Ni No Kuni is a fantastic game and probably the best thing Level 5 has produced since Dragon Quest VIII. The game is very similar to DQVIII but has a better combat system, better characters, and a more interesting story; on the other side it has slightly worse music (admittedly still excellent) and the world exploration progression doesn’t feel quite as natural. Dragon Quest VIII is a mammoth game clocking in at around 90 hours and Ni No Kuni is merely around 40 or so, so maybe it is slightly easier to pace a much longer game in a notoriously lengthy genre.
We start out with Oliver in Motorville, home of douchebag Phil. Douchebag Phil makes Ollie go and crash a car which mysteriously kills his Mother somehow or other and then his doll comes to life and they’re transported into JRPG land. This all sounds a fair amount dumber than it actually is and truth be told they handle the emotional aspect of the game extremely well, making the vast majority of the game a fun, exciting experience with only a brief handful of moments being particularly emotional one way or another. This isn’t on par with something like Vagrant Story, Xenosaga, or Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of storytelling but it certainly does much better than various games (almost every Final Fantasy, Rogue Galaxy, Grandia, and so on) that fall short of the titans in the genre; and as far as the last generation goes it is probably in the top 5 of best storylines in games.
What really does shine is the game’s incidental dialogue, the stuff that isn’t in cutscenes, isn’t voiced. Almost all of it is extremely self aware, humorous, or interesting in one way or another. As a small example Oliver has an imaginary friend effectively in the “real world” that his other imaginary friends aren’t aware of so they mock him for having one. This is the second version of Ni No Kuni to be released and said imaginary friend is not in the original game; it is simply brilliant that they actively make fun of their own design decision like that, and it all adds an additional layer of levity to almost every conversation. Mr Drippy really is a fantastic character just for comic relief, and most of his best parts aren’t voiced, they’re simply written or translated extremely well.
The plot itself is sort of weakened to start out with due to the obvious over arching additions to the original storyline. Basically the game has 2 final bosses spread 10 hours apart or so, but for the first 30 odd hours of the game it’s all about the main guy from the original game. However you have these random scenes with a council of dudes and the titular White Witch who constantly make fun of how incompetent Shadar is, which makes Shadar a lot less intimidating than he could be. However, the main additional character is legitimately good so it kind of works out in the end anyway.
Speaking of 2 final bosses this game’s difficulty is a little bit all over the place (I don’t think I died once without really grinding at all, but I’m pretty good at JRPGs so this is mostly a thought on how much of a pain XYZ battle was, or how much I had to abuse items to succeed). Most battles are fairly simple press the X button affairs, but randomly you fight a tank that’s resistant to physical attacks and that shit doesn’t fly anymore. After a while every boss has a massive aoe damage spell that’s next to impossible to interrupt (even though the game wants you to) because the enemy gets it off so fast; so you just wind up defending with your main guy and hope your relatively stupid AI buddies manage to defend (they won’t). Ultimately the healing abilities that are in the game are vastly inferior to the restorative items, which means you just have to stockpile a shitload, and I do mean a shitload, of recovery items.
For the first final boss fight you have to go through the hardest dungeon in the game by far, then 3 boss fights, then immediately after this you’re transported to another dungeon followed by another boss fight. You can’t go to the world map in this process once you begin the first boss encounter. Like any good Level 5 game there’s a casino to abuse, and I did abuse it however taking a mild sum of 15 “restore 200 health to the party” items (the maximum health endgame is around 300-400); which I thought would probably be good for the rest of the game. Wrong. The dungeon ate up at least 2 or 3, the first boss fight (probably the hardest fight in the game) took up another 7, the next phase another 2 or 3, then randomly an MMO boss where you don’t stand in fire and win, then a boss that spams his AoE like no other in which it was completely impossible to keep the party alive; lucky for me I had dozens of cheeseburgers to keep Oliver alive and you can kind of abuse the recall familiar feature to dodge physical attacks. The actual last boss is a pretty decent challenge, though there’s random mega experience mobs that I somehow got 3 of and that might have made it a fair amount easier; still plenty of using those healing items because the actual aoe healing spells are garbage.
Look, I prefer difficult games and I wouldn’t even classify this game as difficult, but for the love of God just keep it consistent. Easy at the beginning, hard at the end? Good. Hard as fuck at the beginning, Harder as Fuck this game at the end? Even better. Randomly difficult at more or less unpredictable spots? Not good. I can’t even imagine what you do to the stupid anti physical boss if you somehow don’t have an air caster in the party, you’d have to use virtually all of your consumables up to that point in the game to succeed. Sure the not last boss was difficult but did his dungeon have to be a ridiculous gauntlet of much harder regular battles than anywhere else in the game with the longest distance between save points in the game? Backloading a totally random dungeon at the end of the not last dungeon for no reason? What the fuck? The game is definitely better than Rogue Galaxy (easy first dungeon, randomly hard as fuck second dungeon, super easy for the rest of the game) at managing difficulty, I’ll give it that. But I still don’t understand what’s so difficult about tuning bosses in a single player game. Rant over.
Overall I definitely recommend the game, I don’t know if I’ll go back and grind out the Platinum (not really a challenge, just a grind), but I enjoyed it and now I get to say my most shameful backlogged game is finally cleared out. If you’re a scumbag like me then go back and play Ni No Kuni, don’t let it just sit there forever. JRPGs are rare enough you might as well play the good one.