This is the boring cover.
I’ve finally finished Ni No Kuni. It took… a while. This game is a typical JRPG in a lot of ways. Think of it as yet another JRPG grind-fest with pets that you use in battle, combined with Studio Ghibli animation and storytelling.
I enjoy Studio Ghibli’s movies, so I thought I would like what they had to offer here. Sadly, I wasn’t really impressed. Maybe the writers just couldn’t figure out taking a 1.5 hour movie script and stretching it out over 50 hours of gameplay. I understand that. But I at least expected to like some of the characters. The main character, Oliver, is kind of cute, but everyone else I felt indifferent about. Well, except this THING:
This is Drippy, “Lord of the High Faeries,” as he’ll remind you about 5,000 times throughout the game. His voice is so obnoxious that during his first cutscene featuring voice acting I was going to quit playing if he was going to talk so much. As it turns out, the game doesn’t use voice acting in cutscenes all too often, so I stuck it out. But seriously, I wanted him to die. He has a lantern on his nose… that’s reason enough right there.
So, an RPG where I’m not crazy about any of the characters. Not off to a good start. I’m going to skip over the story for now, because that’s part of my rant, so we can talk about the battle system for a little bit.
I played this game on Easy. I’d heard it was a bit of a grind-fest, so I figured playing on Easy would lessen the amount of time I had to spend grinding levels, money, equipment, etc. Turns out, it didn’t. Despite doing a handful of side quests early on, thinking I was padding some money and levels, I still managed to die quite frequently. I’m not pretending I don’t sometimes suck at games, and I AM distracted by a 2 year old most of the time, but come on. I died more during this game than the entire Mass Effect trilogy… and I suck at shooters.
First of all: You will never have enough money. Ever. Not until you’re at the end of the game and haven’t found purchasable upgrades in hours of gameplay. The core of the battle set-up will explain why; there are 3 human characters (Oliver, Esther, and Swaine-the-Hobo) who you have to keep equipped. They have 3 “familiars” EACH, that all have to be given a weapon, armor, and accessory. I’m pretty bad at math, but I quickly figured out that meant I essentially had 12 party members to acquire gear for. It’s quite a hit to the wallet. I often went without buying all the upgrades for every party member/familiar just because calculating the hours I’d have to spend grinding money gave me a headache. And it wasn’t like I knew which familiar the AI was going to be using in battle so I could focus on setting up certain familiars. Which leaves me to my second point…
The AI in this game is terrible. I can’t stress it enough. Ni No Kuni is an action-RPG. You can move the avatar you’re currently controlling around to dodge attacks, grab HP and MP drops, and position yourself for attacks. At any given time, there are 3 cutesy familiars belonging to you, plus however many enemies you’ve encountered, all bumping into each other and trying to move around the others to get a hit in. So if you’re relying on physically attacking, be prepared to be yelling at the screen a lot because your familiar is spending its entire Attack gauge riding someone’s ass. And you will be relying on physical attacks during most fights because the MP costs of spells is stupidly high and MP replenishing items are expensive. The only plus-side is that characters get free refills when they level.
But that’s not my main complaint about the AI in this game. My main gripe is how the characters you aren’t controlling just don’t do what you ask them to do. There’s no fantastic Final Fantasy XII gambit system at work here. Just simple commands, like, “Go all out!” or “Keep us healthy!” I assumed “Keep us healthy!” meant what it said. Heal. But when the designated healer with the heal spells and the healing familiars is set to that, they just stand there and pick their noses while everyone in the party is a cough away from death. I figured it might be because they were low on MP. So, I’d have to change to the healer and see. Nope. still enough MP to cast healing spells (or God-forbid use a healing item). Then I’m forced to do the healing myself, taking me away from casting awesome spells or using my best physical attacker because the AI would take over the previous character I was using and make them start acting special too. I don’t get it. It got to the point where I stopped caring and didn’t resurrect anyone unless it was the middle of a boss fight.
I’m pretty sure I would’ve hated this game less if they just made it turn-based, seeing as how they’re completely inept at creating functional AI behavior.
