forgive. The game is in dire need of patches that overhaul how the game performs on the handheld. I was hoping with talk of a new game in the series and this Switch port that the future of the franchise would be positive. For right now, I’m just disappointed that Nintendo fans have gotten the short end of the stick.
A review code was provided by the publisher.