Currently playing: Forza 4/Horizon (X360)
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (X360)
Etrian Odyssey 2 (NDS)
COD: Black Ops 2 (PS3)
Ni No Kuni (PS3)
Fanboy class: Dedicated enough to get decent RPGs and action figures.
Favorite music artists:
Boards of Canada
Nightmares On Wax
The Chemical Brothers
The Go! Team
Principles Of Geometry
*Batthink enters the room and sees his Wizard’s Edition of Ni No Kuni crying*
Batthink: Aww. What’s up?
NNK: *Baaw* Seymour was mean to meeeeee…
Batthink: Oh, you mean SeymourDuncanRandomnumberattheend? Well…you don’t need to worry about him…
NNK: But he was meeeeeeeannnn… *sniff*
Batthink: *grabs plush of Drippy and waves it in front of NNK, and talks in a rubbish Welsh accent* Oi! What cha’ doin’, like? You don’t wanna be called summing like cry-baby bunting, do ya, boyo?
NNK: *sniff* You make him sound dumb…
Batthink: *back to normal voice* Yeah. Now, let’s have a word with him…
To recap, Seymour made a blog stating how Atlus’ Persona 4Golden was superior to Level-5’s Ni No Kuni. With that reasoning, he is correct. Both are Japanese role-playing games and both have long introductions without much gameplay. But Seymour clearly plumped for the former title because there is a lot of handholding (the main cause of interruption getting in the way of actually playing the game), overly-simplistic themes, morals and over-scripting in the latter. Whilst I disagree with the gripes about the voice-acting (which is pretty good for an RPG), Seymour makes it clear that presentation is key and his almost two-hour experience of Ni No Kuni declared it a bit of a mess.
He can’t work out why there should be so many tutorials. He can’t understand the logic that went into Ni No Kuni’s design. He can’t work out why it seems as if the developers think he’s about as smart as a rock (“The best part is, I feel that Persona 4 actually somewhat respects my intelligence”). Maybe I have the answers:
He isn’t the target audience and this game, although developed by Level-5, is shackled by the rules of Ghibli.
If Seymour feels a little puzzled as to why I said that, then maybe I should direct him first to the covers of both boxes (unless he bought one or both digitally) and check out the age rating plastered on them. Ni No Kuni has a ‘12’ rating (or the ‘PG/13’ in the US), and my Playstation 2 copy of Persona 4 has a ‘16’ rating (I should think that the PS Vita version should have the similar/equivalent rating). Then I considered the Japanese ‘CERO’ rating. I knew that, since quite a bit of anime in the Eighties had occasional content that would be risqué to a western viewer but wouldn’t raise an eyelid with the native audience‘s kids, so the rating must be set lower. Checking Japan’s box art, I found ‘CERO A’…suitable for everyone.
Clearly, since this a collaboration with Studio Ghibli, their usual requirement is to deal with anything under the banner of entertainment that the family can enjoy, tying in with their movie audience. So, not ‘hard’ enough drama and dialogue for the adult Seymour, but the game itself is geared towards those youngsters or movie-goers who haven’t fully got to grips with RPGs. Those who played with Ni No Kuni will clearly think the CERO rating is more appropriate. I myself feel that, with the amount of tutorial, handholding and themes.
What is more telling is how much influence that Studio Ghibli has on the game on the presentation side. Since all of its movie catalogue doesn’t go above the ‘12’ rating (Graveyard of the Fireflies is the most mature of their work), that is effectively what Level-5 has to abide by. Then you have to consider that the studio has to make up the character/familiar designs and the cut-scenes in their trademark animation for the game. The first reason behind why the Ghibli cut-scenes are more infrequent compared to ones performed in the game engine is because the former cut-scenes are usually detailed and hand-drawn. They may last thirty seconds to a minute in motion and are high-quality and thus expensive. Put on top Hayao Miyazaki’s tendency to throw away any animation cells/backgrounds that aren’t up to scratch, along with the time needed to devote to other projects. Level-5 has plenty of reasons to pick and choose carefully what moments in the game need that Studio Ghibli visual hallmark.
You also have Ghibli’s need to keep to the script (it could be ‘their’ script or the developers’). Way back in the 1980’s, Miyazaki’s movie Nausicaä was cut by about half-an-hour by those who secured the license in the US. Ghibli’s director was spitting blood; after all, how would you feel if you gave 100% effort to your work only to find somebody altered over a quarter of it? He resolved to make sure that until those who were responsible for the localization of the movies provided the original meanings and intentions, they would not be allowed to show any further movies after My Neighbour Totoro. Thankfully, someone got the hint by the time Princess Mononoke came around.
