Ni No Kuni wasn’t something I’d seen advertised heavily but it kept popping up as a suggested product for me on Amazon. It looked interesting to me but I long ago realized that if I bought every game I had a passing interest in my wife would kill me and make it look like an accident (Not out of anger – out of necessity. She’d need the insurance money to pay off my gaming debt and cover the mortgage). Lucky for me some friends across town ended up buying it and when they were done they loaned me their copy of the game. Having just finished FOUR SWORDS it made the perfect time to give it a try. I put the game in, set my boys down and we watched the opening cinematic. Both of my boys stared unblinkingly at the screen with their jaws hanging open.
When I was in middle school my good friend Bryce called me up to brag about how great Prince of Persia looked on his Moms’ brand new Macintosh computer. He claimed that it was exactly like playing a cartoon. I must admit, it did look light years better than anything I’d seen on my NES up to that point but unless you squinted and played the game from the other side of the room it fell quite short of being a playable cartoon. Several other games have adopted a cartoon graphical style over the years but Ni No Kuni is the new standard to which cartoon themed video games will be held to. All of the animation is hand drawn by Studio Ghibli and playing the game feels a lot like watching a Studio Ghibli film. We recently re-watched Kiki’s Delivery Service and at first my boys thought I was playing Ni No Kuni again.
The game follows the tale of Oliver, a young wizard who journeys to a parallel world full of creatures called ‘Familiars’. They might as well have called them ‘Pokemon’. Familiars can be captured, leveled up, metamorphed into new more powerful forms and used in battle, exactly like in a Pokemon game. Familiars have types and affinities and elemental strengths and weaknesses but I didn’t find these to factor much into game play. I mostly kept my starter familiars and bludgeoned my way through the game with them. Not that I didn’t want to change my familiars out. My boys had named each familiar as we caught it (our first familiar was named Grandpa) and they got upset when I tried to remove Grandpa from our party.
Combat gives you the illusion that you can run around the battlefield and accomplish things but it is all a clever lie. Orders are issued via a command menu and where you are positioned on the battlefield doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. I didn’t find dodging to be particularly effective (except on certain bosses) and my attacks generally hit who I targeted no matter where I was standing when I issued the order. My normal strategy was to walk into combat, and mash the X button until all my foes had been defeated. I even let my kids and wife try a few times. As long as I wasn’t severely under leveled for an area this strategy worked nearly flawlessly.
I found the menu system to be hopelessly un-intuitive. Pressing square or triangle when out in the world map opened up two different menus – one to use magic and save, and another to access a separate grid of menu options. I don’t know why it is so hard for me to remember but I still can’t remember which button did what. I was always pressing the wrong button when all I wanted to do was save my game. Once you get into the menus there is further complication – familiars need to be equipped with weapons, armor and skills as well as fed treats and metamorphosed. All of these features were buried in different sub-menus that I found navigation through to be very difficult. I mostly tried to avoid using the menus as much as possible.
The game didn’t feel like a cohesive experience to me. It felt like every different aspect of the game was designed by different teams and then stuck together with bubblegum and chopsticks. The game was so easy to beat that I didn’t feel like I was playing it – it was more like the game played itself. All I did was fill the role of brain-dead monkey pressing X button. Mash X, watch a story sequence, mash X, beat the game. The kids LOVED the game, and the brain-dead monkey inside me enjoyed it too but only because I was treated with beautiful cut-scenes every few minutes. If this game had been a Studio Ghibli movie, I’d give it a solid three thumbs up. If you removed the cut-scenes and slapped some ugly paint on it Ni No Kuni would probably not have be a game I played through to the end.
- Studio Ghibli Animation!
- Didn’t feel like a cohesive experience overall.
Genre: Adv / RPG