Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a Japanese role-playing game released in January 2013. The developers are Level 5 and Studio Ghibli, the latter being a Japanese film studio set in Tokyo. The game is breath-taking in all elements but most specifically; its soundtrack.
The music behind the game was composed by Joe Hisaichi, who is also known for his musical contribution to films such as Spirited Away and Ponyo. For a game which has over 40 hours gameplay, the music must be captivating without becoming repetitive, which is something Hisaichi has achieved well. He even claimed he found this composition quite easy and felt very blessed with the production of Ni No Kuni. He based the music on Irish folk music and the soundtrack consists of 21 tracks which amount to 55 minutes in total. The score took Hisaichi a mere 7 days to compose and it is performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra (which consists of 166 members).
Ni No Kuni is essentially a cross between Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Pokémon. The protagonist, Oliver, is a young boy travels to a parallel, magical world after the death of his mother. He uses his wizardry skills and trainable creature called familiars to restore the souls of the “broken-hearted.”
From the moment the game loads, the opening theme is uplifting and epic. There is an instant crashing of loud booming horns which grabs the attention of the player and inflicts this sense of alertness, making you want to delve into this adventure. The piece then unfolds and breaks down into softer violin strokes, topped with the subtle sound of the triangle. It then unravels further into a flute solo, which gives the piece a gentle yet magical sound. This then develops into rushing violins, reverts back to the flute and then loops back round to the opening horns. This variation tells a story in itself and prepares you for the depth of the game.
Another notable track of the game is the field track i.e. the music which plays when exploring the world map. As with the opening track, this piece follows a similar grand opening which breaks down into different, softer harmonies and then builds up again. The instruments provide a real sense of adventure while reminding the player of the sombre threat which lurks over the world as they trek to their next destination. The rebuild of the tune gives the impression of hope and ambition in conquering the melancholy melody.
The battle song consists of invasive violins using sharp and fast strokes to emit a sense of urgency and danger, while a gentle sweeping percussion induces hope. The only downfall of this track is that as Oliver levels up, the battles are shorter and the music can become repetitive and almost irritating when you have frequent battles and you only hear the urgent strings.
An example of a more sentimental piece of music in Ni No Kuni is Arie Recollection which is used to convey Oliver’s loss of his mother. This is a slow and gentle piano melody, paired with saddening violin strokes and harp harmonies. There are also high pitched yet soft tings which remind the player of Oliver’s youth and the combination of these make the piece quite emotional.
The closing track is the only one to contain vocals, sung by Hisaichi’s daughter called “Kokoro no Kakera” (which translates as “Pieces of a broken heart.”)Combined with flutes and piano, the piece is quite moving as it has a wistful feel yet it includes the field track giving a beautiful sense of victory and achievement which ends the game perfectly. You feel like you have been through a real journey and her voice makes you feel overwhelmed at completing Ni No Kuni.
Hisaichi has composed a wonderful soundtrack which not only compliments Ni No Kuni, but helps shape it. The music has such a powerful impact that when you hear it, you are overcome with the need to replay Ni No Kuni and can envision the world without visual aid. Hisaichi really has created the “nostalgic, but connected to the future” world he was aiming for while giving us a memorable and enjoyable musical experience which so unique to a video game.