Stumbled onto Battle Chasers: Nightwar

I’m a subscriber to Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate. This is a “Netflix of games” kind of service that gives you access to a ton of games on Xbox and Windows. It also, kind of incidentally, also has something called Game Pass Quests.

These are (usually) simple tasks that earn you Microsoft Rewards points. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests and they all involve Game Pass titles in some way. One of the weekly quests this week was to earn 15,000 EXP in Battle Chasers: Nightwar. I had no idea what that was, but I installed it just to get those points.

I’m really digging the character designs

What’s it all about?

Turns out it’s a turn-based RPG and so far I’m really digging it. Now take that with a little grain of salt as I’ve only put an hour or so into it, but it has everything I love: a gorgeous art style, gear to chase, characters that seem interesting (I love that the beefy war golem is the first character you get who can heal), crafting, and it seems, the ability to grind if you enjoy that (I do).

The game takes place on (at least) 3 ‘maps’. There’s a world map where you have to follow roads and often have quick encounters that you can’t avoid. There are ‘exploration areas’ that look like an ARPG, though you don’t actually battle in them (but do explore for hidden loot), and then there’s the battle screen which is a side-view layout for the turn-based combat. There are also dungeons but I haven’t seen one of those yet.

Exploration area where you can find loot, lore & crafting materials

I don’t want to go too crazy talking about it until I get a little further in but did want to mention one little nuance I’m really enjoying and that’s mana management.

Actions, Abilities and Overcharge

Each character has actions and abilities. Abilities do more damage but use mana. Mana doesn’t replenish unless you quaff a potion or rest at an Inn and you don’t seem to have a ton of it. Normally you’d run out pretty quickly, but characters also have actions. These do less damage (or none, some are defensive) but build “Overcharge” which is a surplus pool of mana that only lasts for the duration of the battle. The idea is, you do a couple of light attacks (actions), each of which generates (for example) +10 Overcharge, and then you can use an ability that would normally consume 20 mana, but instead it’ll consume your Overcharge and you can save your mana for later battles.

It’s not an earth-shaking idea but it does add another layer of strategy to the battles since Overcharge is a ‘use it or lose it’ resource.

So early days, but I’m liking it a lot so far. If it sounds interesting, you can probably play it since its available for PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch, iOS and Android. You probably have hardware you can run this game on. It’s not a new game (first release was PC in 2017) so you should be able to find it on sale somewhere. Or if you have Game Pass, play it for free on Xbox or Windows!

Stick of Truth completed

I finished South Park: The Stick of Truth this evening. If you read my last post you’ll know I was pretty conflicted. I liked the mechanics and some of the jokes, but there were sections that really went beyond my limits in terms of gross humor. There’s a point where I find gross humor just becomes gross and not at all funny or entertaining.

The 2nd half of The Stick of Truth was a lot worse than the first half in these terms. It got really bad; bad enough to the point where I’m kind of embarrassed to have played it, to be honest. I knew it wasn’t a long game (took me just under 13 hours in total) and I just wanted to finish it to say I finished it. As soon as I did, I deleted it. It’s not a game I’d ever play again, nor did I have the slightest interest in going back to finish up side quests.

Also, even at 13 hours it felt a little drawn out in places. Lots of that style of quest where you need someone to do 1 thing and they send you on several trivial side missions before they’ll agree, and it just feels like busy work.

I still think most of the game mechanics were pretty solid (though the button mashing stuff got pretty bad towards the end in places) and if you’re a fan of really raunchy toilet humor then you’ll probably enjoy the game. For me though, it went beyond my comfort level. Not recommended for people who aren’t really into the nasty, gross stuff.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

It took most of my on-again, off-again holiday vacation but I finally found a game that grabbed me and helped me get over my Dragon Age depression. I’d heard over and over again that South Park: The Stick of Truth was a good game and back around Thanksgiving Sony had put it on sale for $10 or so and I’d grabbed it for the collection.

I’m really new to South Park. For years I refused to watch it because I thought it starred talking feces and was nothing but dick and fart jokes. When I finally gave it a chance it turned out I liked it when I wasn’t hating it. There IS talking feces and a lot of dick and fart jokes that I don’t really appreciate, but there’s a lot of other stuff that makes me laugh, too.

