Namco Bandai’s latest RPG draws heavy inspiration from the Pokémon franchise. Is it possible that Ni No Kuni does the Pokémon formula better than Pokémon?
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a lot like Pokémon. Nearly every review for Level 5′s latest RPG has drawn this comparison, and its easy to see why; players take the role of a young boy who travels the land and befriends various monsters, using them to battle other monsters and grow stronger. In many ways, Ni No Kuni is the 3D console Pokémon game we’ve been requesting from Nintendo for years. However, a few notable differences elevate Ni No Kuni above a simple Pokémon clone. Here are six ways Pokémon X and Y might improve upon past iterations by absorbing a TM or two from Ni No Kuni.
I choose you! …Me!
In Ni No Kuni, Oliver begins his adventure without any familiars at all. The first handful of battles require him to attack with a stick he found under a lamp post. While familiars become the primary combatants for the bulk of the game, setting the groundwork with Oliver let players know that they could rely on his abilities when the going got tough. Similarly, when my Pokémon team runs out of PP, it would be nice to have and option beyond using an item or running away. Even a trainer with Magikarp-level stats would be better than a trainer that can do nothing at all. Inviting trainers to be active participants in battles would also make more sense from a narrative standpoint. When I take down Team Rocket’s Meowth, why wouldn’t Jessie and James just come at me with a knife? Instead, they hand me a bag of cash and disappear. I should have the option to command my Charizard to blast them off again.
The Wizard’s Pokédex
How does one become a Pokémon Professor with an empty Pokédex? The idea that a man with a doctorate in Pokéology has zero Pokémon registered in his Pokédex is absolutely absurd. It’s hard to deny the appeal of filling out a Pokédex by catching ‘em all, but wouldn’t it be nice to have the option to glance at a few of the available monsters from the beginning of the game? The Pokédex is meant to be a trainer’s number one source for Poké-info, yet in the end it does little more than track which monsters have been caught. In Ni No Kuni, players would be lost without the aid of The Wizard’s Companion, a magic book that Oliver obtains at the beginning of the game. While many of the book’s pages are missing at the start, it still offers information on dozens of the game’s familiars, has charts explaining nearly every item, and even colorful descriptions of the spells Oliver has learned. Such a resource in Pokémon would make catching ‘em all a whole lot easier, and if the Pokédex went so far as to include fables from the Pokémon universe, as Ni No Kuni does for its own, it would lend additional depth to the world.
Something Wild Appeared
The way Pokémon handles random battles is archaic and annoying. How the heck does a Rapidash (or any like-sized Pokémon) hide in a patch of grass that barely goes up to my ankles? Those things are pretty tall. And on fire. It would be hard to not see them coming. Having monsters appear in the overworld of Ni No Kuni allows players to actively avoid battles and, more importantly, choose which monsters to fight. Having the agency to avoid battles, at least some of the time, would make traversing the overworld a less frustrating affair. Actually being able to see Pokémon along paths and in the water would breathe life into the environment, and it sure beats meandering the tall grass in the hope you might chance upon the Pokémon you’re looking for.
A Choice in Companions
Every familiar in Ni No Kuni follows a similar evolutionary path. The first evolution for each creature can be triggered once it reaches a certain level by feeding it a stone of its corresponding sign. The second evolution is triggered in the same manner, but the result is a bit more interesting. Each familiar can become one of two varieties for its final form, allowing for a great deal of variety and customization in choosing team members. Some Pokémon have been treated to branching evolutionary paths, but most of the time these alternate forms are only obtainable through the obscurest of means. Eevee is an excellent example of this, as she can evolve into one of 6 different types. Some of these evolutions make sense: Give Eevee a Fire Stone, Water Stone or Thunder Stone and she becomes Flareon, Vaporeon or Jolteon, respectively. But if you want an Umbreon or an Espeon, be prepared to grind out “happiness levels,” a stat that can only be checked by visiting a random person in a random house in a random town. Even after gaining the requisite happiness levels, you’ll need to make sure your Eevee levels up at the correct time of day. Frankly, if something needs to be explained by GameFAQs before I can understand it, then something is missing from the game. Give more Pokémon branching evolutions, but make sure the way to obtain them is clear to the player. Better yet, just let us decide which ones we want.
One of the most annoying aspects of training a well-rounded team of Pokémon has always been the problem of keeping them around the same level. Most trainers resolve this issue by tossing in whichever monster needs experience and immediately swapping it for a monster strong enough to win. It wastes a turn and dramatically slows the flow of the game. The other option is to have a Pokémon hold the Experience Share item, which doles out a portion of the battle’s experience to any creature that has it equipped. In Ni No Kuni, every party member and familiar gains experience after the battle regardless of who actually took part in it, meaning that everybody stays near the same level. Even the lesser-used familiars are still viable options late in the game.
The Tale of a Trainer
The tried-and-true story of a young trainer leaving a small town to become a Pokémon master has been recycled over the course of a half-dozen iterations and become predictably stale. By contrast, Ni No Kuni delivers a tale grand in scope, yet intimately personal at the same time. This might not be a fair comparison to draw, since Ni No Kuni is an entirely new property, but it genuinely seems like the developers of Pokémon are afraid to make the player feel any emotions whatsoever. I don’t mean to imply that Pokémon ought to do away with the impetus of becoming a Pokémon Master, just that the journey to get there needs to be littered with interesting characters and involving sub-plots instead of variations of Team Rocket. I’m going to be a Pokémon master for no other reason than.. I want to? I guess? I appreciate that Nintendo generally keeps the protagonist silent because it allows players to project their personality into the avatar with little compromise, but the Zelda games have delivered a touching narrative in several of its iterations with a protagonist that does nothing but shout nonsense all the time. It’s okay for a minor character to have more than two lines of dialog. People are more than a sack of Pokéballs to be battled.
A friend of mine suggested this article be titled, “0 things Pokémon will learn from Ni No Kuni,” and he’s probably right. Nintendo’s monster cockfight simulator has proven the success of its formula several times over and the developers have little reason to fix what isn’t broke. Thankfully, the gaming community can always rely on developers that take existing ideas further, even if those ideas find new homes outside of the franchise it was born from. Let us know what you think in the comments below, or join in on the discussion in the official Ni No Kuni thread on our forums!