I also don’t understand the prioritizing and animation sequences in this game. Being a sort-of action game, you can block and dodge, and can also interrupt enemies’ attacks (if you’re lucky). Your signal to defend or evade is pretty obvious if you aren’t too distracted with swapping between characters and familiars. Enemies all have the same animation for when they’re prepping an attack you’ll most likely want to try lessening the blow. I found the window of opportunity (especially with bosses) to be frustratingly short. So short, that I already have a character in queue to use a healing item before the enemy’s attack animation begins, yet the attack goes off before I get to heal and everyone dies. It happened to me a lot. I can’t count the number of times I was in the middle of tossing a healing item and a character died. Then I had to either sit through another lengthy item-use animation with a phoenix-whatever, or cycle through my familiars trying to remember which one had the resurrection spell. The spells are all given stupid cutesy names too, which meant I had to stop and read the description if I hadn’t played in a week and forgot what did what.
The side quests got horribly tedious to the point where I just stopped doing them. Oliver, the young boy who happens to be a wizard, can somehow take aspects of a person’s heart and give them to someone else. So, say someone is overflowing with “Confidence.” You can ask them to borrow it and then give it to someone who happens to be lacking halfway across the world. Interesting concept. Except the characters feel the need to have a pointless five minute long conversation about it, where you’re just mashing X to get through it and get your merit stamps and money. I honestly just ran to the green spots on the map and mashed X without reading the dialogue. There are bounties, which aren’t too bad, because you just go find a monster and kill it. But some of the tasks were so nit-picky, like, “Only kill a monster with a certain spell,” that I didn’t even bother.
I remember one quest where the NPC wanted me to bring him certain familiars. “How do you collect familiars in Ni No Kuni?” you ask? Well. You have to beat them to a bloody pulp, of course! Then, if you’re lucky enough, the creature will become enamored with you, as made evident by pink hearts floating above their head. That’s your cue to take control of Esther and serenade them. Then they’re your pet to use and abuse as you please. Only problem is it’s totally random whether you’ll be given the opportunity to serenade them or not. After fighting enough of a certain enemy to become so powerful they actively ran away from me on the world map, making it nearly impossible to engage them in battle, and still not having that one certain familiar, I said “F this” and never tried again.
If I was prompted, I captured a familiar. Otherwise, I didn’t care. I just made do with what I had. I don’t know how it is in Pokemon, but in Ni No Kuni the abilities the pets have to choose from are so similar it isn’t worth the time to try collecting them all. I stuck the familiar types with the appropriate humans and leveled them. Like Pokemon, the creatures will evolve as they level. Unlike Pokemon, they don’t get sweet new designs… only different color palettes. Which was pretty boring. Then you get to level them all over again, because their level resets to 1. Joy.
Ni No Kuni also has alchemy, in the form of a magic genie who will combine items to make shiny new things for you. I hardly ever had the mats to make anything worthwhile. I think I made all of 5 items. So it either requires more grinding, or post-game stuff, which I have negative desire to do right now.
Have you ever been playing a game, and gotten to the point where you expect the end credits to roll, but instead get saddled with another 5-10 hours of gameplay? Yeah, that totally happens in this game. I was treated to the grand conclusion of the main story arc, fought the somewhat main villain, and thought, “Sweet. I’ll go kill so-and-so, then have another cutscene, then be done! Yay!” Except that wasn’t what happened at all. Instead, there’s way more exposition about something that, while semi-interesting, I didn’t give a lick about, then a lengthy final dungeon, then a boss fight with 3 stages that I was severely under-leveled for. I got to the final boss’ third form with relative ease… then got spanked hard. I was not happy. Under these circumstances, I browse online forums to see if I was doing something wrong. In this case, I just had to go farm about 10 levels. Seeing as how I already thought I was done the game, this did not illicit much satisfaction from me.
But I did it, because I’d already invested way too much time to give up when I was basically at the finish line. Plus I felt like I should’ve expected it; seeing as how the entire game was a big grind-fest.
I’m just realizing the irony in this. I’m pretty sure Xenoblade Chronicles is the only JRPG that’s been released within the past decade that I’ve honestly enjoyed (remasters don’t count) and I never beat that final boss. After literally playing the game for like, 70 hours. Such is life.
I will give Ni No Kuni credit where credit is due. The artwork and style are great, and certainly unique for a video game. The music tracks are very good, but unfortunately recycled a bit too often. The game also is quite courteous about letting the player know where they have to go by way of a star quest marker. Quest NPCs and bounty monsters are also clearly indicated, which I appreciated. The world is thoughtful, with unique areas and environments. The story, while bland at times, had some highlights. I also liked most of the boss designs.
With that being said, the highlights are certainly not numerous enough for me to want to play this game again, or to even dive back into it for the post-game content. In order for me to want to experience an RPG again, it has to either have above average characters and storytelling, or an exciting and fun battle system. Unfortunately for Ni No Kuni, it lacks in both of those departments.