And I’m finding the same holds true of the Stick Of Truth. The overall theme is that a bunch of kids who live in South Park are playing a giant LARP. So yes, I’m a rogue but I’m also ‘the new kid’ since I just moved into the neighborhood. And if I spend too much time exploring and poking around instead of following quests my companions will say something like “Can we get back to the game now?” In combat if you take too long an opponent will say “Wait, is it my turn?” or the less friendly “What the fuck is taking so long?” or even a simple “I could be home watching TV.”

This constant breaking of the 4th wall (well, sort of) amuses me for reasons I can’t explain.

But what I’m really enjoying are the RPG mechanics. You might think, as I did, that the Stick of Truth is a quickie way to cash-in on the popularity of South Park and that the actual game would be quite shallow, but it’s not. Take combat, for instance.

Combat is turn-based, with some timed button-mashing thrown in. So you take your turn and then to max out your attack you have to press buttons at the right time. For melee attacks you can do a light multi-attack or a single powerful attack. Enemies have a variety of stances and defenses they can use. In Riposte defense any melee attack launched against them is reflected back on you, so you’ll need to use a magic or ranged attack. In Reflect, the opposite is true. Ranged attacks will bounce back at the attacker and you’ll need to use Melee. Then they can have Shields, which absorb 100% of X attacks, meaning you’ll want to use light attacks to break the Shields quickly. Or they can have Armor which absorbs X points of every attack. Against an armored opponent you want to use Power attacks since the Armor will absorb all the damage a light attack inflicts.

And so on; that’s one small aspect that I’m using as an example. There are also special movies that use Power Points, and magic that uses mana. Gear is both customizable (via stickers and ‘strap-ons’) and amusing. Right now I think my character is wearing Druid Robes and a Tin-Foil Hat. There’s also a bunch of ‘flare’ that you can use to continually change what your character looks like, which for some reason also amuses me.

But then there’s the gross stuff. For instance Mana has a pretty interesting mechanic in that a character can only ‘hold’ so much mana. This means if you’re low on mana and want to quaff a potion you can, but you want to make sure you don’t drink too big a potion or you’ll wind up with too much mana, which results in a debuff. In fact some enemies will actually inflict mana on you to try to force this debuff.

It’s an interesting mechanic, BUT then there’s the fact that the whole magic system is based on farting. And your “mana” is gas. And if you get too much of it, you shit your pants…that’s the debuff I mentioned. Which is really gross and to me, not funny.

So that’s my issue. It’s got some neat game mechanics, but some seriously disgusting aesthetics. Though at other times I find the aesthetics really amusing. I got to one point yesterday where I almost put the game aside becaused it really crossed a line (sodomy) for me, but in the end I pushed on and things got funny again. And this is exactly how I feel about South Park the show. Sometimes I turn it on and am just horrified by it, and other times I find it hysterical.

If, unlike me, you don’t mind (or even enjoy) jokes about flatulence, incontinence and sodomy, give The Stick of Truth a try. It’s a really solid RPG..at least the first 6 or so hours are (that’s as far as I’ve played it). And even if you do mind these things, if you’re willing to just clench your jaw and push past the gross bits, I’d still recommend it. I’m really surprised by how much I’m loving this game, when I’m not hating it.

So conflicted over Divinity: Original Sin

I’m about 13 hours into Divinity: Original Sin and still can’t decide how I feel about it.

I know how I feel about sub-parts of it. I am over-the-moon in love with the combat system. D:OS uses a classic ‘action point’ based tactical turn-based system that dates back to the original Xcom or perhaps earlier. Each character gets X action points each turn that he or she can use moving, hitting, drinking potions, or whatever. “Left over” action points roll over to the next turn. Positioning matters and characters have what wargamers used to (and maybe still) call “zones of control” around them. A unit moving out of a ZoC takes a free hit from the unit they’re moving away from. Larian has taken this tactical yumminess and amped it up by giving the player all kinds of tools to use. A mage can teleport an explosive barrel into a group of enemies and then an archer can hit it with an arrow to explode it, doing damage to a group of foes and starting fires burning. At that point another character can cast “Rain” to put the fire out, leaving a cloud of steam. From there yet another character can hit the steam with an electric based attack, turning the whole steam cloud into a ball of lightning and doing even MORE damage.

