Level-5 needed to shear the shit out of this game
To help explain my issues with the writing of Ni No Kuni – here is a list:
…Actually, there was a list, but it has been cut. Suffice to say It had 6 points and ended with:
‘Yes! This IS the Most Fun I’ve Ever Had, life is worth living!’ (Maybe I’ll even stand up, catch a glint of myself looking smug in the mirror and consider how Fucking Pointless that whole expedition was.)’
So there we have it, the writing isn’t too hot and it takes a ridiculous amount of meandering to get anything done.
There are definitely more problems: (Why do I feel the need to preface that with: ‘In my opinion. Please just assume that everything is ‘in my opinion’). Ni No Kuni’s ‘videogameyness’ interferes with a conceptually great story: Kid experiences tragedy; retreats to magical world in order to escape depression and mental illness.
Tim Rogers refers to ludo-narrative interference in his awesomely super incredible review of bioshock infinite. And the very same principles are applicable here. There are points at which people will tell you that you’re in a hurry — bad things are coming soon — and you could just leave the game on forever and nothing would happen. Of course, what you’re supposed to do at these points is fun shit like ‘side-questing.’ (Fuck the guy who loses his diary approximately 100 times, by the way.) But what actually happens is a kind of weird narrative breakage — there’s a volcanoe about to go off and you’re… Searching for rainbow coloured leaves to make a swimsuit. It’s times like that When Ni No Kuni reaches out through my Samsung Monitor and punches me in the face whilst screaming ‘I am not real; we’re just pretending. The world is definitely not in danger.’ Just once I want people to not lie about the world ending.
Then there’s the half-assed stuff about mental illness. Shadar (the Bad Guy) ‘breaks people’s hearts.’ And you (Oliver) go ’round fixing them: What’s that Jeremiah? You don’t feel like going to school because Mr. Doggles died? Well, don’t worry, I nicked a bit of ‘enthusiasm’ from this really enthusiastic guy earlier — so I’m just going to pop it in your heart and you’ll feel better. Man that shit is better than Prozac and counselling times infinity. You, I shit you not, repair depression instantly and with a simple diagnosis by your Welsh doll companion: What’s that? You don’t love your wife anymore? Well you must be broken hearted — don’t worry — I’ll just pop some love back into you; top you up and you’ll be raising a loving family in no time. Fuck me.
So in this winding mess of words I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather play something else (like Journey (so mainstream)) where the game is actually about Having Fun rather than Doing Boring Shit.
It was about the 10 hour mark I fell in love with this game just the littlest of bits. Joe Hisaishi’s score was sweeping me upwards and I was singing along minding my own business slaying monsters and all the usual JRPG stuff. That was fucking great and I should have turned it off then. At the peak of my enjoyment. I could have been the guy who just chilled – but I really wanted this game to be good so I cracked on. And as Studio Ghibli gradually dropped off the radar production-wise, the cracks in the veneer of videogame fun began to appear. And that really upset me, man. I loved the characters, and the world, and the music. Especially the music.
In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I think it is the music that successfully documents the decline of this game. There is a bit, quite late game indeed, where some thematic music ‘repeats itself’ on a ship. Now that music is very specific to a particular town — industrial march in C minor with octuple trombones and brass — good stuff. But then it reappears on this ship late game and its like: ‘Wasn’t there any more music for the ship?’ Then I was sucked out of the game fully — spat on the floor — betrayed.
So to conclude. The world is unbelievably lovely until you realise its an illusion of pixels costing electricity on your screen; and that the next twenty-to-thirty-something hours you spend playing it are never coming back.