Many gamers complain that JRPGs are off the mark and have strayed too far from what they used to be. There are complaints that JRPGs are just too stuck in their ways and have no way of modernizing. With the release of Ni No Kuni, many gamers are wondering if this is one of the titles to help get the genre back in form or just another run through a game that tries to modernize the genre and fails.
Ni No Kuni is a game created from the collaboration of Level 5, developers behind Dark Cloud and Dragon Quest VIII, and Studio Ghibli, the animation studio behind Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. These two powerhouses definitely tap into the best of each other from story to art style.
Speaking of art style, Ni No Kuni is a beautiful game from its setting to its character models to the cut scenes in the game animated by Studio Ghibli. There are times when the character models and hand drawn cut scenes featuring the characters are difficult to distinguish apart. Level 5 has clearly mastered the art of creating games with characters that look like they are hand drawn 2D characters, which, in turn, gives the game its cartoon look and feel of RPGs of long ago.
Not only are the characters beautiful to look at but so is the various scenery in the game. The player will travel through lush forests, blazing red volcanoes and golden brown deserts that have so much character and vibrancy you can’t help but be amazed. There is also a world map in the game that features great views and realistic waters that will be seen and traveled across in the game’s adventure. Ni No Kuni is a beautiful game and chances are there will not be many people that will argue that point.
The game looks beautiful, so that must mean the story is going to be the thing holding it back, right? That’s what some may be thinking. Well, the game actually keeps the story simple while providing a charm that will resonate with both adults and children. The game revolves around a boy named Oliver that is destined to save a world of fantasy and ends up coming to this world to find a way to save his mother, all the while trying to stop an evil wizard, Shadar. Ni No Kuni is a pure adventure that brings back the joy of exploring and meeting whimsical characters that clearly show the influence of Studio Ghibli.
The plot avoids too many complexities, and some points may feel it a bit cliché, but that simplicity makes the game able to resonate with many crowds, both young and old, which is something many games could take a lesson from. Personally, the more and more I played the more I wanted to see of the world and various characters in the game, such as the other fairies mentioned early on in the game and the driving force of evil in the world.
Sound for the game is also quite impressive from the various voices to the music in the game. Each of the characters feature very distinct voices that have subtle English flare to them, which adds to the other world and its fantasy characters. The music is a solid score that features music that suits each location and can match the emotions felt during the various scenes through the game. It also doesn’t hurt when a game has the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performing the score for the game. Sadly, the game does feature more text than voiced parts, which may disappoint some players looking for an audio-heavy experience.
A game like this is only as strong as its game play, though, and Ni No Kuni features various elements – from spells to item alchemy to familiars – that assist in battle. Players will travel through a few area types that include a world map, Oliver’s hometown of Motorsville, various towns, and dungeons.
Towns are the main hub points of the game that have the player moving forward from region to region. There are various activities to complete in towns aside from just story elements in the game that include taking on quests to assist townsfolk and bounties to clear out enemies in the surrounding areas outside of town. Players will also be able to go to shops for equipment and consumables to use in battle and rest up to heal characters at the inn.
The standards of a town are here but players will also be able to restore the hearts of those heartbroken by Shadar by gathering emotions missing from those with an abundance to spare. Certain story points will have the player trying to heal a person’s heart and require travel back and forth between Motorville to gain clues on how to heal someone or to actually heal a person in one world that will affect their soul mate in the other world.
Ni No Kuni is a game that wants players to explore and have players use spells in towns or dungeon fields to gain access to more areas, or opens chests they may not have been able to at first. Even the world map features areas that are off the beaten path but feature enemies and items for players to pursue. The game sticks to the very classic feel of JRPGs, but that is what makes it so much fun. It creates a sense of what is over there or do I have a spell for this to create a bridge from this part of the world map to that. Not all spells will be accessible immediately in the game, but as more open up, so do the various areas a player can reach in the game.
What really makes or breaks any JRPG is the battle system, how enemies are encountered, and the amount of grinding required to get through the game. Enemies in the game are actually seen on-screen, even on the world map, in a style that is similar to modern Persona entries, which has enemies pursue the player if they are seen. Players can get an advantage if they can sneak up behind enemies and are disadvantaged if the same happens to them, with weaker enemies running away from the player. Stronger or equally leveled enemies will make pursuit and, at times, it can be quite difficult to outrun these enemies while risking getting back attacked.
The battle system allows for various tactics and depth as more of it is introduced to the player in small chunks throughout the earlier parts of the game. Players will be able to take control of any of the characters in the party, as well as familiars that will battle for the player. Familiars are creatures that the player can gain through various methods, including serenading them, to join the party and are linked to the character that summons them, thus sharing a health and mana pool with that character. These creatures can also be equipped for battle, feature unique skills, get stat gains when fed candy up to a certain amount, gain levels, and can be evolved to stronger forms using special treats. Most of the battling ends up being done by familiars that, the heavy hitters, with party members being used more for their secondary abilities and skills.
Battling actually occurs in a mix of real time and turn based gameplay. Players will be able to control the positions of both characters and familiars, which makes dodging certain attacks and making attacks on enemies based on the player’s location work well. The player actually performs actions through commands that are selected and occur within or for a certain amount of time. Actions have a cool down to avoid spamming and require players to change up attacks or switch on the fly between characters or familiars to keep the action going or make use of varying tactics to take out enemies.
During battle, players will be able to attack enemies with elemental attacks that are more effective, counter an attack, or defend against attacks that will provide orbs during battle, and these restore HP and MP. Special golden orbs that are collected on the field restore all HP, MP, and allow a one-time special attack to be used without draining MP. Players will have to make use of defensive moves to dodge charged up attacks from enemies that occur in mini cut scenes. Assigning tactics to other characters plays an important role in making sure healing occurs, or max damage is done to enemies when they are weak. Eventually players also gain access to All-Out Attack mode that has all characters on the offensive and All-Out Defense that has all characters guarding.
The battle system features a large amount of depth and tactics to pull off, but it can have its quirks. Sometimes the AI can be a little wild and drain all of its MP on some characters, which will have players considering switching to them more often or setting them to use less specials. Also, collision in battle gets in the way when trying to attack an enemy and another enemy jumps in the way, making it difficult to re-position while already in attack mode. Gamers that are not fans of grinding might also be a little put off because bosses will require the player to do some leveling before challenging them, but then, by exploring most areas completely, players will find they are of an adequate level.
Ni No Kuni may not do everything right or not for those that are not into RPGs of this sort, but it features so many positives that the few issues with the game can easily be disregarded by anyone playing it. The game focuses in on the roots of JRPGs and brings a modern feel that provides a battle system with large depth in a game oozing of beauty, combined with a simple tale that does not feature the confusing quirks of more modern JRPG stories. Gamers longing for a JRPG that hasn’t abandoned itself to keep up with the shooters of today will want to check out Ni No Kuni, a game that embraces what it is and runs with it.