This kind of stuff doesn’t get old, even when you mis-judge things and zap your own party. D:OS has some of the best combat I’ve enjoyed in ages. There’s all kinds of nuance. Gear has a level and a character can equip a weapon of a higher level but it’ll cost more Action Points to hit with it. Archers use more AP to shoot distant targets (it takes them longer to aim, you see). And so on. Lots to explore and lots to love about the combat.

If only there were more of it. Divinity: Original Sin is a rich RPG with a lot of questing, and much of that questing seems to not be combat based. You spend a lot of time walking back and forth across town talking to people, searching for hidden switches, picking pockets, collecting items and solving puzzles. This stuff is all very well done but it can make D:OS feel like an adventure game. There’s nothing wrong with that, UNLESS you’re someone who isn’t fond of adventure games. Who doesn’t love adventure games? This guy right here!

So for me I’ve spent probably 10 hours doing stuff I didn’t love (running back and forth across the starting town talking to NPCs) and 3 hours having the time of my life enjoying the combat.

What makes this all more frustrating is that there are limited opportunities for combat early on. Until you’ve gained a few levels by doing non-combat focused quests, most everything outside the city will mop the floor with you. 13 hours in my party consists of 3 level 4 characters and one still level 3 and things are finally starting to feel manageable in terms of finding good fights.

Another thing I love about Divinity: Original Sin is the character building. You pick a ‘class’ at the start of the game, but really it’s more of a build than a class. Any character can learn anything through the use of the skill points you earn when you level up. So your up-front warrior with his sword and shield could, if we wanted, put a point into Pyromancy and then he could learn a few fire-based spells. Of course you have to balance that with stats…as a warrior he’s probably been putting points into Strength & Constitution and spell damage is based on Intelligence. Plus knowing Pyromancy doesn’t actually give him spells; it opens up the opportunity for him to learn some spells from spell books, which aren’t cheap and early on, gold is hard to come by if you’re playing as “good.” So it’s a deep system that just invites you to create lots of characters and grind some levels and gather gear and skills to see how these characters develop.

Except there’s no grinding here. Mobs don’t respawn and there are no random encounters. This means that combat is always going to be tense, knife-edge affair because the developers know about what level you’re going to be at any spot in the narrative. That’s the good side of not having infinite experience in the game.

But if you want to just have fun swapping out party members and leveling up a bunch of them, you’re going to end up in a world of hurt later on as you run out of encounters you can handle. So even though the Hall of Heroes has a seemingly endless selection of Companions you can hire, smart money is on just making friends via the narrative and sticking with them. And that’s the bad side of a finite number of enemies to fight. (And it’s worth pointing out the quests give you your lion’s share of experience anyway, at least at early levels.)

Of course you could just start a new game, but then you have all these hours of running around talking to NPCs to repeat.

These conflicting feelings (loving the combat and leveling but feeling frustrated I couldn’t enjoy more of each) led me to spend the weekend booting up Divinity, playing for 30 minutes and shutting it down again. Then I’d look at my gaming collection for something else to play, and wind up booting Divinity up again and playing for another half-hour before repeating the process. The exception was when I got into combat, at which point the game would grab me by the throat and drag me in, to the point where Angela would have to ask me a question two or three times before I’d hear her.

The saving grace, of course, is The Divinity Engine — the toolkit that comes with the game. I’m not sure exactly how this works but I’m hoping it’ll be like Skyrim where clever people can create mods that add content to the main campaign, giving us more combat options and the ability to grow lots of hirelings into fierce heroes.

Divinity: Original Sin – the bad stuff

2014-07-02_00002Yesterday’s post about Divinity: Original Sin was pretty upbeat, but I do have some issues with the game that I wanted to drag out into the light today. Mostly it all boils down to pacing: gameplay can kind of drag at times. Keep in mind we’re still talking from a very early-game point of view (4 hours in).

