Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pokemon Meets Studio Ghibli, And It's Awesome.

Quick Note: Though not without it's faults, Ni No Kuni is one of the better JRPGs this console generation. With a unique story, gorgeous graphics and animated cutscenes, and hours of content, this game is what JRPG fans have been waiting for. 

Gotta' Catch 'Em... Oh Wait.
Monster collection games have this way of sucking you in for the long haul. Between leveling up your favorites and seeing which creature comes around the next corner, it's hard to not love the formula. Between Persona 4: Golden and pretty much every Pokemon game, I have loved the time sink that these types of games are. Though not as refined as it could be, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch comes just shy of greatness as the monster collecting game I have always wanted.

Ni No Kuni follows the story of young Oliver from Motorville. After losing his mother, the boy meets the fairy Drippy and is whisked away to another world, one in which the people share souls with the people of Oliver's world. With that, Oliver is off to save his mother by finding the one who shares her soul. The tale is filled with a lot of cheer and feel-goodness, so don't come in expecting a dark or gritty story. That being said, the story feels unique while retaining the tropes of typical JRPG story telling.

Graphically, the game looks amazing. The world is full of details, from old moss growing on cobblestone walls to the bright neon lights of the Fairygrounds, the amount of detail put into the world brings it to life. Ding Dong Dell is one of those video game places I just want to jump into because it looks so beautiful. The touches of Studio Ghibli's involvement can be felt everywhere, as the character models are gorgeous and range from down right adorable to quite freaky, in that good kind of way. Even Oliver's jump looks like it was ripped straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie.

The Mix of Fantasy and Reality is Very Beautiful and Comforting
Like any JRPG, the gameplay is where Ni No Kuni really shines. Combat takes place in a 3D arena of sorts, in which players move around to attack and dodge enemies. Commands are issued using R2 and L2 to cycle through them and though combat is mostly real time, when issuing who a command is going to, the game will pause combat so you can select the correct target. It's quick for the smaller battles and really tactical for the longer boss fights, and provides this perfect feel of old school and new.

Though players start with just Oliver, eventually you gain more party members that are controlled by AI. These characters all have unique abilities of their own and command can be swapped to them at any point, but the AI itself tends to waste resources often, even on the weakest of enemies.

Aside from the human characters, players also gain the ability to call upon familiars. Familiars are creatures summoned from the heart to use in combat. Each familiar has it's own stats and abilities, but are linked to the character who summons them, sharing HP and MP. Each familiar levels up and has it's own equipment as well, allowing the player to build a small adorable army. After so many levels, the familiar can be fed items to level up to the next form. This evolution happens twice, with the last branch forking into two options. All of these systems are surprisingly deep and offer great options for the player, except for the capture system.

To capture wild familiars, the player must have one specific character in the party at all times. This young lady is the only character who can capture familiars. However, she can't capture them at will. Each battle, once a familiar is defeated, there is a RANDOM chance that the familiar will become available to capture. At that moment, you must switch to her quickly and then use her ability before too much time passes or your AI characters attack the familiar.

The Environments are Varied and Beautiful to Look At.
And here in lies the problem with Ni No Kuni: random capture is not fun. It's why Pokemon uses an item management system to capture creatures and the Persona series uses fusion and a store system to gain new monsters on top of its own random capture system. You can spend hours trying to capture one creature and fail over and over again. On more than one occasion I came across a new familiar, so excited that I could capture it and add it to my party to level up that I would fight this familiar repeatedly only to come out empty handed. Eventually I would give up, burned out on the two or three hours wasted on attempting to capture this creature and move on. My final party of familiars was comprised mostly of monsters I didn't want to use, but ended up using simply because they were the monsters I randomly captured. It took away the whole point of picking the monsters you want to use in battle, and that frustrated me beyond belief.

Outside of combat, Oliver must help fix people's broken hearts. Characters constantly lose emotions within themselves, like Enthusiasm or Kindness, and it is up to Oliver to find some for them. This results in searching for the person with the same emotion overflowing out of their heart and taking it from them. Though cute in premise, these sections are essentially smaller fetch quests. They hardly ever take longer than 15 minutes though, so it's hard to complain about them.

When you want to avoid the story, there are plenty of side quests to do and bounty hunts to take on. These quests have tangible rewards and add to your own abilities, both inside and outside of combat. Eventually a casino opens up as well as a combat arena. There is also a great alchemy system, though I've never been big on alchemy, so I didn't mess with it too much. All of these things open up even further post game, giving the player hours of extra content to dive into once the story is complete.

All in all, Ni No Kuni is a fantastic game. Honestly, the monster capturing could be stripped out of the game and I would have enjoyed the game just as much, if not more. But with the capture system the way it is, the game can become quite frustrating for those who like to capture every monster or at least have the ability to use a large variety of creatures in combat. As a JRPG fan though, I can't help but recommend you go play Ni No Kuni because overall, it shines above most of the selections available this generation.

8.5 out of 10

Here Are Some Links:
IGN Review
Game Site
Metacritic Page
IGN Wiki

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