Recently Played: The Walking Dead and Ni No Kuni: WotWW

If this sounds like an odd match up, you'd be right. But after being brutalized by the drama of The Walking Dead, the whimsical nature of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a nice palette cleanser. Also, I wanted to say something about The Walking Dead... even though I realize everyone has probably talked it into the ground, debated if Adventure Games deserve awards, argued over the characters and sense of choice, and back again. So I'll try to keep talk about the adventures of Lee Everett short as best I can.

WARNING: If you have somehow not played The Walking Dead yet, there will be spoilers.

The Walking Dead (Raking Your Emotions Over the Coals: The Game)

I like this game. The Walking Dead was alright. But I found it really difficult to play because of the emotional toll, not so much any technical or game play reasons. Lee Everett is a great, memorable character, along with his partner in crime Clementine. Most characters were done well enough that I didn't want to see anything bad happen, even though I knew it would. The cornerstone of this particular adventure game is shitty choices, although some are easier to make than others. Lily and Larry especially, since they didn't feel like people but programmed obstacles. Their flat characterization dulls the edge of the meat locker scene since it's really, really easy to side with Kenny. Considering they are firmly sided against you no matter what Lee does (like grabbing important heart medicine, or jumping through hoops with handing out rations) there's zero reason to care about them. Luckily they're taken out midway in the story and replaced with more rounded characters.

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I ended up dragging Ben to his final terminus in the fifth episode, which paid off with some great scenes that kind of sum up his mentality. Considering how hopeless Ben is even though he wants to do right by people, all the opportunities to get him killed felt way too much like schmuck bait. Like the game was just daring you to outright murder someone in front of Clementine just to be a dick. All I could picture was some guy with a big dumb smile hanging out next to Lee at every turn. "Hey buddy, don't you want to kill that guy? You should probably kill that guy. I think it would be swell if you killed that guy. C'mon, kill him. Wouldn't it be great if you killed him? You kill Ben, and I'll give you a cookie." Not to say you do Ben any favors bringing him along, but his final moment with Kenny was... effective. I guess he's ridiculous like Lily and Larry, but in the opposite way. The difference is he has room to show a range of emotions other than "Fuck you, Lee!" that the other two were hopelessly locked into.

A few other points, I love that this game gives you the opportunity to subvert the biggest zombie cliche in all of history, which felt damn good. I also missed the radio scene with Carly and thought she was pretty capable until I watched a video and saw she couldn't handle batteries. And I turned off the notifications in the top left (that tell you when people remember stuff and junk) because I didn't see what point they served. It seemed more natural just to play by memory or try to read people after talking to them. The facial expressions in this game were good enough that the text on screen seemed unnecessary and really bothersome. But that's about the summary of my Walking Dead experience. I'm curious what Telltale will do with a second season. I can't help but feel like they won't be able to replicate the impact of Lee's adventure. Not to say they got lucky with season one or anything like that, but I think their work is cut out for them. They somehow have to top Lee Everett and Clementine, or create a story on par with them.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Getting that Dark Cloud Itch: The Game)

Mr. Drippy is boss, believe it
Mr. Drippy is boss, believe it

To sum up my feelings on Ni No Kuni, I would say the presentation and character design is top notch, but the narrative and gameplay meat runs a little thin for how long this game is. Right up front, this is a damn good looking game. The Studio Ghibli touch certainly helps. They've really nailed that family summer film kind of look from NPCs to supporting characters right up to the villains. Not to mention the various locations you'll visit on your quest to save the world. Which is good because that aesthetic will keep you company for about 45 to 50 hours. If you have a lot of time to kill (as I did in the month of January) you might want to check out Ni No Kuni. It would also help if you don't mind straight faced takes on fantasy RPG tropes. Brad Shoemaker used the word "earnest" describing his time with the game, and I would say that's fair. This game doesn't really have that cynical character who keeps things somewhat balanced by downplaying magic and prophecies and so on. Everything is taken with a heavy dose of whimsy, which worked for me because I had just finished playing The Walking Dead.

I had a good time, but I think this game overstays its welcome. Mostly due in part to the battle system. My biggest complaint is your dumb AI partners who will gladly take boss special attacks to the face like it was a sideshow attraction. Things play in real time, where evasive moves actually work and defending at the right time (before a boss launches a massive attack) can spare you tons of damage. But good luck getting the AI for your party to follow suit. You can switch between them on the fly, but there's nowhere near enough time to make them guard or evade manually. They eventually give you party commands to coordinate attack and defense, but it never worked for me. Usually they only serve as temporary distractions to give you enough of a life lead so you can solo the boss on your own. I mean you can revive them, but they'll just die all over again. Luckily bosses (except for two key, climatic fights) are never that vicious where your buddies are critical to winning. But I definitely got tired of trying to babysit the AI and eventually left them where they died. It wouldn't be a stretch that I basically beat this game with only Oliver and two badass familiars while Mr. Drippy played the part of Doc from Punch Out.

Probably my single favorite thing about this game is the mobility your magic gives you. Once you explore most of the globe, you get these abilities to whip in and out of towns and dungeons like nobodies business. Fetch quests and finding bounty missions are mostly trivial things as you can warp around at will, grabbing what you need and getting out in no time at all. You'll still get modes of transportation to find areas for the first time, but once you know where they are, teleportation is the only way to go. On the flip side, my least favorite part of Ni No Kuni would be the soundtrack, which isn't bad per se... but it feels generic that nothing about it is memorable. Not to say the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra are slouches, but I don't think they got the best material to work with. Worst of all is the battle theme. Holy shit that gets old quickly, and hearing the same few notes for over 45 hours from battle to battle felt like it was destroying my mind. I eventually turned down the music and used my laptop to play something from Chrono Trigger, Anarchy Reigns, Hotline Miami, Donkey Kong Country- anything to break the monotony of the battle theme. Ni No Kuni does a lot of cool things, I wouldn't say the music is one of them.

Mostly Ni No Kuni left me wanting another Dark Cloud game from Level 5. Or at least revisit Dark Cloud 2.