Last night I played for about 2 hours. I had left my party on the beach where the game starts, after having gone through the tutorial dungeon and spending a bit of time making friends with a clam. It was time to head into town. On the way there I got into a quick fight with some bad guys (being vague for spoiler reasons) and that was the sum total of my combat for that 2 hour session. The rest of the night was talking, opening containers and wandering around.

I bitched a lot about containers when I was talking about Bioshock Infinity and I have the same complaint here. There are endless barrels, vases and crates to open in Cyceal (the first town…hoping I have the name right). Some will have health potions, a handful of gold or even some gear, but most are empty. You can move them too, and sometimes you have to re-arrange a pile of crates to open them all.

The overall pacing of an RPG means opening all these crates is less annoying than it was in Bioshock Infinity, but it does slow things down. Of course you CAN just ignore them, if you want to risk walking past a crate that contains something amazing. (Disclaimer: So far I have NOT found anything amazing in a crate.)

Next let’s talk about NPCs. D:OS is old school in that quests are not called out. You won’t find an NPC with a ! over his head. Instead you have to talk to people to reveal quests. But there are a LOT of people in this town, and most of them do not have quests. In fact most of them have basically the same ‘conversation tree’ (though certain answers vary). I found that talking to everyone (and at the start of the game you’re investigating a murder and part of the quest solution is “talk to townspeople”) really started to get boring and slow me down. I think it would be fine if some of the NPCs were not ‘interactive.’ When you have 3 guards standing around, let two of them just be the strong and silent type and let the third be the chatterbox. Don’t make me run through the same conversation 3 times just to find the 1 question that has a different answer on each guard (and which winds up being more ‘flavor’ than important).

Of course as anyone who plays RPGs knows, coming into a new town is always a little tedious since you know there’ll be many NPCs to sort through. I’m sure once I get out into the wilds this issue will fade away. If I ever get out into the wilds.

Last up is bartering. First let me show you the a typical bartering screenshot (click for full-sized):

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On the left is my inventory and on the right is the NPC’s. In order to sell something to him, I’d drag it from my inventory into the center left pane of the window. Then I’d drag what I want from him into the center right pane. If I wanted gold I’d drag the gold (and often have to split the stack) but I could also trade potions for those pliers he has, for example. On either side of the balance icon is a figure that shows the value of what you’re offering. When you’ve set everything up you click the checkbox and see if the NPC agrees with your deal. You can try to offer things of less value than what he wants, if you like. There are bartering skills and reputation factors that make it easier (or harder) to get a good deal.

It’s a neat system but sometimes you just want to sell your junk and clear up some inventory space, right? There’s no fast way to do that. In my post yesterday commentor The Guilty Party called out issues with the inventory system and after last night I get it. You’ll notice Aethgar has 385 gold, and Cedric the NPC has 7. I can’t get more than 7 from him; he doesn’t have it. But what if he had a magic sword that was worth 500 gold?

Well I could drag my 385 gold in and then try to make up the balance with items, but wait.. Scarlett, the other member of my party, has gold too. But I can’t access it from this window. See the arrows on either side of Aethgar’s name? They’ll switch over to Scarlett but when you do that, any pending trades get zeroed out. So I could barter with Cedric using Aethgar’s inventory, or using Scarlett’s inventory, but I couldn’t combine the two to make a good deal.

What I’d have to do is exit the transaction, move items between my characters until one of them had everything needed for success, then restart the transaction. It’s a major pain in the rear-end that would be made much less painful by letting you access all your characters’ inventories without canceling the in-progress barter. And for that matter, as Guilty Party said, why not just have a common pool of gold. I do get why inventories are separate (carry weight and encumbrance is per character) but for the sake of bartering let us combine our inventories to make a deal.

So these are the issues that are dragging the game down a little. I still have a lot of the town to explore so I fear tonight, too, will be all about talking to NPCs, opening crates, and simply dreaming about the glory of combat.

