Ni No Kuni: January 1, 2012

Jan 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Weekends in December had been horribly busy; something had to go, and Ni No Kuni was it. But I finally got back to playing it this weekend.

I went through the volcano dungeon that I’d arrived at last time. Right before the top, there was a training grotto (“cave of trials”); it had a few non-combat puzzles, including a logic puzzle that I was proud of myself that I managed to puzzle out the Japanese well enough to get it right on the first try. For anybody else who is stuck there and googles this: on the outside of the statue/spell logic puzzle bit, the left statue wants fire and the right one wants ice. (Those are the paired statues with the writing from the back of the book on them.) And inside that room, first heal the dog, then talk to the bird, then cure poison on the bull, then unlock the dragon.

Once I was done with that, I learned how to capture Imagines. Which, honestly, I have mixed feeling about: I’m not actively excited about the combat in game, but I’m not sure adding a larger cast of characters for me to manage is the answer for that. Ah well; I’m done with that dungeon now, time to go back to the city to tidy up loose ends and then off to a southern port.

Though I imagine progress will be slow: I have a few more blog posts to write before I’ll feel comfortable playing instead of writing mid-week. Eventually I’ll find more time, I hope…

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Ni No Kuni: December 11, 2011

Dec 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I was busy this weekend, and I felt like spending my free time reading and playing music, so: no Ni No Kuni. Fortunately, I’d played a bit mid-week, so I have a little bit to report, but not much.

Specifically, at the end of last week, I’d just talked to a girl in the first world. I went and talked to her father next, who had gotten possessed somehow; I first fought the monster that was possessing him (the only battle I’ve done in the first world) and then, with the help of his wife, gave him a “kindness” heart piece.

After that, I went back to the girl, and gave her a “courage” heart piece. She’d been staying in the house, but I guess there was nothing physical wrong with her, just something mental wrong with both her and her father? At any rate, with that healed, I went back to the second world, and gave the girl there a courage heart piece as well. She got better, and decided to join my party (together with her Imagine). Her name is Maru, and she’s a healer.

Her father taught us some spells, and told us to go to a volcano. I wandered around town a bit, helping people, but then headed out of town to the volcano, saving right outside it.

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Ni No Kuni: December 4, 2011

Dec 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Very little to report this week. On Tuesday, I went through a dungeon on the way to the next city; I had to do more spells, including a few where I ended up trying several of the ones in the book before I happened across the correct one. (I think that wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d been more fluent in Japanese and/or had been paying more attention.) I got another Imagine in that dungeon; this one hatched from an egg.

And this weekend I was in a more Rock Band-y mood than a Ni No Kuni mood; I entered the city, and found the person I was supposed to talk to; he claimed not to know magic, but his assistant reminded me of somebody in the first world. So I went back there, and talked to her briefly, but I needed to cook dinner so I didn’t finish that task.

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Ni No Kuni: Finished the First City

Nov 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I increased the volume of my Ni No Kuni playtime this week: I’m trying to treat it as the current game I’m playing rather than as Japanese study, which means that I play it when I have (non-Ascension) gaming time in the middle of the week instead of segregating it to the weekend. I’ve actually been fairly busy with other projects this week, so I still only played it twice, but that’s more than in previous weeks, and the weekend play session was several hours long.

When I stopped last week, I’d just entered the first city, after giving somebody a heart piece: he was lacking in “やる気”, which means something like willpower or motivation. And, when I entered the city, I found other people with the same problem, including the king. (Who was a sort of cat person, as were many but not all people in the town.) Before they would let me talk to the king, I had to do some fetch quests, but eventually I got to talk to him, and had to figure out what was wrong; at somebody’s suggestion (I think it was a sort of wise woman person, but it might have been Shizuku?), I went back to the first world to find the king’s twin in that world, to see if I could get an idea of what was wrong.

There wasn’t much going on in the first world; I assume I’ll eventually drag back another party member from there, but not this time. The king’s twin turned out to be a cat, who liked having its ears groomed; when I went back to the second world, it turns out that the king’s “earpick” had gotten stolen. So I was supposed to go into an underground sewer system to get it back.

