"Tidy" Is The New "Shiny"
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a Japanese RPG with a serious pedigree. Studio Ghibli, who has brought us classics such as "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro" worked with Level 5, who made the Dragon Quest and Professor Layton series, to bring us a new story, set in a whole new world. Both companies brought out their big guns for this project, and it shows in every pixel.
It's been a while since a game has grabbed me by the tripes like this, and I'm really happy. But I don't feel comfortable getting down into the nitty-gritty about the game proper right now. I've only just gotten all the grayed-out areas in the main menu unlocked, and 1/4 of the way through isn't enough to take all the game's mechanics out for a good spin. But here are a few things to go on with.
I'm of two minds about the whole experience so far:
- I'm blissfully happy with just about every aspect of it. It is great!
- I'm only about a quarter of the way through it. Aaaaauuuggghhhhh!
The characterizations are what bring this sort of game to life. Ghibli's reputation for quirky stories and visual depth is deserved, and you see it plainly the first time Oliver walks down a flight of stairs. Or just watch Mr. Drippy in the background of the various conversation screens.
The environments have all been lavished with that same level of attention. The first bit goes from a fire-belching volcano on the scale of Mt. Doom, to sweeping desert grandeur, to quaint towns, to magical forests, and everything in between. Each has its own charm and its own surprises, and I can't wait to see the next.
One of my favorite non-spoiler things about the game is the way it handles the team's interactions with NPC's and the rest of that world. This isn't Zelda, where you stalk through every village and town, chopping down the vegetation and breaking other people's stuff to get the things you need. We're all very civilized here. The specific jars and chests you can pick stuff out of are very clearly marked, and you don't break them to get it. You don't just go into people's houses, and you can't even run in the stores.
The sticking point in my conversation with you is I'm afraid it's going to be a while before I'm finished. The pace I've been plowing through at is simply not sustainable on top of the rest of my life. I've spent the equivalent of a week's worth of working hours on this game in the nine days I've had it. This is on top of my Daily Planet job, while still holding up my obligations to my gaming group playing Borderlands and Civilization V and working around my daughter's work schedule (she'll keelhaul me if I get too far ahead of her in the story). My twin daughters' birthday is today. I've got two weddings to plan, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped!
This isn't a new or unexpected problem. I've been shoehorning games into the cracks in my life for years, and it's not just the RPG genre. It took me about a month by the calendar to finish my first playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4, and that was with a 19 hour play-time. Length of the game isn't really the issue; it's life. I've had to chop and change in the middle of a Plants vs. Zombies level when duty called in the real world.
Even without life kicking in the jambs I tend to play more slowly than others. This is for several reasons. Completionism is a terrible monkey for your back, especially when it combines, Voltron-like, with the sort of elitist pride that doesn't allow for using a guide on the first play-through. I get terribly lost, and open-world RPG's are the worst for that. And with my gaming time coming in tiny chunks, an appreciable part of the beginning of each session is spent trying to remember where I am, what I'm trying to do, and just how to play this flippin' thing.
The big sites have their reviews up, and I have read a few of them over the last several days, mostly out of curiosity and to help me get through the work day while the game burns a hole in my desk. The longer I've played, the more bewildering these articles are. I don't know how long their guys have had their hands on the code, but reading them after getting as far as I have, I have to wonder how their experience of playing the game as their job affects their take on the game.
I'm not talking about specific points they've made (though in a couple cases I could). I'm talking about general approach. If I could sit down for eight hours a day and power through, with the game as the base focus of my life, how different would my comments be on the pacing? What if I was playing the game during the day, when I was most awake and aware, rather than trying to prop my eyelids open long enough to get to the next save-point?
I've had similar conversations before and have been told I should find a reviewer whose take on things is similar to mine and take their advice, but how many of the gang who get paid to do this are in the sort of life-position I am? It seems to me it would be like asking a speed-reader his opinion of the length of a book. If he finishes it in an hour, but I have to slog through it for three days, is his impression really going to be that helpful to me?
There's no easy answer. I don't expect the games media to start constricting their already demanding schedules to try to put themselves under the same sort of pressures my life puts me under. And I'm not exempt; I'm just as set in my own context. I've been playing this type of game for a very long time, so some aspects of the gameplay and general structure are already familiar to me in a way they may not be to someone who hasn't played a lot of this genre. You may not want my opinion, either.
In the case of this game, I don't know what to tell you. I can assure you that it definitely contains what it says on the tin. The story, art, sound, and gamplay have been brought together and blended into a gold-standard Japanese RPG. I think it's awesome. Whether or not that's what you like is a another thing entirely, and I'm not sure whose advice you should be listening to about it.