Divinity: Original Sin session one

2014-07-01_00002At long last I finally had time to play Divinity: Original Sin ‘for real’ and I’m glad I waited for the game to be finished since I’m already kind of attached to my characters.

I didn’t actually play a whole lot since I spent a lot of time creating my characters. Scarlett (the game provided that name) is a cleric that I tweaked a little bit, and Aethgar is a ranger, just as the game had him set up. Part of the ranger ‘bundle’ are basic skills for crafting so he’ll be my handyman, plus he has high perception so he can (in theory) spot traps and hidden doors and such.

I only got through the little tutorial dungeon before midnight rolled around but I sure enjoyed myself. I love how you can interact with the environment. For instance if there’s a poison cloud blocking your way, hitting it with some kind of flame spell or flaming arrow will ignite it, causing an explosion but then dissipating. If there’s fire, water will put it out but that’ll create a cloud of steam, and (according to a tool tip) an electrical bolt into that steam cloud will electrify the whole thing.

I learned the hard way that there is friendly fire in the game. I hit a boss with a electric bolt and stunned him, but also stunned both my characters as well. The boss’s minions wiped us. My first wipe!

There’re some classic dungeon-crawling puzzle bits too. Y’know, place a rock on this pressure plate to open that door. Tip! All those broken crates and urns can be used to weigh down pressure plates.

Here’s a shot of my Ranger’s character sheet, just to give you an idea of the kinds of things the game is tracking (click for full size). These are not ALL his stats and skills, mind you. There’s a ton of stuff I still have to learn:

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Anyway it’s well after 12 and work in the morning so I’ll cut this short. Quite pleased so far, but this is definitely ‘the honeymoon period.’ We’ll see how I feel after putting in a bunch of hours.

A quick look at the Divinity: Original Sin alpha

Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin is billed as an epic RPG with tactical turn-based combat, support for co-op play, a classless character system and rich crafting. That’s the vision anyway, and the game has gone from a successful Kickstarter campaign that was funded just last April to arriving on Steam as an Early Access title.

In the PC gaming world, alpha is the new beta (I’m not really sure what that means but it sounded catchy) and that’s where Divinity: Original Sin is in its development cycle: alpha. It’s not balanced or bug free, and it certainly isn’t all there (they say the first 15 hours are available) but there’s enough to get a feel for what they’re aiming at.

Tonight I had a chance to jump in and noodle around a bit. Mostly I wanted to see what combat was like and just get a feel for how the game works.

You start your adventure with a pair of characters and can pick a “class.” Didn’t I say it was a classless system? It is, but a starting character has a package of skills and abilities that puts them into what we think of as a class (Warrior, Mage, Ranger). As characters level they can become whatever they like. You can play alone, switching between characters and running them all in combat, or you can play with a friend. I was playing solo.

You see the world from an isometric viewpoint using “click to move” to order the character you’re controlling around. It feels like a real time game until you enter combat. Then everything stops and becomes turn-based. I recorded part of an early combat encounter:

The guys with green circles around their feet I’m not controlling. The orcs with the red circles are the bad guys and the two with the blue circles are my party. You can see the skills listed across the bottom in a hot bar, and above that, when a playable character is active, you can see a series of small circles that represent Action Points. You seem to be able to attack only twice per turn (as far as I could tell) and moving uses Action Points depending on how far you travel. At the top of the screen is the turn order for all combatants. Now you know about as much about combat as I do!

2014-01-21_00004After this fight finished I wandered around the village, talking to people and finding quests. For now at least, you have to look for quests. There’s no “!” over a quest giver’s head. It’s the kind of game where you need to be willing to spend time talking to NPCs and figuring out what’s going on. If you’re playing co-op, your partner can get involved too, and in fact you can use skills (Intimidate, Charm, Reason) on your partner’s character, which should lead to some fun interactions.

2014-01-21_00005When you get a quest, it goes into your Journal in a fairly vague way. In the alpha one of the first things you need to do is meet up with a mage in the second floor of the barracks. Easy enough to do, once you find the barracks. There’s a map but none of the buildings are labeled. I finally had to resort to reading street signs. (I was thinking about looking for a pad of graph paper to make a map on!) It’s not clear yet if this is the game being deliberately old school or if things like labels and quest helpers aren’t in the game yet. I kind of like it the way it is now, personally.

