hen we were busy recording our end of the year award show I said that Ni No Kuni would be the game that would prove whether or not JRPGs were still viable on home consoles. Now I know that there are many rpgs out there in this generation, but the basis of my proclamation is the feeling I would get just grinding out levels in a fantastical world and completely ignoring everything else around me. RPGs in recent years have been few and far between, long gone from the heyday back during the 16 and 32 bit eras. Ni No Kuni has not only proven that the genre is not dead, but it has brought me back to a feeling I have not had since my teenage years.
Now it’s not that Ni No Kuni has the best writing in this generation. In fact, far from it. It starts during an unfortunate string of mishaps when our titular lead character Oliver witnesses his mother die and the power of his tears brings his childhood doll Mr. Drippy to life. Mr. Drippy claims to be the king of the fairies and that there are two worlds. He convinces Oliver that saving his world could help bring his mother back to life. While it begins well enough, the game's narrative falls into the many tropes involved with a good old fashioned JRPG.
We see many common tropes such as saving a great sage’s daughter, collecting the three doodads in order to complete the one great thingamajig, and the ever beloved “Secret Prince/Princess” concept. We’ve been here before, but Level 5 does it so well with interesting character interactions, and the artistic direction of Studio Ghibli works. It’s lighthearted, never takes itself too seriously, and remains an enjoyable experience. However, it’s not going to win any writing awards any time soon.
The combat system also lacks innovation. Combat is initiated from the world map (and thank you for the world map by the way). When you go into combat it is basically just Final Fantasy XII but simplified. I enjoyed it since FFXII is my favorite Final Fantasy, and I’m a little biased towards this style of system. The only major issue I had with the combat is that it asks a lot from you. You will eventually have a full complement of three party members but you can only command them to do one of 5 things, and almost no matter what you pick they will eat through their MP in only a couple of random encounters. You can switch back and forth between the characters at will but keeping your head wrapped around everything that all the characters are doing when not in your control can be daunting.
The main draw of this game, besides the Ghibli inspired art, is the creature combat. You can capture many different creatures to use in battle, Pokemon style and there’s a rock, paper, scissors strength and weakness system behind it all. The creatures are great, my wife’s head would explode with all of the unnecessary cuteness of the character design but all the creatures are fun to watch in motion. You will of course find yourself drawn to specific creatures that you are comfortable with and the addictive “Gotta catch ‘em All” feeling makes capturing and managing the many creatures fun and inviting.
If I went into all of the multiple systems within the combat, creature training, alchemy system, side quests, the spell use and the puzzles, I could be here all day. The game can be deep, I finished the final boss at the 40+ hour mark and still wanted to jump back in as I had barely touched the alchemy system and I wanted to complete my monster list. If you are getting this game because it’s an RPG, you’ve been here before. So you may look at my score there at the bottom and wonder why or even how.
Well, even though Ni No Kuni does nothing too greatly original, the combat is nothing to write home about and though the Ghibli design is there, the writing is average at best, Level 5 has taken everything we have come to expect from a JRPG and has paced it to a point of simple perfection. When you go from one area to the other the combat stays challenging but never unfair and the magical world that Ghibli has helped design keeps the game lighthearted and whimsical from beginning to end. You are always moving to the next big event and never forced to just wander trying to figure out what you need to do. The side stuff is there and it’s quick and easy to accomplish, you’re map shows you everything you need to find, every important person you need to talk to and every bounty you need to hunt.
For me, this may not have been the best time to launch this kind of game, but it has captured my heart and has convinced me that JRPGs are not dead. Not by a long shot. This game is the reason that I got back on board the PS3, and may very well be one of my favorite games of this generation.