Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 18, 2013
Ni No Kuni

As I said earlier, I don't really like the story of Ni No Kuni, which is too childish and morally simplistic for my taste. But I spent most of the weekend playing this game on my PS3, because other than the story this is really an excellent game. And as art is in the eye of the beholder, some people probably even like the story. I think one big lesson from the SimCity debacle is that ultimately the most important thing about a game is that it just works perfectly. Ni No Kuni has that excellence of execution in spades, and is simply a great game to play, even if you can't identify with the characters.

Of course it helps if you like the Japanese style of RPGs, like Final Fantasy. Ni No Kuni is a huge game, with many different depth levels of gameplay, which are all introduced slowly over the course of the game. By the time a typical PC game would already be over, Ni No Kuni just opened up its Pokemon-like familiar catching and training feature. You can spend endless time trying to "catch them all", or you can look up recommendations on the internet which familiars are best in the long run, and concentrate on those. Even if you do the latter, you'll spend a lot of time optimizing your familiars, metamorphosing them into stronger forms which means they restart at level 1, while you keep playing with another familiar as your frontline fighter. You'll optimize the treats you feed them to increase their stats, their gear, and their abilities. It is a wonderfully complex system that motivates for many hours.

Besides being simplistic, the story unfortunately is also rather linear. Even if later you can travel to places the story or sidequests aren't asking you to, that is rarely a good idea. The power curve of enemies is steep, so that if you veer off the beaten path, you'll either meet monsters that are far too easy (and thus don't get you enough xp), or so hard that they one-shot you. On the other hand you are encouraged to not just rush after the main story, because the various errands and bounty hunts are a good way to become strong enough to beat the boss monsters of the story. There are also various treasures to hunt, from chests to crafting ingredients, and familiars to chase, so that the linearity of the story doesn't become all that evident.

Combat is a fun mix of tactical choices and moments where you have to time your moves right. In boss battles one of the most important things is to go into defensive mode when the boss unleashes a power move, but there is much more to combat than that. You can't use any given familiar for very long, and so you keep switching between them, and your main character to cast his spells, trying to adapt to the situation of the combat. That can get quite challenging, but if you fail you can either try again or just make a few more rounds to gain some levels, or switch around your equipment (I really shouldn't have wielded that fire sword on my main familiar when climbing the volcano, it should have been obvious that I'd get in trouble when that boss fight turned out to be against a lava elemental.)

In addition to combat and story, Ni No Kuni also has an interesting world, which is presented in bits and pieces via pages of your wizard compendium you find. There are also riddles and puzzles, and a few easy jump-and-run like sequences. And there are lots of weird places to discover, from typical fantasy places to inside the stomach of the fairy godmother.

Overall Ni No Kuni is quite a good game, and offers a huge amount of entertainment time for the money. Recommended!

Damn. I would consider buying a PS3 for that game alone if I had too much money on my hand right now. I'm a huge Studio Ghibli fan and JRPGs are among my top 3 Genres as well...

Too bad we still have to put up with closed systems and platform exclusive titles. It's such a waste...
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