Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is released again today, September 20, for Nintendo Switch, alongside a remaster for PlayStation 4 and PC. One of the gosh-darn loveliest-looking role-playing games of recent generations, helped in no small way by having animation provided by Studio Ghibli and music from Joe Hisaishi, Level-5’s adventure first released for the PlayStation 3 in 2011 before coming West in 2013. And it absolutely holds up today, too, based on the couple of hours I’ve played of the Switch version, on my recent commutes.
Wrath of the White Witch – a remake of the first game in the Ni no Kuni series, the Japan-only Nintendo DS-exclusive Dominion of the Dark Djinn – tells the story of Oliver, a young boy whose mother (spoilers, though it does happen very early on) dies, but who finds himself having to travel to another world, the Ni no Kuni of the title, to help its inhabitants overcome the evil tyranny of Shadar, the Dark Djinn of the original title. But that’s not all, as the remake’s title should imply: there’s another baddie in the mix, and she’s a lot more dangerous than Shadar.
While fantastical in the extreme, with its monsters and wizards and the like, Wrath of the White Witch remains remarkably grounded for a JPRG thanks to a very relatable story of loss – and the inclusion, in the English translation, of the most Welsh (Welshiest? Welshest?) character to ever grace a video game. If you’re not yet introduced, I give you: Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies.
Drippy – or Shizuku in the Japanese releases – isn’t quite the first otherworldly character that Oliver meets in the game (that’ll be Pea, a green-haired girl with magical powers of her own). But he’s absolutely the one that makes the biggest impression of any NPC, with his stocky body and lantern hanging off the end of his extended schnoz.
It’s his voice though that’s really memorable, however, as Drippy is fantastically voiced for the English release by Swansea-born actor Steffan Rhodri, best known for playing Dave Coaches in the (soon to return!) TV show Gavin & Stacey and Reg Cattermole in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The contrast between how he speaks, and how Oliver replies, is designed to highlight how they’re from different worlds; but to British players, there’s really no doubting where in our world this diminutive fellow is from.
From his very first lines, delivered when he first awakens from being trapped as a doll courtesy of Oliver’s tears of grief, Drippy is a hugely charismatic companion, albeit one who doesn’t get involved with combat (he did in Dominion of the Dark Djinn, but this was changed for the PS3 game). He offers tutorials and guidance as much as he drops zinging put-downs in front of Oliver, calling him a “cry-baby bunting” while also encouraging him to realise his potential as a spell-caster. The zeal that Rhodri brings to the role never wavers, and he merrily leans into the comedy potential that his involvement brings.
“I think a Welsh accent often works for comedy,” he told God is a Geek, back in 2013. “Either the accent itself, or maybe the people are naturally funny.” Venture Beat highlighted Rhodri’s performance as one of the best of 2013, writing how “Drippy catches you off guard the moment you first meet him,” and that “you don’t have to know what all his ‘muns’ and ‘tidys’ mean to appreciate the offbeat humour [Rhodri] brings to this colourful role-playing game.”
And that Rhodri is using not only a prominent (south) Welsh accent but also dialectical features and colloquialisms – the ‘muns’ and the ‘tidys’, the ‘youers’ and the ‘en’ts’ – makes this Japanese game a celebration of a form of English not much heard outside of Britain.
There have been other Welsh characters in video games, but never like this – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s Edward Kenway, for example, is supposedly from Swansea, but can’t hold a candle to Drippy for nailing the area’s authentic sound. FromSoftware has used Welsh actors in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but not in significant roles.
Six years after Wrath of the White Witch‘s first Western release, Drippy still feels like a breath of fresh air in a medium where voice overs have undeniably improved incredibly since the early days, but regularly shy away from strong accents. You want to make sure everyone understands what’s going on, obviously – but thanks to the expressive animation and distinctive character designs, and the confidence that Level-5 had in casting Rhodri for the localised Drippy role, this game never has you scratching your head as to what he’s banging on about. And every time he opens his mouth, it’s a highlight.
It’s a delight, is what I’m saying – and now it’s a delight that you can play on the move; or enjoy in its best-ever guise via the PS4 and PC remaster. I appreciate that it’s a busy time for new game releases, with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Borderlands 3 and Gears 5 amongst many titles competing for attention. But if you want an adventure that’s a little different – in both sight and, crucially, sound – this blast from the recent past remains a wonderful experience.