In recent times, I have decided to replay Ni no Kuni, a game that has become near and dear to my heart. It is due to the fact that I’m living in a rental with limited items unpacked that I returned to the game so soon, as when I enjoy a game, I will often try to spend longer between playthroughs to keep it fresh. So often in the past, I would replay my favorite games until I couldn’t stand the sight of them. Not so anymore. It’s ironic that I intentionally avoid my favorite games, but it keeps them fun, so it’s worth it in the end.
And yet, when I first played the game, I was incredibly bored. Yes, as much as I love this game now, I did not start out liking it. I’m the kind of person who finishes every game I play. I have suffered through some seriously awful games in my time. All because I’m probably insane or something. But by the time I reached Ding Dong Dell, I was seriously ready to quit. I had heard the game was good from the blogger of RPG Square, but I seriously was not understanding what I was missing. The game was just so dull and slow-paced. Not to mention incredibly childish. I mean, most of the games I play are E-rated and can be enjoyed by younger audiences as well as adults. But Ni no Kuni was proving to be a bit much for me. (The only other game I can’t play for the same reason is Kirby’s Epic Yarn. I’m sorry. The game’s cute. But no. Just not for me.)
I kept forcing myself onward until I reached Al Mamoon and got my first new team member, Esther. Having another character on the party, to fight alongside and to partake in dialogue, made things interesting enough to somewhat renew my faith in the game, even if I still remained largely unimpressed. And then we reached Castaway Cove.
I went into this game blind, so I knew nothing about it. The only characters I was even aware existed were Oliver and Mr. Drippy because, well, they’re on the box art. So I was not expecting to meet a new member of our party here. When you first reach Castaway Cove, you witness a thief quite boldly steal a cauldron from a man in broad daylight! You hunt the thief down, and he returns the stolen item without hesitation and runs off. All I can think is, what a weirdo. The guy just steals stuff for the heck of it, not even to keep it.
Seeming like an odd and random occurrence, you later need a Letter of Passage from the Cowlipha to board the ship headed to Autumnia. (Oh yes, the puns in this game. They’re painful. But then again, so are some of the puns in the Haunted Mansion, so I guess I can’t be too harsh….) Well, it turns out the thief has followed you across the desert to Al Mamoon, bribes a palace guard or some such thing to find out what you came there for, and upon your return to Castaway Cove, he steals the Letter of Passage from you. Trying to use it to board the ship, the captain declares there is no way someone like him came by the letter honestly, and the thief has the nerve to be rude and belligerent to him even when he’s clearly in the wrong!
Fast forward past a short conversation, and we (reluctantly, on my part) heal him from his broken-heartedness, as he’s apparently suffering from a lack of restraint (badly enough to create a Nightmare, even). And that’s when I learn that this man, by the name of Swaine, is going to join our team and take us to the Great Sage in Hamelin because he refuses to give up the Great Sage’s photo, yet another item he pilfered from your group!
At this point, I was honestly ticked. I mean, this guy just stalked two 13-year old children clear across a desert and robbed them! I don’t need to point out how creepy that is, do I?! And now he’s going to be part of our team? Why do I, as the player, get no say in this! I will quit the game right now! I refuse to accept such an unlikable character!
Fuming over Oliver’s idiocy in deciding to trust a man who just stalked and robbed two children, it’s not much longer before we reach the Fairyground, which involves some very ridiculous events, to say the least. More on that later. And I gottta admit…when Swaine was the only person to be appropriately bothered by the whole thing, I found myself…
You see, much to my dismay and general bewilderment, I found myself actually agreeing with and, heck, even laughing at his reaction. And that, folks, was the moment Swaine began to grow on me. Yes, Swaine, whom I so greatly despised the very moment I met him. The character I believed would ruin a game that was finally starting to become more interesting. That was the moment I later came to realize that Swaine was actually, in fact, this game’s saving grace.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ni no Kuni. It’s a positively charming game, and the whole idea of healing people’s broken hearts is quite sweet. But as charming as it all was, the game can still be painfully childish and was in serious danger of being a cute, little distraction that I would have ultimately forgotten about. There were times in the early hours of the game that I wondered if the developers were even aware of how cringe worthy their game could be. And I know I’m not the only one who felt this way. There is a fan fiction writer over on Archive of Our Own by the name of Yuni30. They wrote a fan fic about Swaine called “Devout Protector”, and in their response to a comment, they said that Swaine is “kind of the anchor of reality the game needed, in my opinion.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Swaine was indeed a character the game sorely needed, someone who is cynical and sarcastic, but also realistic. Thief or no, he was the only true voice of reason when the other characters consist of two children in their early teens and Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Mr. Drippy, all of whom, on the most part, blindly accept everything that’s happening without a second thought. Whenever things got too silly, Swaine would always voice my own doubts about the situation, as if he could read my mind. I was surprised at how often he and I saw eye to eye, and he also kind of helped me to understand the fact that the developers were indeed aware of how weird their game could be. It’s as if through Swaine they had communicated to the players, we know what you’re probably thinking, but just have fun and don’t take things too seriously. So that’s what I did.
I watched Smiley and Surly’s little comedy sketch (which was better than I was expecting) and laughed along with everyone else. We ventured into the belly of the mountain-sized Fairy Godmother and helped the littlies, baby fairies that were delayed in being born because of the monsters their careless mother had eaten. And then the only way out was to…ahem, get born again, the very notion of which Swaine found to be just as disturbing as I did. (When I later told Mother Duck about it, she reacted in much the same way.)
While I certainly feel quite fondly towards the game’s main characters, with Mr. Drippy in particular being an absolute delight all on his own, Swaine the thief eventually stole his way (pun intended) to first place in my heart and managed to save the game for me. I know one character, no matter how much I might like them, can’t singlehandedly save a bad game. But the thing is, Ni no Kuni is not a bad game, just sometimes too painfully saccharine. And it would have remained that way without Swaine to provide some balance and to act as, in my opinion, the most well-developed character in the game. It really has to count for something that I fell so in love with a character who made such an awful first impression. When we first meet him, he steals from people, he’s dishonest, and outright rude. But the more we get to know him and learn about his backstory, it turns out he’s not quite as terrible a person as I had first believed. He’s certainly made some poor choices in his life, but evil he is not.
So when I replayed the game for the first time in five years, I was so excited to reunite with Swaine again. I was more willing to forgive the game’s dreadfully slow pacing at the start (I also forgot what a little weasel sweet, little Oliver was at the very start of the game, lying to his poor mother like that!) and eventually welcomed the sassy Esther back onto our team. Finally, the longed-for moment arrived, and we set foot back in Castaway Cove, the broken-hearted Swaine appearing to rob that poor shopkeeper, right on cue.
I seriously laughed when I got to the part where Swaine attempts to use the Letter of Passage he had pilfered. He acts like such an immature creep, stomping one foot like a child when he doesn’t get his way. I found it endlessly amusing to recall how abysmally my favorite character behaved before we had restored his broken heart and welcomed him onto the team. It was like being reunited with an old friend, only to be shocked by their absurd and childish behavior!
Sometimes I enjoy writing down my experiences with a game so that I can look back on my early impressions of them. In all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to publish this or not or just keep it private for my own memories. But in the end, I guess I’ll share this silly rambling with you all. It’s my blog, after all, and I can write what I want! Anyway, when I first played the game five years ago, I started a fan fic detailing Swaine’s backstory called “The Makings of a Scoundrel”, but I never got around to finishing it. Now that I’m in the middle of replaying the game and can become reacquainted with Swaine’s personality and manner of speech, I thought now was as good a time as any to finish what I had started. You can say this game has restored my enthusiasm!