I was also happy to encounter, very early on, a task that couldn’t be solved via violence. Instead it was more like a puzzle. No spoilers though!

When a character levels up you get points to add to attributes (Strength, Dexterity, etc) as well as points for skills (crossbows, fire magic, lockpicking) and there don’t seem to be any limits on who can take what. It’ll be interesting to build different characters and see if specialists are always better than generalists.

Early on in the alpha a third character joined my party; I’m not sure what maximum party size is. Time will tell.

And that’s about all I have for now. I only played for about an hour tonight. I’m going to try to walk the fine line of keeping up with how the alpha is shaping up, without burning myself out on the content in this section of the game. So look forward to more posts about Divinity: Original Sin as it moves through alpha, beta and finally into launch.

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Disclosure: Access to the alpha was provided to me by Larian Studios.

Ni No Kuni: The honeymoon is over

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White WitchThe Level-5/Studio Ghibli collaboration Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, has been out for a week as of today. It’s been my main gaming focus since it arrived last Tuesday evening and I thought it was time to share some thoughts. I’ll try to avoid any major spoilers but you may be able to work out when certain game systems unlock. I’ll try to stay as vague as possible. As of last night my main character was around level 20 and I’m somewhere in the 15-20 hour range.

When I first booted up Ni No Kuni my jaw dropped. It is a gorgeous game with a killer soundtrack. Early on in the game you get lots of FMV cut-scenes animated by Studio Ghibli and it feels like you’re playing an anime. I’m using the English voice talent and they’ve been pretty good so far. Little Oliver (the main character) shouts “NEATO!” a bit too often for my tastes but that’s really nit-picking. For the first evening I played Angela was happy to sit next to me and just watch the game. It’s one of those kinds of experiences.

Sadly that richness doesn’t last and pretty soon you’re in a typical (though still beautiful) JRPG, running from battle to battle to level everyone up. The FMV stuff takes a back seat to button-press driven text conversations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: this is a game, not a movie after all. But personally I could use a bit more animation.

Ni No Kuni is filled with lore, much of it delivered via an in-game manual called The Wizard’s Companion. In addition to practical information about the game world it has a ton of ‘flavor’ info including some fables from this land. I’ve really enjoyed browsing through the Companion and I even took the time to decipher some of the runes sprinkled through it (yes, the Ni No Kuni designers went so far as to develop an alphabet for this world). For gameplay questions you can turn to The Answering Stone which helps you out with questions you have about the actual game mechanics. So much more fun than just a plain help menu.

The main focus of Ni No Kuni is collecting and developing Familiars. The main character, Oliver (you can re-name him if you like) is a young boy who (so far at least) always uses a wand. In practice most of the time you’ll be controlling one of the many Familiars that he can take into battle. These creatures cover all kinds of play styles; your first one is a sword and board fighter for instance. Others lean towards magic using, either offensive, support, or healing. Human characters like Oliver (and the friends he eventually makes) can ‘equip’ up to 3 Familiars each. A few more can be carried in inventory and swapped out between battles. Finally there’s a Familiar Shelter that can hold up to 400 (!) of the creatures.

A Familiar can be customized/progressed in several ways. First they level up and gain new abilities. At certain times they can metamorph into a new form by using an item. From Form 1 to Form 2 is a fixed change, but from Form 2 you can choose from two versions of Form 3 (I haven’t gotten this far yet). When a Familiar changes forms he returns to level 1 and has to be re-leveled but he is potentially more powerful. You can also feed a familiar Treats to improved specific stats. Ice Cream might increase magic defense while chocolate increases physical offense, for example. There seems to be a limit of +10 points in this stat buffing system. [Update: Thanks to Wiqd for pointing out that this limit is tied to a Familiar’s Familiarity rating with you… it can go higher once you’re better frineds with them.] And finally, Familiars can be given gear to improve their abilities. Some use Swords, others use Fangs or Claws. Some use Shield and some used Cloaks…and so on.

