Ni No Kuni is a whimsical old-school rpg that is equal parts classic Final Fantasy and Pokémon. It’s the heartfelt story of a young lad named Oliver from ‘our’ world that finds himself on a grand adventure in an alternate realm. First of all, it is absolutely beautiful. The hand drawn art style is gorgeous. You could pause the game at any time, take a screen shot, print it, frame it, and hang it on your wall. It really is eye-candy throughout. Even the Wizards Companion, which is book you access in your inventory is beautiful to gaze upon. Unfortunately, the artwork is the only thing about Ni No Kuni that rises to greatness.
The story is at times both clever and clumsy. The names of most things and many of the expressions used by characters in the ‘other’ realm are clever plays on the words and expressions of our world. It lends to the feel that the two worlds are reflections of each other. Like when we would say something is ‘neat’, they might say it is ‘tidy’ (neat and tidy). The game is full of those things and at first you get the feeling that the writers are really freaking smart. As it turns out, the same care was not given to the plot. The story is full of contradictions and holes to the point that it becomes a distraction every time you notice another one.
The dialogue and acting are good, if a bit cheesy. But once again, the game falls short of its potential because most scenes are not acted, they play out as text scroll. Or even worse, they’ll insert 30 seconds of acted dialogue with text scroll before and after. It’s disconcerting and takes you out of the moment.
The mechanics are tedious and unrewarding. On the plus side, you can capture almost every creature you fight and turn it into a pet of sorts to fight on your side. These familiars as they’re called level up separately from you and you can feed them various things to boost their skills and give them new powers. Cool. Until you realize there are hundreds and they all level independently. There’s also no way to tell in-game which ones evolve into the best familiars, as some blossom late in their development, some early, and some follow a more linear path. That said, as long as you spend some time grinding xp, you can complete the game with any of the familiars. What you’ll probably do though, is just stick with the ones you find early, because they’ll always be farther along in their advancement than the ones you get later on. It’s a terrible design choice IMO, which discourages you from trying out new beasties which may actually be better in the long run.
As far as fighting goes, if you take your time and grind xp as you go, you’ll never have a problem and never need to use any particular strategy to win. As long as you’re over-leveled, it’s an exercise in pushing X until the fight is over. Boss battles are a little more complicated as you’ll use a variety of Oliver’s spells rather than simply attack with your familiar, but again, no particular strategy is required other than keep doing damage and heal up when you need to.
Exploration will occasionally reward you, but not with anything very good. There is a crafting system that is horrendously convoluted and unnecessary to complete the game. Side quests are samey same and never difficult, just time consuming. There are no important choices to make and no consequences for failure; all of which leaves you feeling like you’re along for the ride and not an active participant in the story. Fine for an action game, but these are the things that make great story driven games so engaging.
I don’t want to sound overly harsh, because that game is quite good, and it kept me entertained for over eighty hours. It’s the wasted potential that makes it so frustrating. Out of five stars, I’d give it three or three and half. I have not completed any of the end-game content, and probably won’t, for just like many of the characters in the game who’ve become broken-hearted, I’ve lost my Enthusiasm.