Outside the sewer, I ran into a boy who was planning to go in there. I told him he wasn’t up to it, but he showed me his Imagine; after realizing that I was a magic user, he decided to give me his Imagine instead. So I guess acquiring each Imagine is going to be a special event of some sort? When I fought my first battle, I still only had my old Imagine in my party (along with Shizuku and myself), but my old Imagine was vulnerable to a water attack that the first monster had, so the game showed me how to swap party members mid-battle. I think (but I could be wrong) that you’ll always have three people in your party: yourself, one Imagine, and one non-Imagine; I stuck with the other Imagine through this dungeon.

Which was noticeably longer than the first dungeon: more monsters, and the monsters weren’t as much pushovers. So I had to heal several times, use healing items (both for HP and MP, the in-game item description turns out to say what each item gives you even though the Magic Master is silent on that), and use some crystals in the environment that give you a one-time partial refill on one of those. Monsters respawned more frequently than I liked, and I ended up running past them some of the time. There were two very minor puzzles, and one chest that I wasn’t powerful enough to open; the boss didn’t present any particular difficulties.

After that, I gave the earpick back to the king; that helped, but he was still lacking in motivation, so I had to find another heart piece to give him. That put him back to normal, and he gave me his magic staff; I’d hoped it would let me open the chest in that dungeon, but no dice. I then wandered around town trying to find more people to help; one ghost gave me a bit more of a tutorial in using the Magic Master (including an artifical alphabet it uses in a couple of places), a few more people needed their will restored (and I couldn’t find a heart piece for one of them), and one person only talks to cats, so I’ll have to come back to help that person. I also unlocked the ability to use stores and change people’s weapons.

I think I’ve done everything I can in the city, though there are three loose ends; I’ve been told the next city to head off to, so that’s what I’ll do next week? It continues to be a pleasant enough game, with more of a mixture of different types of things to do than I’m used to in a JRPG. The Ghibli charm has worn off to some extent, however: still nice art (and the king from this city was very reminiscent of The Cat Returns), but it’s been a while since I’ve heard a piece of music that made me sit up and take notice, and the characters and plot aren’t giving me a strong Ghibli vibe. I’m still quite happy to be playing the game, for both aesthetic and didactic reasons, but I’m not quite as excited as I was when I started.

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Ni No Kuni: First Dungeon

Nov 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I went through the first dungeon in Ni No Kuni today. Which started off with a justification for the presence of chests littered around; I can’t remember the details (indeed, I’m not sure I figured out the details), but surprising to see. Monsters turn out to be visible, and somewhat hard to avoid; they weren’t too dense, though, and while battles occur on a separate screen, the transitions into and out of battles were mercifully fast. The battles were also quite short, and quite easy: by the end of the dungeon, I mostly stopped using magic, and that worked out just fine. (My Imagine turns out to be rather good with a sword, incidentally; Shizuku has some sort of special defensive technique, though I only used it on the boss battle.)

It also gave me a tutorial about using consumable items; at the time it gave me that tutorial, however, all my stats were full, so I didn’t actually try out the fluffy bread item. I know it’s some sort of restorative, but I don’t know if it restores HP, MP, or both; and the dungeon was so easy that I didn’t have any reason to use that (or any other) item during it, and while the magic master book talks about items, it doesn’t seem to go into more details than saying it’s a restorative.

I ran across a magic chest at some point that I had to use a new rune to open. For the first time, the game didn’t tell me which rune to use; fortunately, I didn’t have to go too far before running across “アンロック”, which I realized meant “unlock”.

Very short dungeon, despite which I leveled up all the way from level 2 to level 5 during it. And that was before the boss battle; for the boss, they made more of a deal about pointing out weaknesses (turned out to be weak to fire, which is of course my only offensive magic spell), and the boss had an attack where party positioning mattered, since party members who were behind somebody didn’t get hit. I got some sort of special item from the boss battle, I don’t know what’s up with that. And in general there’s clearly a generalized rock-paper-scissors mechanic here—the monsters were all labeled with some sort of type icon, though the game hasn’t yet emphasized that.

