For the good majority of us it is inevitable that our tastes will change with age. As we become bitter and old (editor’s note: most people age without becoming bitter and hateful like this writer) we tend to shed interest in the things that were of great significance and importance to us during our younger years. Music, television, movies and even video game choices are altered by the passage of time. Most of the games I own for recreation as opposed to journalism earn their M rating, a stark contrast to my younger days of being a Nintendo fanboy. Being an RPG fan, there are no shortage of RPGs that cater to an adult audience, or at least enough so we don’t feel the need to hide the game box from our friends. But sometimes there is a game that is clearly meant for kids, but for whatever reason we can forgive that and still enjoy it.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was such a game. It was clearly far from the perfect game and definitely had a few issues besides catering to a much younger audience than myself but it did have an undeniable charm to it. Starting up the title screen filled the room with music that sounded like a B side to a Harry Potter soundtrack, much to the joy of my wife. Following a traumatic event, 13 year old Oliver ends up traveling to a new world with his odd looking new friend Drippy. I would imagine as children most of us had fantasies about our mundane regular lives were simply illusions, and the truth is we really are someone of great significance or had some magic power locked away. The scenario Oliver found himself in was something that my ten year old self would be ridiculously envious.
The charm of Ni No Kuni was derived in part from the story that most young gamers and young at heart gamers can identify with but also through its overall presentation. This was something that through the combination of its artistic direction, musical score, and story was capable of creating a video game experience that felt like a high quality animated feature film. Combat could become repetitive and tedious at times and the required grinding to find incredibly rare items for certain quests got old unsurprisingly fast but despite some shortcomings the overall experience was worthwhile.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has the ambitious goal of following the same formula but attempting to improve on it in every way. The grand trinity from its predecessor of Akihiro Hino (story and general director), Yoshiyuki Momose (character design), and Joe Hisaishi (music composition) return to combine an action RPG with a AAA animated film and a coming of age story. Players will take control of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the true king of Ding Dong Dell that was usurped by the evil Otto Mausinger. The maternal figure of Aranella was Evan’s protector and helped him escape when Otto took over his kingdom. Evan needs to take his throne back, but in order to do so he needs to enlist the help of companions such as Tani and Roland to prove his worth.
Evan lost control of the kingdom because he was too young and inexperienced and unsurprisingly lacks confidence. At least it’s a safe bet about the confidence thing. Being forced to abdicate the throne due to there being a coup against you can do a number on one’s self esteem. To achieve this Evan needs to make a pact with a King Maker and pass trials to prove he is worthy. None of us have probably had to actually regain control of a lost kingdom, but most of us have faced some challenge that seemed insurmountable where our lack of belief in ourselves was the biggest hurdle to overcome, which many of us can relate and have experienced multiple times at various stages of our lives regardless of which age bracket we currently happen to be.
As a common staple of JRPGs, Evan needs to rely on people for support. A lot of the finer details about Ni No Kuni II have not yet been revealed, so this is speculation on my part but the character of Roland appears to serve a dual purpose which is to be like an older brother figure for Evan but also to be someone that old gamers (like this writer) can relate to more easily. There is something almost universally appealing about stories where a seemingly insignificant person is able to overcome an immense obstacle and rise to a level of greatness. Wrath of the White Witch had Oliver enter this magical world as a result of tragedy, and ended up rising to the challenge where he was able to rid a great malevolence from doing any more harm to the inhabitants of the world. Evan’s story will likely follow a similar arc.
Video games have always been able to serve as an escape from everyday life and this can be examined from a number of perspectives. One way this can be looked at is it provides a fantasy where we are able to assume the role of an important and heroic person. Typically when playing a game we step into the role of the protagonist, but the character we are controlling might not be who we may relate to the most. In The Last of Us, most of the time the player controls Joel though Ellie is also present most of the time and we do get to control her for a bit. I am an angry, bitter old man, so naturally I identify more with Joel than Ellie, but I imagine that there are quite a few who played that game and related much more easily to Ellie. Ni No Kuni has us controlling a fairly young individual that we are guiding to fulfill some great task. Had I been born a decade later I may have played through Wrath of the White Witch viewing Oliver as being a representation of me in some fantasy situation I dreamed up to escape the boredom of real life. Playing it as the bitter old man I am, it was hard to imagine myself as being the 13 year old. Instead of Oliver being a projection of myself it felt more like I was a parental figure, trying to help guide this poor kid through this strange world and find some sort of peace after his mother died (editor’s note: she dies in the intro part of the game, not a spoiler). So despite that, while many could make the argument I am clearly too old for that game, it did end up being a pleasant experience and a nice change of pace from the gloom and gore that is more of my comfort zone. With that being said, hearing that Revenant Kingdom is going to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor but upping the ante on all fronts means that in November I will be taking a break from the F bomb dropping bloodbath games I typically play.