Ni no Kuni Almost Made Me Cry
Ni no Kuni almost made me cry.
No, I’m dead serious. While my wife was making fun of the game’s overdone accents, I was choking back tears.
It’s not like the story is particularly sad or anything. It’s your standard Studio Ghibli fare: the main character is a young kid thrust into a fantasy world after something terrible happens to his parents. Most of the Ghibli titles feature some sort of variation on this Roald Dahl-esque brutal treatment of adults. In Spirited Away the parents were turned into ravenous pigs, people are pretty sure My Neighbor Totoro is about the murder of a young girl, and Grave of the Fireflies is just one endless tragedy.
It would be one thing if the prospect of a kid becoming an orphan had gotten me misty eyed, but no. The waterworks started during the damn opening credits. When the theme swelled, my chest tightened up like I was reading the end of Of Mice and Men.
It was the entire feel of the game. It reminded me of what it was like to be a kid.
Growing up during the 80s and 90s, animated films and RPGs were two of the constants in my life. There’s something comforting about overworlds and menus, potions and save points that mean there’s totally going to be a boss through that door. It’s a reminder of the simplicity of childhood. Everything is clear – the quest is obvious and you know that as long as you keep going, you’ll reach the end. There are no pretentiously named combat systems or elaborately intertwined worlds. There’s just you, your party, and the promise of treasure.
I imagine it’s the same feeling that keeps the Dragon Quest series selling like hotcakes in Japan despite modernizing as well as Vanilla Ice.
It’s the kind of story you’d tell while exploring the woods outside your house, wooden sword tucked in your belt and stuffed doll at your side. Towns have names like Ding Dong Dell, dungeons are named according to what they look like, and the monsters range from sleepy mushrooms to floating green balls with wicked toothy grins.
The fact that it’s got the Ghibli style and Joe Hisaishi soundtrack are just icing on the cake. For those of us raised with a stuffed Totoro in our bed, those names rank up there with any Disney protagonist. If you were the kind of person who got emotionally invested in Kingdom Hearts, who has to hide your smile when that familiar do-dee-doo-doo-doo-doo-dooooo plays, then you know what I’m talking about. These are the pictures and sounds of my childhood come alive using some of the best cel-shaded graphics I’ve seen since Level-5′s other opus – Dragon Quest VIII.
It was during that opening sequence, the music blasting while the camera flew over a verdant green field, that the entirety of the experience slammed into me like a freight train. All of the primal feelings that used to draw me to gaming — the desire to escape my boring life into a world of magic and wonder — came rushing back. Ni no Kuni is my childhood in full 3D.
If you’re anything like me, which advertising statistics suggest you probably are, then you owe it to yourself to play this game. It’s a love song penned by the people at Studio Ghibli and Level-5 (the studio behind Professor Layton and the more recent Dragon Quest games), a ballad about the joys of a childhood free of boring adult responsibilities like paying student loans or “putting in your time” at work.
All Ni no Kuni asks you to do is to pick up your plastic shield, throw a towel around your neck, and go on an adventure. Having a little cry is optional.