After the boss battle, I wandered around the overworld for a bit. I found a few chests, and monsters were thicker on the ground than I liked; eventually, though, I started running away and realized that I didn’t have to fight most of the monsters if I didn’t want to.

Then I went to the closest city (which Shizuku had told me to go to); but the gate was closed, the guards weren’t letting anybody in. I talked to one of them, and something was wrong with him; I forget the details, but there was some mental characteristic (concentration?) that he was lacking in. I was told to talk to the other guard, and then cast a new rune (“heart piece”); something appeared on the screen in my inventory corresponding to the thing that I’d gotten from the tree last week.

So I guess that wasn’t a potion: looking at it more closely, it’s a list of mental characteristics. Then I went back to the original guard, and cast a “heart cure” rune; he went back to normal and opened up the gate. The heart piece disappeared from my inventory, but I see a bunch of different slots there with different mental characteristics, so clearly there’s some sort of mechanic where I’m going to be restoring people to their mental health.

I saved when I entered the city; looking forward to exploring it next week!

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Ni No Kuni: Made it to the Second World

Nov 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week, I’d gotten to where it looked like the real story was about to kick off (and where the game was about to start looking like an RPG). Which proved to be mostly true, though there was a bit more work to be done in the first world: I had to be given the Magic Master book, wander around a bit, and cast my first rune, a gate to bring me to the second world.

Which, indeed, the game cartridge doesn’t tell you how to draw: you have to look it up in the book. (Though I imagine it’s not hard to find instructions online.) So yeah, the book does serve as a form of copy protection. Once you’ve drawn a rune, though, the game remembers that: so far, I’ve had to draw four runes, namely the gate, a fireball, a healing spell, and an Imagine-related rune, and the middle two are now selectable from within the combat menu without me having to draw anything. So Okami this is not.

Anyways: I made it to the second world, wandered with Shizuku through a forest for a while, and encountered a talking tree. There, I had my first couple of battles: standard turn-based RPG stuff, with a position system so the front row gives and receives more damage. I also got my first Imagine, and I don’t quite understand how those work: I’d assumed that I’d capture them, but when I cast the appropriate rune, the creature kind of teleported out of my heart somehow, and apparently was completely unconnected to the monster I’d just beaten. So now I have one Imagine, and I have no idea how I’ll get more; it also turns out that they fight alongside me in battle like regular party members, I don’t know how that’s going to end up playing out once I have a lot more options. (Judging from the Magic Master, there are 88 different Imagine types, each of which looks like it has three evolved forms; and the manual shows at least two non-Imagine party members to come.)

The tree also gave me some sort of potion; it made a big deal about it, and it’s important enough to have its own slot in the menu, I should figure out what’s going on there. There’s also a place in the menu to look after your Imagines; I went and petted mine, but that’s all I’ve done so far.

After leaving the tree, I went to the edge of the forest until I hit the next save spot; it looks like it was outside a dungeon, and I didn’t feel like doing that today. (It’s been more of a Rock Band-y weekend.) Still, I’m glad that the game is getting underway; and I’m also glad that the language is still not proving to be too much of a barrier.

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Ni No Kuni: Started Playing the Game

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week, I finished the Ni No Kuni DS manual; I’m planning to spend some time going through the book as well, but in the mean time I figured that it was high time for me to start playing the game. Which I did on Saturday!

And my initial reaction on seeing the opening cut scene: wow, there is absolutely no question that Studio Ghibli is involved in this. Their stamp is strongest so far in the cut scenes, but even in the regular game you can see it in the character design.

And you can see Ghibli in the plot: centered on the kids, parents are shoved to the side and need to be rescued. In a particularly bad way this time: the mom is present at the start of the game but has a heart attack or something soon after saving Oliver from drowning, and dies. Oliver will probably be able to save her by defeating the bad guy, but still: really, was that necessary?

And there’s Ghibli in the world building, too: I haven’t yet seen the second world of the game’s title, but the first world has a traditional Ghibli slightly archaic setting, with a whiff of steampunk/machinery focus in it.

