The (Tidy) Return of the Old RPGs

Lately, I have really begun to lose my affection for RPGs, a genre I used to love after discovering how amazing they could be thanks to my first playthroughs of Square’s Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X.  Those games were truly special and introduced me to some complex and deep stories and characters I could really fall in love with (but not in that way, you silly people!).  For this reason, I came to look to Square Enix for good RPGs, I found myself, nevertheless, underwhelmed with the release of FFXII and FFXIII.  While I did have a lot of fun checking out some of the old RPGs, like FFVI and FFIX, I still had quite a bit of trouble finding any good new games of the genre, and as my schedule became busier, I also had less desire to spend such a huge quantity of time on a whole category of games that, in general, felt slow-paced and tedious.

That all changed when I was first introduced to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on the gaming blog, RPG Square.  Something about it caught my interest, and I ended up finding it at Wal-Mart when I was in possession of a gift card.  And yet, at the same time, I must admit that my initial impression of the game was a bit reluctant.  I didn’t know about the cartoony style of graphics (I know, I’m a snob sometimes), and when I saw the creature on the cover (who turned out to be Mr. Drippy), I thought, oh, no, not another cutesy sidekick.

When I started the game, I was relieved to find that Mr. Drippy, the Lord High Lord of the Fairies (that makes me laugh every time) was definitely not a cutesy sidekick, but was, in fact, quite a fun, little guy with a very amusing manner of speaking.  Nevertheless, I was disappointed yet again when the game took forever to get started.  I mean, seriously, once you reach the magical world (I’ll get to the plot soon), you can’t even get into the first town without trekking through the Deep Dark Woods, and then you can’t meet the king of Ding Dong Dell without changing your clothes and finding his pet fish, and then you can’t get the wand from him even when you do meet him until after tracking him into Ding Dong Well.  Huff huff.

Fortunately, despite a slow start, the game did start to pick up the pace, and I found myself much more engaged by the time I was able to meet the first of Oliver’s companions.  But, I believe I should explain the plot first.  Our hero, Oliver, lives in our world, in a town called Motorville, but his mother dies saving his life (in an event I didn’t find very plausible, but okay).  His stuffed doll ends up coming to life and turns out to be Mr. Drippy, a fairy from the magical world that was cursed by the Dark Djinn, Shadar.  Shadar has been causing all sorts of trouble in the magical world, you see, and if Oliver goes there and stops the evil Dark Djinn, he just might be able to save his mother.  Okay, wait a minute, you might be saying, how the heck is he going to save his deceased mother by stopping Shadar?  Well, bear with me for a moment longer.  It’s rather complicated, but every person has a soul mate (not the romantic kind), which is another person they are connected to in the other world, that often looks and acts just like them.  (More like a doppelganger, really, but less creepy sounding.)  Oliver’s mother, in the magical world, is the Great Sage Alicia, whose soul was captured by Shadar, and if Oliver saves Alicia, in theory, he should be able to save his mother.  Yeah.  Makes sense.  Sort of, you say?  Then, you’re getting there.

Well, anyway, so you obviously end up travelling to the magical world, where Oliver embarks on a quest to become powerful enough to stop Shadar, and where this game really started becoming fun was when, well, stuff started to actually happen, such as meeting your new companions and obtaining more Familiars (which I’ll get to).  Basically, the game gets good once it decides to stop holding your hand.  As I began to final progress into the real meat of the game, I found it had a very interesting story, including some pretty good plot twists along the way, and I ended up becoming very attached to the main characters, Oliver, Drippy, Esther, and Swaine, as well.  I haven’t found many RPGs with engaging stories and characters since the old FF games.  I could not get into the characters in FFXII and XIII, and the stories were far too complex to appreciate, so that was one of the many aspects to Ni no Kuni that made it a breath of fresh air.

Another area where this game really shines is the gameplay.  Again, I have not had much fun playing the RPGs released in recent years.  In fact, I find them absolutely boring.  You often have minimal control of the characters, leveling up takes forever, boss battles are an hour-long affair…  Yeah, just, yawn.  Ni no Kuni, on the other hand, gives you plenty to do, a huge, beautiful world to explore (I should have never judged this game by its graphics, because they are very detailed and gorgeous to behold), and an entertaining battle system.  This game mixes the traditional RPG battle system with real-time fighting for a faster-paced experience.  Your character and their Familiars can be controlled and moved around in battle, and you can select from a wide variety of moves.  I was really only comfortable using Oliver, but he was all I really needed, as this game sports a pretty nice collection of spells, some of which are pretty darn powerful.  You can also give each character up to three Familiars, which are creatures that can fight for you, as well.  Most Familiars are caught in battle when a heart appears over a defeated enemy, allowing Esther to capture them, and I had a lot of fun leveling up my Familiars, giving them treats, and transforming them into stronger forms.  Some were just so cute, too.

Once I got into it, this game never got boring, and I spent countless hours playing through the main story or simply running around on side quests.  One major feature in this game is helping those who are brokenhearted, a state people are afflicted with by Shadar, where they lack an important emotion, such as kindness or restraint, and you must find someone with the respective emotion to spare so you can share it with those who are in need of it.  I found this a rather unique concept, plus there are many other quests to complete, as well, such as finding certain items, capturing specific Familiars, and bounty hunts.  Leveling up was not even a tedious process, as it didn’t take as long as some games to become stronger, and when you have nine Familiars leveling up in the meantime, each battle feels a lot more productive.

So if you are feeling rather disappointed with modern RPGs, I would definitely recommend Ni no Kuni.  You will certainly get your money’s worth (the game took me about two months to beat, and they give you many new quests once the game is over, which I find pretty generous), and it really brought back the feel of the old RPGs I used to love, proving that this genre is far from dead like I had come to believe.  Nah, mun, there’s still hope for us RPG fans yet, en’t it?  Now there’s tidy!  (I’m sorry, but I just had to do a little Drippy impression before I ended this post.)

A Proper Tidy Duck

Originally published on United We Game on July 14, 2015.

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