In practice what this all boils down to is lots and lots of leveling. I generally have 2 Familiars equipped to fight with and one per/character that is along for the ride getting free experience and it isn’t unusual for someone or something to be leveling up after every battle. In general I like leveling characters, thank goodness.

The problem, for me, is that I’m not finding the combat all that satisfying and as is typical in an JRPG there’s a LOT of combat. During a fight you can control one entity. That can be Oliver or one of his friends, or it can be a Familiar. Only 1 Familiar per character can be on the battlefield at a time, and the human characters share their health and mana pools with their Familiars. I’m finding that the mana pools are pretty small which means I’m doing a lot of melee combat and mostly just clicking Attack over and over for random battles.

Boss Fights are much more interesting. They go on for long enough that you’ll have to swap out Familiars (they get tired as a battle rages on) or pop onto your Human characters to use items. However I find the whole process of changing characters to be kind of awkward and in general the battle system feels more frantic than I’d like. I don’t mind action-combat and I don’t mind turn-based combat but Ni No Kuni feels like “frantic menu selection” combat that just leaves me feeling kind of frazzled.

Once you have a 2nd human character in your party you can assign tactics to the AI. These are fairly ‘coarse’ assignments and the AI isn’t at all smart about conserving resources. So if you tell a friend “Keep us Healed” that friend will spam heals and be out of mana in no time. I really miss being able to say, y’know, “If my health drops below 50% heal me.” You can change tactics in the middle of a battle but it takes a long time to do and means you’ll miss at least one attack in doing so.

So yeah, this isn’t my favorite combat system ever. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my favorite. And there’s a lot of combat. So that’s wearing on me a little, but I think there’s more that’s bothering me about Ni No Kuni.

Part of it is Oliver. When I play an RPG in some sense I’m always trying to RP the main character. But Oliver is a 10 year old boy and there’s not a lot in him for me to relate to. So I remain an observer to the action. Also the Familiars are all very cute. If you find a bad-ass sword and give it to your familiar…he’ll still look very cute. His appearance doesn’t seem to change except when he advances in form. These aren’t faults with the game; they’re just aspects that don’t sit well with me, personally. I really like for a game to visually reflect my character’s advancing levels/bad-assitude.

The other issue I have is with pacing. After a brisk start the story just bogs down pretty quickly. There are a lot of side-quests you’ll want to do in order to level up your Familiars (and earn some perks for Oliver) but none of them are very compelling. There’s this heart system where you have to borrow some ’emotion’ from one character and give it to another (this guy needs courage, that gal has a ton of courage, let’s borrow some from her) which seems really cool at first but then you realize these are just FedEx quests really. The characters who have ‘heart’ to spare are indicated on the map so you just run and find the one who has the aspect you need, click through a conversation to get some goodness, and go dump it on the quest-giver. Other sidequests are of the Kill Ten Rats variety, or collect 5 pelts. You know the drill.

So that’s where I stand. After my first night of playing Ni No Kuni I probably would’ve called it a 9 or 10 out of 10 game, but after a week of playing I’m thinking it’s more of a 7 or so. It’s still a solid, lengthy JRPG with lots of leveling and sub-systems like Crafting (via Alchemy) and tweaking Familiars via treats. But while the game is beautiful to look at, there’s nothing really revolutionary here and the story is dribbled out to us at such a slow pace that it kind of loses impact.

I think part of my problem is I’m focusing on it too heavily. I think I need to mix in some other games while playing Ni No Kuni. That’s how I’ve been playing Harvest Moon and it’s helping me to really enjoy that game. Fire Emblem comes out next Tuesday and that might be just the ticket to breaking up the grindy parts of Ni No Kuni.

I’m surprised that Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch has been getting such awesome reviews, to be honest. I’m wondering if I’m the only one feeling slightly disappointed in it. I mean I really WANT to love it, and for a few days I was lying to myself about loving it, but the truth is that while I do absolutely like it, that’s as far as we go. Me & Ni No Kuni are just good friends. I have no regrets about buying the game but (unless things change in the latter parts of the game) it’s not going to end up in my list of all-time favorite games or my personal ‘game of the year’ awards or anything like that.

