Ni no Kuni has been out for almost a month now and our editors have been itching to discuss the finer points about the game. We all agreed Studio Ghibli’s visuals are amazing and the score very impressive, but do we agree on everything? When does anyone agree on everything?
Today we’ll be bringing the first part of a five part series. We discuss Ni no Kuni’s combat system and try not to get into a fight ourselves.
The combat -
Anthony – In-depth columnist/American
“Ni no Kuni’s combat was kind of like a banana split with some of your favorite toppings missing (caramel drizzle, anyone?); it has most of what you want in an ice cream treat, but feels incomplete. I actually loved that the familiar’s HP (Health Points) and MP (Magic Points) were tied to their users; although, because the game wasn’t balanced well and the AI was poor, it became cumbersome. Don’t get me wrong, Ni no Kuni’s combat isn’t bad by any means – at times it was great – but I think it’s definitely the weakest element.”
“I really felt like, for most of the game, I relied on my familiars – and that’s a good thing. But trusting the computer to carry out even the most basic functions isn’t a good thing. That’s my biggest problem with Ni no Kuni: the AI. The combat is real-time and entertaining but too often it gets bogged down by your familiar taking an inane route to the target or your party members hurting more than helping. And, because familiars are tied to their owners HP and MP, it’s maddening to select an attack heavy familiar to give the computer an incentive to conserve MP only for them to spam abilities…even on low level mobs.”
Jaime – RPG/Vita Aficionado/Puerto Rican
“I agree for the most part; I personally found Ni no Kuni’s combat to be the weakest part of the package as well, but not for lack of trying. The way I see it, some of these hybrid combat systems are too heavily invested on players trusting the AI to do the right thing. Ni no Kuni proved that we shouldn’t trust the AI unless there is an intelligent system in place to give some sort of guidance akin to FFXII’s Gambit System (and I have my reservations about that system).”
“However, that’s a small qualm really compared to my thoughts on the mixing of traditional elements and action elements. Too many times games have tried to combine the two, but very few have done it well. I think only the “Tales of…” has got it down pat, but Ni no Kuni seems to try and find a happy medium. It does some things well, like skills and the capture system (I love the familiar system), but it’s just like you said Anthony, it becomes really cumbersome at times. It’s beyond me why I can’t control my familiar more – attacking and defending would make more sense to me if there were buttons dedicated to them while the action wheel was filled with nothing but abilities. If you want to make a hybrid system, it needs to be practical.”
“Admittedly this may be my bias towards traditional JRPG systems, and by no means should this be a sign that I despise the combat system in Ni no Kuni. I simply think that it was just a few steps short of being something really special – AI aside.”
Jamie – Managing Editor/Australian
“Having never played a true JRPG before, I wasn’t sure what to expect when combat first came into play. Like many kids I grew up with the Pokemon series on Gameboy. The combat was easy enough to understand, yet in-depth enough to keep you entertained. Why do I bring up Pokemon? Well, the system of choosing your familiars’ moves, making sure you have enough MP to use your moves and taking advantage of your opponents weaknesses are all reminiscent of Pokemon. Though as you guys pointed out the AI can be sloppy at times. selecting your familiar to attack an enemy only for it to get stuck behind another familiar is something I didn’t experience often.”
“Personally, boss fights was when the game really shined for me. Trying to juggle all three of your party members, using the right familiars for the proper situation and strategically planning your next move was something I really enjoyed. Battles around the world were entertaining, but you can only fight the same creatures so many times before you lose interest. However, the general spacing out of boss battles meant you never had to wait too long before your next challenge – something the game did marvelously well.”
“Yeah Jamie, the boss battles were the best way the game showcased how good the combat could be; but sometimes it showed me the worst problems too. As far as the positives, I particularly enjoyed the battles with the added dangerous environmental elements, such as the red dragon’s flames lingering on the ground or the floating green orbs of pain in the various nightmare boss battles. The combat system really clicked when the game forced you to pay attention – not just to attack patterns and weaknesses of a boss, but to your surroundings as well. Sadly, some of the bosses just ended up magnifying how poor the AI of your party is.”
“The jellyfish boss was a pain not because of the difficulty, but because often selecting all out defend or all out attack didn’t work properly. In fact, on several occasions I would select all out defend to protect from a powerful attack only for at least one party member to inexplicably not listen. Usually the bosses are very fun, but if you have to continuously waste phoenix feathers to revive Esther because he didn’t defend like I told her to, it gets old.”
“That’s true, though the bosses did have pros, they also have their cons. Sometimes all out defend didn’t work, but for the most part I felt it was a sturdy mechanic. It might have cost me a few battles along the way, but it never became so much of an issue that the fighting wasn’t enjoyable anymore. Because it had so many similarities to Pokemon, it just gelled with me. The way they used familiars to make battle simpler was brilliant. Most people know how Pokemon fight, and Ni no Kuni mirrored it in real-time excellently. Evolving familiars, teaching them moves, creating strategies going into battle; the combat was just accessible enough to entertain the average game but complex enough to intrigue JRPG veterans like yourselves – just like Pokemon.”
“While I agree that Ni no Kuni’s all out system was a good idea in premise, in practice its pitfalls are apparent right away. It’s simply unreliable. And while it’s not necessarily a key in regular battles, in boss battles it can be the difference between life or death. You said it yourself Jamie, a few times you lost because of it. I do think Level 5 took a lot of inspiration from Pokemon, but also from other franchises as well – especially those who use a circle grid system for battles.”
“The diversity among the familiars is also impressive. The familiars are possibly the best part about Ni no Kuni. For me, I see opportunities to make a more fluid combat system. That’s all. I can’t argue about the well designed use of familiars, nor would I. I love my Mite! Good ole Paco Jr.”
“Haha, yeah I grew pretty attached to my Mitey too. That’s a big part of the game, being fond of your little buddies – just like Pokemon Jamie. Something I wish they would have taken from Pokemon though is a clear delineation of abilities based on attack power and those based off magic attack power. I have the platinum and I still don’t know if every move was based purely off magic attack. It they are, then Level 5 needs to implement abilities based off attack power and clearly tell us. If they did actually have that then they did a poor job of explaining.”
“Regardless, I’m right there with ya Jaime. Familiars are a wonderful part of the game. There’s so many out there and all cute in their own way. Even the sounds they make when you feed them treats are adorable. The stunning visuals, sweeping soundtrack and emotional story are all key aspects to Ni no Kuni, but at the heart of the game is the bond between you and your familiars. Yeah, I ended with a pun.”
The staff at AA pretty much agree the combat is the weakest point in a great game. That doesn’t mean the combat isn’t good – it’s certainly fun – it just means it was the most frustrating thing in the game. In some ways it might be what drives you to fight all the bounties for sweet boss battles. Or, you might put the game down because the combat gave you a headache or was tedious.
Either way, Ni no Kuni is a game definitely worth trying out for yourself (see why). In fact, tomorrow we three merry men will put our heads again to discuss just how Ni no Kuni fits in amongst the best exclusives Sony has to offer.
Analog Addiction is the place for all JRPG news, reviews and all things gaming. Jamie Briggs is the managing editor and you can find out about his daily complaints on Twitter, MyIGN or even watch his ugly mug on YouTube. Jaime ‘Paco’ Sifontes lives and breathes Japan. You can also follow his daily escapades on MyIGN. Anthony Scroggins has the Platinum in Ni No Kuni, nuff said. But while you say nothing, follow him on MyIGN. He has Twitter, but he never uses it.