At first glance, Ni no Kuni appears to be every JRPG fan's dream: an epic story, gorgeous graphics and art style, fully orchestrated music, and lots of ways to customize battles. But after the first few hours, the game's charm and wonder wears off and you're left with a frustrating adventure that seems to drag on for far too long. What should've been a strong game of the year candidate ends up becoming distantly average and can only be recommended to JRPG fans.

                The highest accomplishment the game has derives from its visuals, as it's easily one of the best looking games of this generation. Being only the second game the famed Studio Ghibli has ever lent their creative talents to, their top-notch art design and animation helps the title have all the charm of any movie they've made. This becomes especially evident during cutscenes, whether using in-game graphics or hand-drawn, that help motivate players to continue the story. Towns and other areas of the world feel very much alive thanks to the game's equally compelling sound design and an excellent fully orchestrated musical score.

                However, those high points start to give way to many frustrating mechanics. Exploration, a key element in any JRPG, plays a much smaller role in this game, as you're always pointed in the direction you need to go in order to progress the story. Along the way, you frequently encounter new areas that have sudden difficulty spikes, requiring a good amount of grinding to level up characters and earn money for better equipment. There are side missions that can help alleviate the stress during these times, but a majority of them are very similar to each other and follow the typical "fetch quest" formula. Players may also take on bounty hunts that can be quite enjoyable and offer a suitable challenge and reward, but these are much fewer in number than the side missions.

                Whereas the battle systems of other JRPGs tend to be one of their high points, Ni no Kuni's end up feeling like a bothersome chore. You control only one character at a time and the others are handled by the AI. Each character can then have a captured familiar/monster fight in their place. You do have some customization options over how your AI partners fight, but you can only change these during the middle of battles. But no matter what your instructions are, it always feels like the AI will just do whatever it wants.

                During battles, you can move around to avoid some attacks, but using any magic or items forces your character to pause briefly and open them up to damage. This happens not only to you when you perform the action to help another player, but to the character receiving the help as well. There are also far too many attacks that cause cinematics, making battles last way longer than they need to be. On top of that, those cinematics randomly interrupt whatever magic your character was trying to cast, turning the time you spent trying to cast it into a waste and further prolongs battles. You typically only cast offensive spells during boss battles and bounty hunts, though, as almost all other battles can be won simply by spamming physical attacks.

                It's obvious from the start that a lot of thought went into the presentation of the game, but a lot of the main gameplay mechanics feel like they ended up being an afterthought to the developers. Hopefully this will not deter Studio Ghibli from contributing to future titles, as the game shows that they can help immerse players in the stunningly gorgeous worlds that they create. JRPG and Studio Ghibli fans will find some enjoyment in Ni no Kuni, but it's hard to recommend it for anyone else.