As to the language barrier: quite manageable. The cut scenes go by faster than I’m comfortable with, but I can pick up enough to not be completely lost. And when I’m talking to characters outside of cut scenes, I can take all the time I want to look up words. (Which, fortunately, I don’t need to do very often, maybe once per dialogue screen on average?)

The DS’s screen resolution is pretty bad: kanji is legible but could definitely use more pixels, and while there turns out to be barely enough resolution for furigana, those look even less like they’re supposed to. Fortunately, those two inadequate representations cover up each other’s flaws, and there are only so many furigana syllables that I’ll have to get used to, so that’s fine.

The one exception to the language barrier is Shizuku. (The spirit from the second world that is guiding you: he was banished to the first world and turned into a stuffed animal, which Oliver re-animates after crying on him for three days in a row.) Shizuku was rather a surprise: I’d expected Shizuku to be female and gentle (in retrospect, confusing the name with Shizuka), but in fact he’s male and pleasantly gruff. (And perhaps a bit egotistical, unless I’m misunderstanding the implication of his using -sama to refer to himself?)

And his speech patterns are quite unusual: he speaks with an accent, and I’m fairly sure that there are word forms that are from a non-Tokyo dialect as well. I can usually figure out what he’s saying, but not always. If I knew Japanese better, I imagine I could identify what region (or time period?) the dialect is from; as is, it’s half a curiosity, half an annoyance.

I’m a little more than an hour into the game, though much of the time has been spent looking things up in dictionaries: I imagine it would be more like half an hour if I were playing at a normal rate. And I haven’t gotten to where I make any actual gameplay choices. (Incidentally, I was thrown for a loop in the conversation with Shizuku: you’re given choices a few times, but I’m fairly sure that, in all instances, both your choices are different ways of saying the same thing!) Though it will start looking a lot more like an RPG soon, I think: I just got introduced to an RPG-ish menu, and both Oliver and Shizuku showed up on a character screen with hit point and magic point bars.

An auspicious first session of the game, I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of it. In fact, I’m looking forward to that enough that I imagine I’ll start playing mid-week, like I normally do with games, instead of reserving it for my weekend Japanese study times.

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Ni No Kuni: Finished the Manual

Nov 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s Ni No Kuni excitement: I finished the manual! The regular DS manual, as opposed to the “Magic Master” book; though, as it turns out, the first part of the manual that I read this weekend was explaining how to use that book. It went through each of the sections of the book: one on drawing runes, one on crafting items, one on equipment, one on consumables, one on Imagines, one on legends and stories, and one about the various lands in the game. They also pointed out some of the secrets lurking in the book, places where there are extra notes written in an alternate alphabet.

After that, I skimmed the rest of the manual: there was a bit about what to do if you’ve lost your Magic Master, descriptions of the various options for network play, and capsule biographies of various people who worked on the game, from both Ghibli and Level 5. None of which seemed interesting enough for me to want to spend time reading it right now; though I did note that Joe Hisaishi was included in the capsule biographies, so I’m now actively looking forward to the music in the game.

This means that I don’t have much of an excuse to avoid playing the game now! So I’ll definitely start next weekend; though I may also read through some of the Magic Master in parallel. The latter is clearly largely a reference book rather than something designed to be read cover-to-cover; but there are some narrative bits (e.g. the “legends and stories” chapter), and I also want to be comfortable using it as a reference book as necessary. So I imagine that I’ll spend time working on both fronts over the next few weeks, but clearly I should stop messing around and start actually playing.

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Ni No Kuni: Halfway through the Manual

Oct 24 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve made it more than halfway through the manual now, 37 pages out of 65. (And a lot of the stuff at the end is credits, so I’m not too worried about that.) The first part of what I read today was talking about the combat system; seems like fairly standard turn-based RPG combat, with some amount of physical positioning based on a 3×3 grid for your party members.

After that, the manual talked about イマージェン, which seems to be a transliteration of “imagine”? These seem to be sorts of monsters that you capture and control; there are 14 broad types of them (or maybe 22, I’m not sure about a distinction there), and you can also raise them to increase their powers. So, basically, it seems to me like there’s some sort of Pokemon system going on here.

