Review by throckmeisterz
"An RPG for RPG lovers!"
After playing FF13 for about 6 hours and then returning it the very next day, I signed up for a gamefaqs account just so I could voice my absolute disgust for the game. It made me extremely sad because Final Fantasy is undoubtedly my favorite game franchise of all time; it is the franchise which made me a true lover of RPGs and of video games in general. Were it not for FF7 (and other FF titles), I doubt I would still play video games at all today. Fast forward to the ps3 and the abomination that is FF13. I was appalled, disgusted, scared. Does this mean the true end of the eastern RPG? Don't get me wrong, I love western RPGs, but they scratch a little bit different itch, and I would often find myself dusting off the old ps2 and loading up FF7, 9, 10, or 12, or Xenogears, or Legend of Dragoon when games like Mass Effect and Skyrim just weren't doing the trick. Had the ps3 finally killed off one of my favorite types of game?
No. Enter Ni No Kuni, which I have been playing almost nonstop since I bought it. It brings back all those things I loved so much from the old eastern RPGs: the sidequests, the intricacies and complexities, the beautiful landscape and meticulously crafted fantasy world, the characters and plot lines and funny little cut scenes. While I haven't quite finished the game yet, I am completely sold; this is the best eastern RPG to be released for this generation of consoles (not to mention one of the only ones). Every second I play Ni No Kuni I am constantly reminded of how bad FF13 was and how good it could have been. I could go on all day lamenting what may be the last final fantasy I play, but, instead, I'm going to get into the specifics of why I love Ni No Kuni so much.
While it's not strictly turn based, combat in Ni No Kuni is thoroughly strategic which is what separates eastern from western (or action) RPGs. I have read some reviews which attack the combat system, but, personally, I love it. Most cite the mediocre AI as the primary problem with the system, and, true, the AI isn't great, and the tactical options presented are hardly exhaustive. However, I personally just take control of whoever requires the most micromanaging, and the AI does a fine job with everyone else. Aside from this minor (and in my opinion inconsequential) issue, combat is awesome. The boss fights are truly epic and deeply strategic. Grinding can get a little boring, but that is universally true of grinding in any game; that's why it's called grinding. Plus, with a good strategy, very minimal grinding is needed. I have won some hard fights that I definitely was not prepared for level-wise. Perhaps the best way I can demonstrate how strategic the combat system is is this: I have gotten thoroughly destroyed in a boss fight (I mean just completely wrecked), and, without leveling up or buying any additional items/equipment, I reentered the fight and won, just by utilizing a better strategy. As for familiars, if you like Pokemon, you'll love familiars. They are cute little creatures with puns for names, and there are tons of them to choose from. Furthermore, whether you choose your team according to who has the best stats or who is the cutest, you can play the game a variety of ways. Of course, if you choose your familiars according to stats, you'll probably have an easier time, especially late game.
So few games today have such great graphics that are not realistic. Most games go for as much realism in their graphics as possible, which is great for some games, but I love to see cartoony animation which is done well and befits the massive graphics power of this generation of consoles. I think Borderlands (both 1, and 2) did a great job with this, and Ni No Kuni does (possibly) even better. The animation is whimsical and funny, and it fits the whole atmosphere and style of the game perfectly. When Drippy ran around Motor City with the cat held above his head, I laughed heartily for a solid 5 minutes, running in circles just so I could watch it. The soundtrack is likewise great. While its brilliance doesn't stick out quite as much, I'd say that's a sign of how perfectly suited it is to the game. Just like in the horror movie when music is playing and you don't even realize it, the soundtrack always adds and never detracts from the ambiance. Honestly, I can't get enough of these kind of graphics, and I wish more games would stop always trying to build more realistic graphics, and use the animation artistically. Cut scenes are quality, voice acting is solid, and really, everything about the presentation is phenomenal.
Load Times: 10/10
I know this might be a silly category to include, but it is pretty important to keeping a long game like this from getting frustrating and boring. When I run through a wrong door in Skyrim, I punch the couch and yell at myself for being so stupid. In Ni No Kuni, the screen barely goes black before you're through the door and back to playing, so a misstep is far less frustrating. Load times might not be the first item on everyone's list of what they like to see in a game, but it certainly helps.
This is the only area where I could imagine some improvement. Don't get me wrong, the story isn't bad; it's engaging to a degree, and, together with the presentation, it really draws you into this fantasy world. However, when I compare it to the storyline of, say, Xenogears, it falls well short. Granted, perhaps Xenogears' story is an unfair comparison for any game, but Ni No Kuni's story just lacks the depth and complexity of games like Xenogears and FF7. What I understood about its story when I first played FF7 as a kid and what I understand when I play it now are very very different things. Ni No Kuni is aimed a little too thoroughly at children for my taste. Really, nothing about FF7 is necessarily inappropriate for children, but it contains a depth and touch of darkness which Ni No Kuni just doesn't quite match. Ultimately, this is a small complaint, and, if gamefaqs allowed it, I would give the game a 9.5/10, rather than 9/10--not quite flawless, but really really close.
Overall Gameplay: 10/10
There are sidequests, minigames, and other optional content, which has always been a big draw of RPGs and the pre FF13 Final Fantasy games. Any RPG should be playable at multiple depths; if you just want to play the main storyline and beat the game, you should be able to do that; if you want to explore only as much optional content as will make your characters super awesome, you should be able to do that; and, if you want to look into every nook and cranny and complete 100% of the game, you should be able to do that too. You can probably beat Ni No Kuni in 40ish hours, or you can spend 100+ hours doing absolutely everything. You can choose your familiars by looks and gut feel, or you can really compare them at the deepest levels to determine which are the absolute best. This kind of depth may discourage some, but it's the reason true RPG fans like myself love these games.
This is an RPG for RPG lovers. If you don't really like RPGs, perhaps played Mass Effect with auto level on or even played the action mode of ME3, you probably won't enjoy Ni No Kuni. If, like me, you keep your ps2 so you can replay your old RPG favorites, this game will blow you away.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/25/13
Game Release: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (US, 01/22/13)
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