BG:EE – THAC0 and Dire Wolves

Tonight’s plans got somewhat derailed by a bunch of excitement in the G+ community, and then I had to d/l a new patch for BG:EE, so I didn’t start playing until nearly 11.

Traellan’s new friends want him to travel to some gods-forsaken place to investigate the metal shortage but before we went anywhere we had to sort out our gear. Which meant I had to dredge up ancient knowledge of D&D rules, leading to a stupidly enjoyable conversation with Angela (who used to play D&D — I never did outside of computer games) about what THAC0 stood for and whether THAC0 20 was good or bad, and if lower AC was better than a higher AC, and things of that nature. (I did get a manual but of course I haven’t read it.)

Finally we were ready to set off. We spent a bit more time exploring the area around the Friendly Arm Inn, and found a priest who charged us the unholy sum of 100 gold to identify a magical belt we’d taken off…well, someone we’d fought. (Almost spoiled the surprise!)

100 gold! Can you imagine? And I thought it was the cut-throats who were out to rob us.

Just outside the Inn we encountered a pair of hobgoblins in foul temper. I must confess I was worried but Khalid and Traellan stood shoulder to shoulder battling the creatures while Imoen filled them full of arrows. It turned out not to be much of a fight. Not like that Dire Wolf…

And then it hit me. The metal shortage could wait. I had to go take my revenge on that pesky Dire Wolf. So back we went to the area outside of Candlekeep. It took a bit of time to find that wolf but when we did, we dispatched it in relatively short order, though I has happy Jaheira had a couple of healing spells memorized.

And that was about all of our adventuring for this evening. We’d been traveling for over 16 hours, night was upon us. Jaheira needed time to remember how to cast her magics, so we decided to make camp. More adventure awaits us tomorrow!

BG:EE – The Friendly Arm Inn

Beamdog sent over a patch to the PC version of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition tonight. Unfortunately the client doesn’t give you much info, but over in the forums are some patch notes. Looks like it’s almost all bug fixes, but while I was there I noticed a warning: Intel Integrated Graphics are NOT supported in BG:EE. That’s going to be a bummer for a lot of laptop users and I hope they can find a way to make them work.

As for me, firing up the game for Day 2 was quite enjoyable now that the initial learning curve is behind me, and I am already used to the graphics. Mind you I’m still learning things but tonight was more playing and less figuring stuff out, if you know what I mean.

Our Hero, Traellan of Edgewood, and his childhood friend Imoen were en route to the Friendly Arm Inn when I realized there was a lot of unexplored area that I was leaving behind. “I always explored the whole map.” Angela noted and me, ever curious, had to concur that this made good sense.

It made good sense until we encountered a hungry Dire Wolf, anyway. Thrice the foul beast slaughtered our merry, but much too small, band. I’m still getting the knack of things. Imoen has a wand of magic missile but using it tended to draw the wolf’s attention and she’s a slight thing that can’t take much punishment (Thief – she has 8 hit points!) Even though Traellan wears the badge of a Fighter he’s still not all that tough either.

After the Gods of Reload brought our heroes back for a third time, I decided to leave exploration for later, and we pressed on, sticking to the relative safety of the roads.

Although we met a few odd individuals along the way, the trip was more or less uneventful, though Trae’s head was spinning with fatigue by the time they staggered through the gates leading to the Inn. Inside were a motley bunch of revelers and it didn’t take us long to decide that the skulking half-orc Dorn was best avoided, and that the Druid and Fighter who were old friends of Traellan’s father made for better traveling companions. With introductions made, Traellan rented Merchant’s Rooms so that he and Imoen could get some much-needed rest before setting out in the morning.

And thus ended tonight’s session.

More than this happened, but I’m trying to leave out certain surprises for now, in case others like me who haven’t played wind up reading this. I actually think I’m already farther than I’ve ever gotten in the game in the past!

Also apologies in advance for switching from “he” to “I” and back again. I do that kind of “internal role play” thing when I play a game like this, so in my mind, I am Traellan and vice versa.