I haven’t gone back and reread earlier information in light of this. I don’t think combat is only done using these “imagine” guys, and I do think you can have human party members. But I could easily be wrong (especially about the former); maybe the Imagines are used for your attacks, maybe you can mix them into your party, maybe something else? This will doubtless all become completely clear once I start actually playing the game.

It looks like the book contains lots of information about it: chapter 5 (pp. 145–264) is all about Imagines. I’m not planning to look at that in depth yet, but good to know the information is there if I want to dive into that aspect of the game.

Incidentally, I put unboxing photos on my main blog, if you haven’t seen that already.

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Ni No Kuni: Starting the Manual

Oct 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When Level 5 announced that the PS3 version of 二ノ国 (Ni No Kuni) was going to be released in the US, they conspicuously avoided mentioning the DS version. Which I have lusted after ever since it was released (Ghibli! That book!), so I figure: if I’m going to play it, I may have to play the Japanese version. And there’s a decent chance that my Japanese is now good enough to do that, and in fact that playing through the game would be actively helpful for my learning, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The game arrived on Friday; I’ll eventually put unboxing photos on my main blog. (It turns out that the book is even more gorgeous than I expected: really, it’s almost worth it even if you can’t read any Japanese.) But I’m planning to put a diary of my experiences playing through it on this blog, in case anybody else is curious about the game. I’ll tag them all with “ni no kuni“, so you can avoid my endless Rock Band puffery should you prefer.

Rather than actually start the game this week, though, I started reading through the manual. (The regular manual of a sort that comes with any DS game, not the special book.) Partly because, well, that’s the sort of person that I am, but also partly so I could get a feel for the difficulty of the game, maybe get introduced to some of the vocabulary that I’ll need? I made it through 17 pages of the manual this weekend, which I’m actually rather proud of; though, given that the manual is 65 pages long, I would seem to have at least two weeks of manual reading ahead of me. (Nothing but the best, most vibrant blog content for you, my readers, I assure you! Though I may actually start playing the game before I finish the manual.)

It turns out that the manual is written at a level that I can deal with pretty well. There were a fair number of words that I didn’t know, but it also wasn’t a surprise for me to make it through a sentence without having to look up any words, and several of the new words were repeated multiple times. They put furigana readings over all of the kanji, so that helped when I had to look up words; though I’ve memorized enough kanji that almost all of the individual characters were familiar even in compounds that I didn’t know, so I wouldn’t have been completely at sea without the furigana. (Just as well, I assume the screen resolution won’t allow furigana in the game? Though for all I know the game will largely avoid kanji as well.)

The manual starts out by introducing the story. You play a boy named Oliver, living in a city called Hotroit. His mother died recently; and he was visited by a fairy named Shizuku who comes from 二の国. (Which means “second country”, the first country being the normal world where Hotroit is located.) That country is beset by a dark wizard named Jabo, and apparently Oliver can save the country from Jabo, and Oliver’s mother will be restored to life. So: not the best plot in the world; then again, I could describe Spirited Away in a not-too dissimilar fashion, and that’s an amazing movie, so I will remain optimistic.

You apparently will have sidekicks Maru and Gyro; Maru likes to sing, I think Gyro is a thief, but I could be wrong. (And Oliver likes machinery and cars? That makes sense with his Hotroit origins, which is labeled as “The Motor City” in one of the pictures.) There are also pictures of the rulers of some of the kingdoms in 二の国.

After that, it transitions into “how to use your DS” stuff: put the cartridge in the slot, select the appropriate place in the start menu, etc. And an introduction to all the buttons, including their use in menus, in fields, and in battles. Looks like we’ll have standard cities / dungeons / overworlds, there’s a “bag menu” referred to several times that seems like your general inventory screen, and also a separate menu for magic? And I’ll be drawing runes on the lower screen at various times, I guess. Seems like pretty standard RPG stuff; I should learn more about those menus and about the combat system next week.

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