By Sparky_Buzzsaw 11 Comments
"I liken Sparky's Update to Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It's chunky, completely unhealthy for you, and everyone craves it." -Ben Hur
Damn it, now I want ice cream.
Uh, welcome back to Sparky's Update. It's a few days late, but hey, it's not like I'm getting paid to write this big ol' bastard, right? I'm going to try to keep this update to the weekends, but I can't always promise that. I'm sure absolutely all of you care about my schedule. Right, on with it.
Today's all about Ni no Kuni. True, I did play a little bit of Dust (the Elysian tale, not the splendid 90's FMV game, sadly), but not really enough to say much other than it sure is a fantastic Metroidvania game with some rad graphics. Kids these days say rad, right? Put on your rain slickers, because I'm seriously about to gush everywhere. You have been warned.
Wherein I Use a Shit Ton of Hyperbole
Go buy Ni no Kuni. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just get to the damn store and buy it now.
I haven't been this excited about a JRPG not named Disgaea since Final Fantasy X or Suikoden V. It's the first full-on terrific JRPG of this generation, far surpassing anything Mistwalker or Square-Enix has put out. And do you know why that is, kiddos? Because this is a game that is uncompromisingly faithful to its genre. This isn't some half-assed Westernization of the genre, like Final Fantasy XIII. It isn't some coldly corporate RPG with little love for its world or its characters (I'm lookin' at you, Blue Dragon). This is a smartly updated JRPG, full of life and love and all the meat you could possibly want from a modern RPG.
Obviously, this is a graphically stunning game. It's the first example of a game I can remember that has better in-game graphics than in its cut-scenes. Seriously, seeing the fluid animations of the characters, the beautiful overworld, the hugely colorful (if slightly uninspired) towns, and the lovely character and beast designs is like a giant bowl of ice cream for the eyes. It's a ridiculously good-looking game, something you won't quite get from just looking at screenshots. It's all in the little details, the way your companion Drippy fidgets whenever there's a break in movement, your familiar's expressive faces and motions, the way your main character looks up at characters bigger than he is (which is practically everyone). There's really only a little fault to be had, and that's in the small size of some of the icons and letters in the menus, particularly when you're trying to figure out your character's affinities with familiars.
Actually, that's my biggest complaint with the game - that's how amazing this game is, where I have to look for the smallest nitpicky details to complain about.
The gameplay is pretty much real-time, though the action is paused frequently when you're using certain items or picking targets for spells. It's not frenetically paced, though some of the more challenging bosses and enemies can definitely tax you, especially if you're not prepared for a longer fight. You have three main characters (two of whom you meet eventually), and each main character can have up to three familiars at any time. You can either find familiars or "recruit" them by meeting certain battle conditions (whaling the piss out of them, essentially). This gives the game a distinct "gotta catch 'em all" quality. If you recruit familiars and have a full roster, they're sent to a holding area. You can swap them out pretty freely. These beasties all have their own attributes and abilities, and act as your primary avatars in battle, though you can still fight using the main characters as well (and you will - each character has strengths that contribute to battles).
This familiar system is easily the most addictive part of the game. You can find or buy food to feed your familiars to boost their stats. Reincarnating familiars once they've reached certain levels allows them to use more abilities and makes them stronger (though it resets their level to 1). Finding what food each familiar likes will lead to a stronger relationship with that familiar, allowing you to boost their stats even higher. I'm absurdly addicted to the system, and often go out of my way to explore areas a longer while to recruit more and more beasts.
Also terrifically addicting is the game's side quest system. You get jobs from a guild in each town (though you can also stumble across side quests without checking in), as well as bounty hunts (which do have to be taken from the guild). Each quest has its own small rewards, usually cash and a minor item or two. But each quest also nets you stamps on a quest card. Fill up a card, and you get a small, nifty little bonus perk, such as faster overworld speeds or the useless-yet-fun ability to jump. Some side quests also bump up the experience given in certain areas you've visited, making it more appealing to travel back and explore a bit more.
The icing on the cake, and the thing I'd like to least get into to save you what will likely be the game's most enduring legacy, is the game's charm. It's sold me on the potential of children being the protagonists in games, because this is not a game that panders to childishness. Instead, it takes its cues from Studio Ghibli's own sensibilities, making this a game cleverly written with both young adults and adults in mind. Drippy, your primary companion, is without question one of the best gaming sidekicks in recent memory. He's a hoot.
And it's the game's heart that should really be the thing to sell you on this game. It's a game created with such infectious loving care that it's impossible for me not to enjoy it. I really hope this game overcomes the cynical JRPG thumb-nosers of the day and becomes a mega-seller. It's Level-5's finest effort to date, and coming from a huge fan of Dark Cloud 1 & 2 as well as Rogue Galaxy, that's saying a lot.
The iPad Corner
-Word Derby is essentially speed Scrabble. That's great in and of itself. The randomized nature of the bonus tiles as well as the short clock makes it hard for cheaters to get a foothold in the game, and keeps things pretty honest. It doesn't hurt that the cartoony, horse-racing inspired graphics are charming as all hell and that there's an addictive betting system. It's about a buck, and is well worth it.
-Bloons 5 is the game that got me seriously hooked on tower defense on the iPad. There are tons of towers to make your defense, and like most tower defense games that I love, there are upgrades you can purchase outside of combat to help ease things. The level designs are bright, colorful, and usually fun, though some of the later levels are just brutal. I'm hoping to see Bloons 6 come out sometime soon. This will be a franchise I'll love for quite some time, even if they just tinker with the already great formula.
And that's really about it for this week. I will try to post with more regularity. And remember, folks, if you have recommendations for just about any type of iPad game other than the twin-stick shooters (I am not a fan of those), let me know. I'm always open to trying new and awesome games.