Games

Style is Substance in 'Ni no Kuni'

In my head I kept comparing Ni no Kuni to Xenoblade Chronicles, but they evoke their sense of adventure in two very different ways. Instead, the way that Ni no Kuni uses its world rather than its story to evoke adventure means it actually has more in common with Skyrim than a JRPG.

In my review of Ni no Kuni I wrote that its style was its substance, and I figured I’d expand on that idea here.

Ni no Kuni tells a very classic kind of fairy tale adventure. It speaks in archetypes: the pure, unshakable hero, the corrupted villain, the comic sidekick, the seedy yet trustworthy rouge, who bickers with the kind-hearted female companion, and so on.

This kind of adventure should evoke a certain set emotions. Awe, curiosity, anxiousness, and excitement are some important ones. You should be inspired by the game. It should provide moments that impress and surprise. You should have a desire to see more of what awes you and to ignore the objective marker in favor of exploring the world even though it’ll probably get you killed. Our curiosity should push us into dangerous places, evoking the fear of death and failure, and when we succeed, either through some narrative win or simply by not dying, we should feel elated and jump right into the next encounter.

This is how I felt when playing Ni no Kuni, but it took me a long time to understand why this is how I felt. For the first dozen hours or so I was focused on what I didn’t like about the game (the constant narrative diversions and the rather bland combat), so I was surprised when I first got hold of a boat and instead of sailing to my objective, I veered off in the opposite direction.

I sailed around the world. I landed on lonely islands. I got my ass kicked by monsters that were far stronger than me. But I just kept on sailing. I found an island surrounded by mist that I couldn’t land on and made a mental note to return here when I inevitably got my hands on a flying machine. Eventually I did continue the story, but over the course of those hours of aimless exploration, I kept asking myself, “Why?”: Why am I doing this? Why am I subjecting myself to more “random” battles? If I don’t like the combat, what is driving me to do this?

It took several more hours before I realized the answer: I wanted to see the world. More specifically, I wanted to see Studio Ghibli’s interpretation of JRPG clichés. I was actually disappointed when I ran into a ghost ship on the ocean, and it wasn’t a whole dungeon, just a boss fight. I wanted more Ghibli ghosts (and I did get my wish as there’s a ghost casino) and dragons and yetis. I wanted to see how they animated snow and fire, all those little things.

In my head I kept comparing Ni no Kuni to Xenoblade Chronicles (since I think the latter game represents the new gold standard of JRPGs), but they evoke their sense of adventure in two very different ways. The way that Ni no Kuni uses its world rather than its story to evoke adventure (accidentally I should add) means it actually has more in common with Skyrim than a JRPG. For me at least.

In Xenoblade Chronicles, I’m driven by the plot. There are no distractions and no fluff to the story. Stuff is always happening. My understanding of the world is constantly being expanded as old mysteries are answered and new mysteries are introduced. It’s a 100-hour game that never feels like it's wasting my time. The world is interesting, but more so, because of the scale than the art style. It’s so big it makes my jaw drop, but it doesn’t look all that interesting. My interest in the world is more intellectual than practical: I want to progress the story so that I can learn the history of this place, but I don’t really want to see every nook and cranny of it.

Skyrim and Ni no Kuni work for the opposite reasons. These games are at their best when nothing is happening, when I’m just left to my own devices within the world. There is a story, but it represents something to do once the wonder of the world has worn off. Most of the time I don’t get anything out of my exploration (these are not loot games after all), but the experience is reward enough: that simple knowledge that I’ve seen something new.

That’s a personal adventure every bit as grand as the epic story of Xenoblade Chronicles. The main difference between Skyrim and Ni no Kuni is that I can ignore the story in Skyrim, but in Ni no Kuni, the story is the only conduit to the world, so I have to play along with it. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that the story wastes my time as much as it does. Thankfully, though, my personal story of exploration makes up for it.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image