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Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) are known for having large, immersive fantasy worlds.  It is easy for a gamer to become truly captivated in these worlds while guiding his heroes throughout various terrains to explore, hunt treasure, and battle monsters.  And a map is essential for anyone trying to make it through these worlds and avoid becoming hopelessly lost.  Fortunately, most JRPGs include a map of the overworld within the game, although it is often not completely revealed until partway through.

One of the best JRPGs to come out in recent years is Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which was released for Playstation 3 in the US last year.  It’s quite a long game; I have spent over 60 hours on it and still have not finished it.  But I’m not complaining, because it’s incredibly fun to play.  In particular, the visual style is very appealing.  It was animated by Studio Ghibli, which has also animated the films made by famed Japanese director Hiyao Miyazaki, such as Spirited Away.

The game takes place in an alternate world into which an American boy, Oliver, from a typical small town has suddenly been transported.  Marveling at the strangeness of it all, he quickly begins learning magic and gaining allies in order to save the habitants of this world from a powerful evil wizard.  Oliver begins in the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell, but from there he travels to every corner of the map, encountering every type of climate and terrain imaginable.

What is especially charming about the game is how every city Oliver visits has its own particular character.  Ding Dong Dell is like a medieval European town, the desert city of Al Mamoon has an Arabic flair, Yule is an homage to Inuit culture with its igloo buildings, and Perdida, sitting on the top of a mountain, feels like it was inspired by Machu Picchu, with the residents using the occasional Spanish word in their dialogue and the local pack animals being named llapacas (alpaca +llama).  After visiting all of these cities, each with their own unique flavor, one gets the impression this truly is a fully-formed world much like ours.

Like many other JRPGs, Ni No Kuni recognizes the large scale of the world it has created, and it gives the player the ability to traverse it more quickly.  First, the heroes get a ship at Castaway Cove which lets them sail from the Summerlands to Autumnia in the East.  With the ship, gamers can also start visiting all the little islands peppered throughout the ocean, although some of the enemies there will swiftly defeat them until they have gained more experience. Secondly, later on in the game, the crew gains access to a dragon. That’s right, a dragon! Now you can reach all sorts of places you could not before, such as high hills that cannot be climbed, or islands where the ship cannot dock.  Additionally, you can learn a spell which lets you instantly transport to important areas you have visited before… but it’s not nearly as much fun as riding a dragon.

And now if you’re gazing at the map above with its seasonally-named continents and various minor islands, you may be wondering about the fairly large island in the bottom left corner.  What’s going on there?  Why doesn’t it have a name?  Well… this location does not open up until nearly the end of the game.  To find out why, you’ll just have to play for yourself!

Happy mapping and happy gaming!

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