"Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch" is a role-playing game a mother could love. The art style will be instantly recognizable to any mom who's taken her kids to see "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" or any other film by Studio Ghibli, which handles the animation here. A mom would appreciate how the game puts a premium on reading, with an in-game manual that's a work of art. And for once, we have a hero setting off on an adventure to save not a princess, but his mother.

In Motorville, an idyllic town that could have been the setting of "Kiki's Delivery Service" -- or, heck, "The Andy Griffith Show" -- we meet Oliver, a boy who's about to suffer a terrible loss. As the player's eyes well with tears, Oliver's own tears fall on his stuffed doll. The unusual-looking fairy, with a lantern hanging from its nose, springs to life, tells Oliver that he's destined to become a wizard and invites him to Another World, where he can save his mom.

It is in Another World that "Ni No Kuni" proves it can be loved by nonmoms just as well. The in-game "Wizard's Companion," a lovingly crafted book made up of hundreds of pages of art and anecdotes, will sing to the heart of anyone who misses the golden age of game manuals. I'd pay a pretty penny for a print version of this thing.

'Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch'
» System: PS3
» Price: $59.99
» Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The bulk of the "Wizard's Companion" is devoted to describing Familiars, little Pokemon-esque creatures around which the game's battle system is crafted. The battles, accordingly, are kind of like "Pokemon" in real time. Only one character -- Oliver or one of his Familiars -- can fight for your side at a time, and you're frequently tagging fighters in and out based on the enemies, and based on how much stamina each of your characters has at the moment. "Ni no Kuni" doesn't lull you into fighting on autopilot, as so many RPGs do, and new wrinkles, like capturing enemies and making them your Familiars, are introduced at regular intervals to keep things interesting. Still, sad to say, the battle system never quite blossoms into what you imagined when you were reading the manual. Tweaks to the menu system to make it easier to give new commands and bigger differences among your Familiars would be merrily welcomed in the happy event of a sequel.

In the meantime, "Ni no Kuni" is a role-playing game with the warmth and wonder of the 16-bit era, and the charm and storytelling of an all-ages crowd-pleaser.