Video Game Review: Ni No Kuni

So, I received this as a gift. I think since the last video game someone got me has gone unfinished, more than two years later, this should have been a bit of a clue that I’m not really interested in video games anymore… so that warns you: this is from an extremely casual gamer who doesn’t play much. To place my tastes, I’ll tell you – I played Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, and Final Fantasy XII to death (completing them several times  over, each) and the game that went unfinished was Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. I also never finished FFX, and refuse to even play FFVII until they update the graphics. (Shallow, I know.)

So, on to Ni No Kuni. First off, the good news: the graphics are quite good, extremely cute and the cutscenes look like a movie – just what you’d expect to see from a Studio Ghibli production! The main character appears to be about six years old, however, so you might consider this an appropriate video game gift for a younger gamer (i.e., less than 15 or so). The music is also wonderful – full orchestral score.

Now, on to why I will almost certainly not be completing this game, ever.

The battle system sucks.

Allow me to explain just why I find it intolerable. In JRPGs like this one, level grinding your character is an integral part of gameplay – trust me, just running around doing the main storyline is not going to get you anywhere near the stat level you’d need to have a good time playing casually. If you’re a hardcore gamer with l33t skillz or whatever, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem. But I’m a casual gamer, so having a good battle system is a MUST if I have to tediously gain exp to have a hope of button-mashing my way through the storyline.

In case you haven’t played the KH games or FFXII, one aspect of these games is that most battles take place integrated into the surrounding world. No battle arena popping up every time you aggro a monster, in other words. You can run anywhere during a battle that you can run when you’re not battling; frequently you can actually “outrun” a monster if you’re not interested in fighting anymore if it’s about to eat your face. Ni No Kumi is not like this. You’re trapped inside a tiny arena with invisible walls that you can’t escape, every single time, which makes dodging quite difficult (because of the invisible walls you don’t realize you’ve run into until you realize that although your character is “running”… he’s not actually getting anywhere!).

The other unforgivable sin is the menu-based battle system. They’ve mapped the controller so that you have to use the left arrow keypad in order to switch from attack/defend/spells/items/etc. … while attempting to simultaneously move your character with the left joystick. Recipe for instant finger cramp. Obviously, between the battle arena, the impossible menus (did I mention that the monsters only stop moving after you’ve opened a secondary menu – while you’re trying to punch arrow keys and wrangle the joystick to run in circles around the invisible line of your battle arena, and they’re still aiming for your face??) and the fact that the camera doesn’t stay focused on the monster (so you can’t see him powering up his Special Attack in time to navigate the menus to block it as you scrabble helplessly against the invisible wall), the approved method of gameplay must be to ignore the joystick entirely and stand there while the monster beats you, an oh-so-adorable six-year-old orphan, into a pulp.

But if you actually liked (or tolerated the battle system in) FFX, you’ll probably like this, too. I just wish it hadn’t been my husband who bought this for me, because now I feel bad for disliking it so much!

EDIT: okay, venting done, I went back to get him and he figured out that the L2 R2 buttons also navigate the menu, so I might be able to play it after all. As long as I don’t get the evil finger cramp, I think I can deal with the incipient claustrophobia from the invisible walls!

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About pancakeloach

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