The 1990’s are fondly remembered for many reasons. There are those who loved the television shows of the 90’s, while others had a love for gangsta rap. I happen to fit into both camps, but more than anything I was a fan of the 90’s because some of the most stellar JRPGs that have ever been made were released in those years. Games like Final Fantasy VI, Xenogears, and Suikoden swept me away to worlds much more interesting and exciting than my own, and remain some of my favorite games.
This fondness for the glory days of JRPGs is a big reason why Ni no Kuni sparked my interest when it was announced. The colorful worlds and characters was something that grabbed me in particular. The fact that it was developed by both Level-5 and Studio Ghibli set my heart on playing it as soon as my wallet would allow it. My old age has made me a cynical man, but games like Ni no Kuni give me hope that there may still be a chance for JRPGs to return to the level of quality and acclaim they once held.
The turn of the new millennium marked a shift in the JRPG market. Developers seemed to start spending more development time on making their games look good and trying to reinvent tried-and-true JRPG mechanics instead of delivering the same kind of quality stories I so fondly remember from the JRPGs of the 90’s. Perhaps it’s partly for this reason that JRPGs have lost much of their popularity in recent years. I’ve certainly experienced a lack of interest in modern JRPG series, instead opting to boot-up a PS1 JRPG when the mood strikes. Still, it would be nice to experience quality gameplay in a modern JRPG with more current graphics.
It is my hope that Ni no Kuni can deliver on this desire. I feel like I’ve waited a lifetime to play a JRPG that sparked that kind of wonder and excitement that I felt in old-school JRPGs. Every preview I’ve seen of Ni no Kuni has elicited that feeling I’ve missed from my childhood. I’ve heard some reviewers say that it has a definite appeal to children rather than adults, and I get that impression as well, but for me great JRPGs are synonymous with my own childhood, so having a juvenile appearance and story only increases my interest in Ni no Kuni.
Something I really appreciate about Ni no Kuni is that it isn’t afraid to be unabashedly colorful and light-hearted among all the dark, serious games we see currently. Developers have started to focus on trying to make games as dramatic as movies, with blockbuster game series commonly having central themes of death, drug addiction, and gun violence. After so many years of such dramatic games, I could use a palate cleanser like Ni no Kuni to remind me why I started playing games in the first place: to have fun and be engrossed in another world unlike my own. I’m excited to see a game that isn’t afraid to use colors other than grey, black, and red.
Playing a game where the main characters consist of children and cute monsters would also be a welcome change for me. I am used to playing as a grown man in just about every game I’ve played in recent years, so the prospect of playing through an adventure as a child is something that excites me and brings a smile to my face. I crave something different after so many years of the same gameplay experiences. I yearn for the innocence I had as a young gamer, when I wasn’t so jaded about cliché story elements and gameplay mechanics. I want to shut my brain off for once and be able to enjoy a game that doesn’t attempt to blur the lines between game and action movie. Ni no Kuni seems like a game where I could do this, a game where I could just have fun playing it.
The pedigree of Ni no Kuni is fantastic. Level-5 has made a number of games I thoroughly enjoy, most notably Dragon Quest VIII. Studio Ghibli has made some of the most fantastic animated movies of all-time. For me, having them work together to make a game is something out of dreams. The final product of this partnership looks as beautiful as a Studio Ghibli film and as fun as I’ve come to expect from games made by Level-5. The gameplay videos make the game look like a playable Studio Ghibli film, which I am very eager to experience for myself. Films like Spirited Away have the ability to transport you to a fantastical world that you can get lost in. This is something I value in games as well. It’s my hope that the quality both companies bring to their products is evident in this collaboration and the reviews and videos I’ve seen give me the impression that this is the case.
It has been a good while since I’ve been so excited to play a JRPG. If I was a richer man, I’d have no doubt beaten Ni no Kuni already. Supporting a game like this would certainly be a positive thing. Unfortunately, I am currently forced to swallow my enthusiasm until I have a chance to try this game out for myself. I am definitely pleased to see that so many reviewers think favorably of the game and cite its use of traditional JRPG elements, since that’s what initially got me interested in the game. It’s nice that some developers realize you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to make a great game. I really hope that such a lighthearted game rooted in old-school mechanics can succeed in the modern games market.
Maybe then we can enter into a new age of great JRPGs. Maybe it’s a fantasy to wish for such a thing, but even glimmers of hope are enough to bring out the optimist in me.
Related Game(s): Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch