Golden Garbage: Ni no Kuni II Has a Money Problem
You’ve heard me say before that RPG demos are tough to judge, mostly because of how long it can take an RPG to really get its story and sytems rolling. Ni no Kuni II‘s Tokyo Game Show demo, however, concerns me. It had one feature I sure hope stays in the demo, or gets toned way down before launch: there’s way too much fucking treasure lying around.
One of the best things about the PS3’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was exploration, both in town and on the overworld map. I loved it. Some spots had treasure that would regenerate with time. Overall, it was unobtrusive. There was enough to add a bit of interest while not being so damn abundant that it diminished the feeling of freedom.
Ni no Kuni II, however, takes it way too far. Treasures on the ground were the only thing you could think about. Every screen had multiple piles of sparkly shit begging for the attention of your left stick. This meant “exploration” really boiled down to running along the path of shinies. It felt empty, hollow, and pointless. Gold and items were devalued — no longer an exciting rarity, but instead a cleanup job.
You better believe I have the science math. From the first screen I saw when my party left town for the overworld, two shiny, nearby treasure spots were immediately visible. A short rotation of the camera — without yet walking, mind you — revealed a third. Simply walking down the path revealed more, more, more of them, everywhere, the longest stretch between treasures being about seven seconds. The shortest gap was less than two seconds, if you don’t count the ones that were right smack next to each other.
There was even one straight, narrow path that was just treasure after treasure. Holy crap, what are we even doing here? It looked like that part of the map was designed for a Sonic game rather than an epic JRPG.
So do science math a favor here and load up Ni no Kuni and go to the world map. If you don’t have it, load up a different game in which you feel exploration is important. Run forward, or anywhere, and every four seconds, go “ding!” while trying your best to imagine that you ran over a gold nugget while a message “got 7g!” flashed onto your screen. For a more accurate simulation of Ni no Kuni II, try to picture two or three more piles of gold lying around within your immediate vicinity at any given time.
When I was done, I hung around and watched two more people play. One was only picking up treasure here and there, from start to finish. The other was kinda like me, picking up the first several without fail, but then ignoring the rest. Are players losing interest in the treasure this quickly? Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was just because they knew it was extra pointless in a demo.
If I were a drug dealer, I wouldn’t sell Ni no Kuni II at all, in part because it’s a video game instead of a drug and would confuse my customers, but in equal part because its overworld has rampant addiction-fueling with none of the high. It’s an addiction that never gets satisfied, which is not what I’m aiming for when I sell crack. There’s no fun in it, but it feels like it must be done. That makes it quite similar to shit.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know how much all that junk will add up to, by the end of the game. Will picking up all the litter eventually give me enough extra gold to buy an incredible knife that I couldn’t otherwise afford? Will all the small, seemingly pointless items end up being my saving grace in a big fight at some point?
These hypotheticals will keep me wanting to pick that stuff up, for survival. At the same time, the items in question having little immediate purpose and taking away from the otherwise pretty scenery is making me resent their existence.
On the up side, battle was fun. I killed things, moved on through the dungeon at a speed which impressed the booth people, but not me, because I skip your garbage battles. I had a companion I couldn’t control. If there was AI toggling for him, it wasn’t part of the demo, by which I mean … I didn’t try. A lot of the fun of RPGs found in simply running around their fantasy worlds, so that’s what I did.
Ni no Kuni II is as beautiful as fans would expect. Thanks to wonderful art and animation, the PS3 original is still incredible and has aged very well, but a new gen brings undeniable visual upgrades. Details on the ground, flora, characters, and everything in between looked great. A remix of a track from the PS3 game played, giving the demo a pleasantly familiar atmosphere.
Even that sparkly treasure looked good, for what it was. Unfortunately, what it was was crammed-in litter that crowded the screen and detracted from the fun of exploration. My one ray of hope is that the screenshots above aren’t crowded with gold like the actual game screens were in Tokyo. Then again, they’re pre-TGS, so we can’t be sure if that means anything.
I’ll still play Ni no Kuni II — I loved the original too much to skip the sequel — but I hope this problem is either exclusive to the demo, or gets addressed in what little development time remains before its January 2018 release.