Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the Confusing JRPG

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 19 Feb 2013 12:00
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Then again, Ni No Kuni is a kiddie game, so handholding the player like a fussy mother trying to teach her daughter how to cook may be entirely reasonable. Kids have notoriously short attention spans, the little twats, so obviously you have to turn most of the gameplay into "talk to these people in the correct order, and we have etched the correct order onto the surface of your eyeball." So that explains that. But you forgot one thing, Mr. Bond: there's also combat, and it's an absolute arse.

One would think if you were catering for an audience that has to be constantly supervised, lest it stick every loose object within grabbing range up its nose, then you wouldn't make the combat so unnecessarily messy. Have multiple familiars, sure, all the kids like to poke the mons these days, but do we really have to micro-manage all their sodding equipment as well, swapping it all out every single time we switch the current lineup around? Not to mention having to decide what sweeties to force-feed them with for the associated buffs. The toughness of enemy monsters makes a bit of a drastic jump at certain points in the plot, too, necessitating a certain amount of grind if you haven't been doing enough faffing about. There's an inherent paradox in a game with both this and aggressive hand-holding.

And as I said, the AI-controlled party members in battle really are spectacularly useless, refusing to use familiars with appropriate strengths, not defending, and scarcely worth resurrecting if they fall. You know what occurs to me might have worked better? A system where the combat is separated into phases (or "turns" if you will) so that you can give a simple instruction to each party member at the start of each "turn" before everyone starts whacking at each other's shins with bits of wood.

Turn-based combat has basically been perfected for about twenty years now, but that will never suffice in a world that demands constant innovation. There is nothing that can be added to turn-based combat at this point to make it 'better turn-based combat', it can only ever become 'turn-based combat with some incompatible real-time combat elements stuck on'. Turn-based and real-time combat serve entirely different preferences. A cat is nice, and a bag of Doritos is nice, but you cannot claim to have made an innovative new cat because you glued doritos all over its fur.

But to return to the "kiddie game" distinction. Some people who are probably in denial have argued with me when I describe Ni No Kuni in those terms, but it's a cartoon fantasy in which you play a small boy whose main objective is to continue postponing the moment when he has to grow up and stop being such a little pussy, all of which points to kiddie game for me. But then again, it's entirely possible we are living in backwards world where all the kids are playing Black Ops and Warhammer 40k and only the adult gamers play the nice wholesome power of friendship innocent fairy tale RPGs in a futile effort to cling to their fading youth. Perhaps we should follow this logic to its conclusion - all the children can run the world and the adults can all go play on the swings. It's not like the kids could make the global economy much worse after they blow it all on Mars bars.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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