Oliver: Alright guys here we go, the battle’s about to begin. Let’s fight!
Esther: (flips hair) I don’t feel like fighting Oliver, I’m just going to play may harp.
Oliver: Common Esther! We don’t have time for that! Playing your harp is useless!
Esther: But my harp makes such pretty music!
Oliver: Alright, fine. How about you Swaine? You ready to take on these monsters?
Swaine: Ok Oliver, but I have a bad feeling about this.
Oliver: Alright guys, let’s do it! Release your familiars!
Swaine: (sulks) Oliver, I’d rather just shoot my gun. I’m not that fond of my familiars.
Oliver: But Swaine, your gun only does 1 damage! Why would you use that?
Swaine: Well for some reason I am incapable of using anything but guns, even though they are pretty much useless. It is rather fun to shoot things though.
Esther: (chanting) Oh ailments, be gone! Be gone!
Oliver: What are you doing Esther? We aren’t even hurt yet?
Esther: But I love singing and playing my harp! It’s so much fun! I don’t want to fight…
Oliver: You both are useless! Why did you even come along on this journey if you don’t want to fight? Why do you keep familiars if you don’t want to use them? What is the point of me having traveling companions if you won’t do what I ask in battle?
Swaine: What are you talking about Oliver? All you ever do is cast that damn Ward spell. Especially right at the end of the battle when we’ve pretty much already won.
Esther: (cheer) I’m raising your magical attacks guys! Use your attack magic!
Oliver: Esther, this isn’t a boss fight! I don’t want to waste my attack magic on these pushover monsters! Stop playing that stupid harp!
Swaine: Oliver! I just stole a Confusion-Be-Gone from that monster! I’m so proud of myself!
Oliver: Ugh, if this was Final Fantasy IV I’d cast Fire on all you guys and just fight the damn battles myself! Who needs companions when they are as useless as you guys!
Esther: I love you Oliver!
Swaine: I’m going to find somewhere to sulk…
There you have it folks! The battles of Ni No Kuni in a nutshell. Alight, I did exaggerate a little bit. But Ni No Kuni and I are both best friends and worst enemies. Seriously, does it take a genius to figure out how to create decent battle AI? Or is it just laziness? Why make an awsome real time battle system and then squander it with horrible computer controlled companions. Yes, you can switch between all the characters at will but it takes you out of the action and becomes chore-worthy before long. I love the fact that they did real time battles, I hate the fact that the AI is infuriatingly horrible. The battles are extremely fun and extremely frustrating, particularly later on. I had a blast for the first 30 hours of this game, the last 30 hours became an exercise in racing to the finish line. I don’t want to race to the finish line, I want to enjoy the ride.
I have never played a Pokemon game before, so the whole idea of “familiars” was new to me, and I loved it. It is a lot of fun in Ni No Kuni to tame and train new familiars and then build them up to be really good fighters. The sheer volume and diversity of familiars in this game is staggering. I don’t see how you could possibly train every one. But what good is all that when your companions can’t hold their own in a fight or use their familiars effectively? I frequently found myself cursing my companions for doing exactly what I described in the opening narrative. There are battle “controls” that you can use such as “keep us healthy” or “do nothing” or “give it your all.” But honestly, it seemed like whatever one I chose for my companions, they did whatever they wanted anyway. When I tell you to do nothing, why are you still casting spells? There were times when the battles worked well, but those times were few.
Bad AI aside, Ni No Kuni is a beautiful game to look at. The animation is beautiful and the cell shading is top notch (although the Studio Ghibli footage had to be less than 5 minutes for the entire game, why bother?). The dialog is funny and occasionally witty and there are some interesting characters to find throughout your quest. But in this day and age that just isn’t enough for me. Underneath all the polish is the same JRPG that has been made thousands of times. Can’t we do something a little different? You know you have a typical JRPG if you have at least half of the examples below:
Airship? Check. Treasure chests in conspicuous locations? Check. Charming but shallow companions? Check. Linear Dungeons? Check. Ultimate Bad guy in a cloud fortress? Check. Villain hell bent on destroying the world? Check. Companion that joins up towards the end of the game? Check. Ok, so I’m getting a little nit-picky. But I could go on all day.
I really do love JRPG’s and I knew what I was getting myself into when I started this adventure. But for a game with these production values I expected more. It’s kind of like the Turbo Graphics 16. 16-bit graphics with a crappy 8-bit processor underneath. Do we really have to have this same tired story about the ultimate evil wanting to destroy the world? Why? For what purpose? In the White Witches case it was simply because the world was imperfect. Seriously? Can’t JRPG’s come into the 21st century and grow up like the rest of us have? Am I wrong to think that most people who played this game were people my age or maybe a little older that grew up with fond memories of playing Square and Enix RPG’s in the 90’s? I hate to use this example, but the Harry Potter novels started out for kids. As the kids grew up so did the books. Why can’t JRPG’s?
Maybe I’ve just grown tired of the JRPG formula. Maybe I’m just in love with the “idea” of playing a JRPG rather than actually playing one. I’m sure there are plenty of Japanese RPG’s from this past generation and perhaps the generation before that I missed. Maybe these explored bolder visions and something other than “guy or girl saves the world” as the main story line. Hell, you can even use that story line if you want, just DO something interesting with it. Is that too much to ask?
When it was all said and done, I did have a fun time playing Ni No Kuni. Yes, the characters are shallow and mostly boring (I did love Drippy though, he at least made me laugh). Yes, the whole idea of destroying the world is tired and yes, the battle system, while awsome, was brought down by the incredibly incapable AI the game designers burdened you with. But what made Ni No Kuni worth playing was the fact that it wasn’t pretending to be anything other than what it was. Which is a very serviceable JRPG with a really bright coat of gloss. In the end I got what I paid for. Which was a Nintendo DS game ported to the PS3. Ouch.