Monday, February 18, 2013

The long and the short of it

I have much to talk about and none of it involves making up last week's Demo Friday. That discussion will shift quickly from being about the game to being about the general merits of one CCG over another, a discussion that I am not particularly well equipped to handle. As it stands, the electronic version of Magic: The Gathering is far superior in both presentation and handling, but I will reserve my excitement for the electronic version of Legend of the Five Rings, which will never happen.

Bitches can't handle Junzo, can you?

Ni No Kuni has steadily improved for the last thirty or so hours, to the point where, pint sized protagonist aside, it has turned into a pretty good JRPG. Oliver is still grating but I will cut him some slack, as his mother dies in the first half hour of the game and he just found out that the main bad guy is his soul mate, then killed him anyway. The game has an odd balance of mechanics: for everything is gets wrong it gets something totally unrelated right. For example:

Combat (bad) vs Quest System (good)

I compared Ni No Kuni's combat to both Pokemon and Nocturne. It truth, it is not as good as either because it lacks variety in both tactics and party members. For combat based on swapping out and leveling up monsters there needs to be a compelling reason to use new ones. I have been using the same few summons for the last fifteen hours and will probably never stop. I keep finding new creatures that have the same abilities as ones I already have, not to mention that when push comes to shove Oliver is still better at dealing damage than anyone or anything else. Every single boss fight is Oliver and his two meat shields vs a giant monster.

Oliver being the go to guy for important combat wouldn't be bad if powerful spells didn't all cost too much to cast and MP regaining items were prohibitively expensive. If the boss isn't dead before Oliver runs out of MP it becomes a battle of attrition. The other two characters might be able to help if their AI was pants on head retarded about using spells. If left to their own devices the AI characters will cast giant area of effect spells on single mobs and then use terrible melee attacks on bosses. Controlling them manually might work if the menu system was impossible to navigate quickly. There are settings for them but they are not nearly granular enough to be useful. What is needed is the gambit system from Final Fantasy (hold on, counting Final Fantasies in my head) 12(?). They were pain to set up, but once they were done the game almost played itself.

On the other side of this are quests that, while simple, give very tangible benefits. Completed quests and bounties fill stamp cards. Stamp cards are exchanged for in game bonuses, good bonuses, like being able to walk faster, enemies dropping more health when they die, and my favorite, a one hundred HP and MP bonus for Oliver. Most of them are fetch quests or simple 'kill x of x' missions but when the prize for completion is that good it is worth it. These quests can have you running all over the world, which would be bad, if not for...

The best fast travel system ever (good) vs a small game world (bad)

At around the ten hour mark Oliver gets a wonderful spell called 'travel' that allows him to return to any location previously visited for 1 MP. Have a quest that requires items from two different cities on different continents? No problem. The journey to a new area is important and interesting, but retreading the same ground for the tenth time is boring even when enemies that you out level run away.

What is surprising is how small the world is. If I didn't have the travel spell I could still fly around on a dragon and make pretty good time from one end of things to the other. Oliver is out to save the world; the world just doesn't feel very big. There are only four main cities and not much in between. It feels like I am saving my neighborhood from a bully, not saving the known world from the big, scary dark djinn.

Check my dreads, yo.
I hit the false ending last night. It would be less obvious if the tag line he game wasn't 'Wrath of the White Witch' and the white witch hadn't shown up yet, but I am looking forward to the ground falling out from under Oliver. Again.

...I may be a horrible person.

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