Admittedly, aiming at the audience Studio Ghibli holds sway still doesn’t excuse the amount of unnecessary dialog there is, even though the notable appliance of dialects is admirable. A lot of that could have been cut out, especially later on, in order to let the player apply the right spells with their own initiative and so forth (instead of having to skip text a lot). This unfortunately impacts not only those looking to head straight into action, but also the people Ghibli caters for. When I told my anime/JRPG-game-playing friend the fact I had completed it, he was surprised. He had heard only one other person who had managed to do that, and he himself couldn’t bring himself to finish it. There were RPGs that were considered far inferior to Ni No Kuni, yet he was more prepared to finish those games than that, simply dropping out of the game. This was telling; how can you help players commit to a game requiring a few score hours, when you’re working with others who specialize in movies that need attention for only two?
Regardless of whether Level-5 was doing the scriptwriting, I believe Miyazaki and Ghibli would always have a hand in it, particularly where the translation to other languages is concerned. For example, as the story is set in parallel with a sort of 1950’s USA, Miyazaki would stress the importance of place and time in identifying a person from that era. Now, expressions like ‘jeepers’ is going to sound very odd in this day and age, and even when Oliver says it, it doesn’t sound quite right. But if Miyazaki demands that a child has to say something that identifies him from being from the 1950’s, with the only option OK’ed being ‘jeepers’, then we are stuck with it, good or ill.
Level-5 have managed to do a good job of working with other developer’s franchises before. See their efforts regarding Dragon Quest VIII onwards, working alongside Square-Enix. However, instead of being able to have the foundations laid for them and play with more freedom with the given designs, the collaboration with Ghibli has hampered the game a little bit. It could have been a lot better in script mainly, but the presentation, given a bit more time and resources, would have required small improvements. Something that a developer like Atlus working on their own wouldn’t have been troubled by, having the freedom to do whatever they can with Persona 4.
Persona 4 covers Seymour’s desires for a mature look at a Japanese society with mystery, murder and many other factors going on. It is the fourth game in the series, and so is able to provide a refining of what makes the game tick as well as any previous issues the other prequels had. Ni No Kuni is Level-5’s first game with Studio Ghibli, and they had to start something new and also adhere to Miyazaki’s requests. It was bound to have difficulties and problems, and indeed the flaws have been glaring to both me and Seymour. Why wasn’t the ‘all-out defence’ party command option able to be implemented earlier than the Fairyground, for instance? Maybe they didn’t like introducing everything for their intended audience too quickly, that the handholding would go on more over a shorter period of time. With a less script, this would of course be less of a problem.
For what has been done right, however, is great. It has kept the visual style as expected, has plays on words from the groan-some to the clever, the awesome reveal of what goes on inside the fairy godmother, as well as a few nods to earlier Ghibli-franchises. Not only that, but the battle system is good enough to make defending an important option, setting up the glims in order to replenish health and magic power. Level-5 also implements an item combination system carried over from other games in the form of the caldron, so that when you get it, you can craft new items with the existing ones you have. That, and on top up feeding your familiars to increase their stats and evolve into new types.
I doubt these factors will change Seymour’s mind about the aspects of the game that have made him leave it in favour of Persona 4, and I would respect that decision. I have given reasons for his gripes, but these cannot excuse the game from its imperfections. There are only two major issues I have with his blog; firstly, the level of criticism put on Ni No Kuni by using the other particular game to point out the flaws is, in my opinion, a little over the top. Maybe it is just me being sensitive, but Persona has the subjects, characters and narrative freedoms that would easily interest him without being held back by an audience he has outgrown. Ni No Kuni never really had a chance of standing against P4 with more generic characters and situations that could only be presentable to a family. He could have been looking for laughs, tearing into the game to make his blog sound entertaining. However, I can’t help but feel he’s done the equivalent of attacking a Disney film because it doesn’t have the deep meaning, topics and research that a Christopher Nolan one has.
The second issue is his dismissal of the plot. He hasn’t played the game all the way through and yet says that it is a ‘by-the-books-story’ about Oliver’s ‘quick fun…leads to trouble and he learns a lesson’. It would be easy to encapsulate that if you played the first few hours, but after playing the game to the story‘s conclusion, there are a few twists in the tale that would easily damage Seymour’s assumption.
And where should you, the reader, stand? If you have a lot of patience, love RPGs with a solid battle system and/or love Studio Ghibli anime, you’ll be fine with this. But if you are looking to try something away from the norm, don’t want to have to deal with reams of text about things that might not interest you and have more experience with games to know what to do, it might be time to move along to something else with a bit more scope. We all had to start with a particular game somewhere; maybe another possible Level-5/Ghibli game could garner a more interesting result and rectify those mistakes. For now, I believe Ni No Kuni and Persona 4 exist in their own little grounds.