Monday, February 4, 2013

A stretch

Making a long term commitment to an RPG requires being able to identify with one of, if not the main, character. This is easy with open ended games like Oblivion and Skyrim but the main character is a man of my own creation. I have yet to play the Dragonborn DLC but when I do it will be refreshing to revisit that world with my character. If I had to create a new one it wouldn't be the same. The same is true for Mass Effect and Dragon Age: the main character was mine and it was the ownership that made playing the same game for forty plus hours enjoyable.

JRPGs, by their very nature, do not allow this same kind of customization. They have a story to tell and they are going to tell it their own way and take their time doing it. The good ones still have at least one character to latch onto. For a classic example, take Cloud. I may not have spikey hair and wield a sword wider than my arms but the feeling of not knowing who you are is universal. The character's journey of discovery becomes the player's, creating almost the same kind of buy in that open ended games do. It can be a stretch, but given enough time and clever translation, it will work.

There are limits, and Ni No Kuni bumps into one right from the outset. The player character is an eight year old child, and from what I understand it will remain this way for the duration of the game. I cannot identify with an eight year old child, I am a cranky old man who yells at passing children to cut their hair and get a job. Oliver's purpose is to help the player look at the world through the innocent eyes a child. Yes, the over world is one of the more beautiful things I have seen in a game in a long, long time, but my wonderment is tempered by questions like 'how did they do that?' and 'why is this combat so boring?' It just doesn't work for me.

One wonders what this boy would taste like.

I am still going to play the game because it is an incredibly polished experience and JRPGs come around so rarely these days that I cannot afford to be choosey. Hopefully the combat will flesh out as I gain party members and more pokemon familiars. It will not be the same kind of emotional experience as the last Tales game, though. I am not living it, just watching it, almost passively. In a conversation with Chance, he called it 'gentle'. I am leaning towards 'saccharine,' but again, I am only six hours in. He has put in a solid forty and hasn't gotten tired of it yet.

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