"For JRPG fans only"

Well I gotta admit, I really only noticed this game because it ranked so high on GameFaqs. I thought to myself, a JRPG combined with Studio Ghibli visuals, could this really be the revival of the genre? I read a few reviews, saw a couple of Youtube videos, then I took a leap of faith and hit the Purchase button on Amazon.

Now I'm experiencing somewhat of a buyer's remorse, because I don't foresee myself playing to the end of Ni No Kuni, despite having paid full price for a new copy. I guess I wanted to feel the same way as I did when I played the Final Fantasies of yore, back when grinding turn-based battles for hours was a great way to spend the afternoon. After being spoiled by so many more immersive and gripping "AAA" video games titles out there, I've discovered that the old JRPG model just can't hold my attention anymore, no matter how sparkly it is.

Studio Ghibli seems to have done their part. The visuals and voice acting are top notch, bringing a certain sophistication that comes from their cinematic pedigree. This has got to be artistically the prettiest JRPG I have ever seen, sporting an impressive hyper-colorful and imaginative fantasy world. Joe Hisaishi, the same composer who did the music for Ghibli's movies, is here giving us a better than average musical score (although it's not the kind of catchy music that you'll be humming in your car). However, I'm not too fond of the main character Oliver. He's a 13-year old child who actually starts off as a crybaby, and who never wields anything more than a wand. I'm not asking to be in control of a super-badass protagonist, but something with a little bit more testosterone would've been nice.

My real beef with the game is that at its core it's still really just a JRPG, practically the same way it was ten or even twenty years ago. I can already hear voices saying "Well, what'd you expect?" ringing in my ears, however there was a part of me that was hoping that Level 5 managed to bring something fresh and exciting to revolutionize the genre. Sorry, it ain't so. It's the classic, move from town to town, keep getting better equipment and follow a slow-moving story that forces corny cut-scenes down your throat far too often. Sure it has tons of side quests and sub-systems to keep you distracted, but it doesn't change the fact that I feel like I'm playing a really souped up version of Dragon Quest. Going around and talking to NPC's walking in random directions only to get useless dialogue that comes out way too slow even on the fastest setting worked in the 90s. It just won't cut it anymore in the age of Asperger and Attention Deficit Syndrome.

As for combat, Level 5 has managed to come up with something that has the worst of both real-time and turn-based combat. It has none of the deep strategy of a good turn-based system, but all the chaos and button-mashing of a real-time system. The attack interruption and timed defense mechanics seemed to have promise but it all works out to be quite gimmicky and unsatisfying. You're forced to rely on Pokemon-style pets called "familiars" who do most of the fighting for you. It's complete with all the requisite switching, feeding, optimizing - I guess if you like that kind of stuff then you'll like this, personally I don't like any game that forces you into a pet owner/babysitter role. Most random encounters are resolved by throwing your best familiar into the fray and mashing attack until everything is dead, only switching out if you need to heal.

At the end of the day, this is still a game only for JRPG fans who don't mind tired anime cliches - which I'm surprised there are so many of given its ranking on GameFaqs. Personally I think it's a pity that such amazing production values are wasted on such an old game design concept. But hey, to each his own.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 02/11/13

Game Release: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (US, 01/22/13)

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