327th played so far

F-I-Ni-No-Kuni-700x396Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Level-5/Studio Ghibli
Publisher: Level-5/Namco Bandai

Yeah, that’s a game number beyond 1001 up there. As discussed about six months ago, the second edition of the book added 20 new games to the list (and removing 20 others). Real time finally catching up to us, we only now get to the point in our writing we can start slotting the new games in, which means a bit of a catch-up in terms of years.

Ni No Kuni sounds like a winning game from the start. Using the storytelling and art design Studio Ghibli offers, together with the gaming expertise of Level-5. And to be honest, we’ve already played some of it before we found out about the list update, and did indeed love it.

Where most gamers were most excited about 2013 as the release of Grand Theft Auto V I was counting down the days until the EU release of Ni No Kuni. I will honestly say that I started out playing this with an incredibly high level of anticipation and (since this is made by Studio Ghibli) it has been very hard to maintain a low level of bias.

Our Thoughts

Studio Ghibli movies are a bit magical in their own right, and Ni No Kuni is no exception. With that I don’t just mean that, well, you become a magician of sorts, complete with spellbook and creature summoning. No, the world itself, the characters you meet, the design and the story are all special and with a sort of charm that’s endearing, a world that invites you in and one that seems to follow straight on from childrens’ fantasies.

The basic story is already a good example of that. With his mother in a coma from an accident, Oliver finds out that he can save her by defeating the evil in an alternative dimension style magical universe, one that reflects his life, with characters from the magical universe appearing in the real world as well.

There is far more to the game than just that, though. The games features plenty of sidequests, and while many of these are of the fedex variety, one of the more interesting changes comes from the emotion system. Oliver can store certain emotions in his amulet and gift them to others to increase their energy or enthusiasm. Taking purely mechanically, it might not be a large difference from any other quest item, but as a story it’s a lot more satisfying.

Moving away from the Ghibli elements to a place when Level 5 must have been more guiding, the systems that surround this are just as interesting. The basic mechanics are that of a monster training game – Pokemon, effectively – with a bunch of real time RPG style elements added. Positioning and movements become important as you can actively avoid attacks, and while there is an underlying turn system where you declare your attacks for a period of time, most of it feels like you’re actively in control.

Beyond that you can switch between familiars, monsters who help you, who each have their own strengths (partially in a rock-paper-scissors triangle) and abilities, aided by equipment you can get for each of them. It gives a gotta catch ’em all vibe, but also a lot of scope to play with your party and find the cutest creatures to join you.

You, as the player, get to cast loads of spells, in- and outside of battle. Its use is done charmingly – you gain a large spellbook (in game, although the DS version had a physical book – one of the reasons it never made it out of Japan). You gather pages for this book to gain new spells, as well as to gain more background information on your familiars and other parts of the world. I really lament the loss of the physical spellbook in releases outside of Japan. The sheer amount of effort that has gone into the creation of mythology, map drawing and regional history is staggering. The best part of opening new game featuring a vast world is the planning of routes using the in built map (I spent hours using the map from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas planning where I would spend the next sojourn would be) so this felt like a really lost opportunity that could be rectified by a visit to eBay and copious lessons in Japanese.

I would be remiss if I did not start delving into more of the Ghibli influences. As someone who lists My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away as his second and third favourite movies I am a bit of a Ghibli-buff. The first noticeable influence, which is apparent even before starting the game, is the music. Ghibli (and Takeshi Kitano) stalwart Joe Hisaishi is on hand to produce a sweeping score with a variety of incidental music which appears as a marriage between the whimsical elements of Howl’s Moving Castle and the more traditional grounding of Dolls. Joe Hisaishi more than matches Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu at his own game and I live in hope of a Final Fantasy style franchise for Ni No Kuni; especially due to the literal translation of Second Country.

Closing this off let us have a look at the graphics. With both Level-5 and Studio Ghibli having a stake in this game there was never any doubt that the graphics would be colourful and beautiful, but I could never have dreamed of how high quality they actually were. The only word I can think that would accurately describe them would be lush. The characters that they have been able to create are outstanding from the opulent surroundings of the Cat King to twisted figures of the Nightmares. The same applies, as earlier referenced, to the familiars themselves which would not look out of place in Spirited Away and would make for a successful sideline in soft toys.

Final Thoughts

Many of the problems that I have with JRPGs are still present in this game. Sometimes you need to grind before you can move on and there are a number of fetch-and-carry tasks required to get the most out of the game’s features. However, this is one of the few times that I have not really minded doing so. Having not yet completed this game fully it is early to place it amongst my favourite examples of the genre but I do know that it will possibly dethrone Final Fantasy X as my favourite RPG if it can keep the story telling and the empathy up. Whether it will make me cry or not… is something only time will tell.

  1. […] series, but having started playing it, the series has become one I keep looking forward to playing. Ni No Kuni feels like a satisfying masterpiece, an enjoyable story with interesting mechanics and wonderful […]

  2. […] battles are a bit more troublesome. Ni No Kuni‘s system seems to have been inspired by it, with its separate arena, having most of your […]