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Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds Preview

Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds Preview

Level 5’s Ni No Kuni franchise has been dear to me for almost a decade. Across two brilliant titles, it delivered enchanting fairy-tale storytelling and innovative JRPG gameplay, a synergy that reminded me of the glory days of the genre and that few of its modern rivals reach such a high standard.

So you can imagine my skepticism when I found out that for their next title, Ni No Kuni, Level 5 had contacted South Korean developer Netmarble to produce a free mobile spin-off called Cross Worlds. Of course, having suspected for a while that the Ni No Kuni franchise’s sales weren’t as good as its critical reception, I wasn’t surprised. Still, I must admit that my main concern was that its distinctive quality and magical allure would fall outside the typical monetization of mobile games.

Maintenant, après avoir passé du temps avec the PC preview version of Ni No Kuni Cross Worlds la semaine dernière, j’ai mes réponses, et cese un sac mélangé que ne manquera pas de diviser l’opinion parmi unconditionnel fans de the franchise.

The story of Cross Worlds follows a fairly similar pace to that of the main games and the recent movie. A cute cutscene reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s anime details its premise upon installing my preview build, which shows a player character traveling to another world via a virtual reality game machine called Soul Divers. The game machine—surprise, surprise—transports its main characters to the world of Ni No Kuni, where, unbeknownst to them, their actions there have consequences in the real world they left behind.

Image source: Netmarble

Unlike previous Ni No Kuni games, Cross Worlds is an MMORPG that offers players one of five different classes to choose from, each with a selection of different customization options. It’s not as deep as many other games in its genre, and each class more or less corresponds to five typical profiles. There is a witch, an engineer, a destroyer, a thief, and a swordsman. For each account started, one character from each class can be selected, each restarting the story but retaining achievements and other progression mechanics.

Once I started my Cross Worlds adventure well, I must admit that my first impressions were of a pleasant surprise, and that is that the game has a much higher level of production than I had anticipated. Cross Worlds has the same rather shady aesthetic as previous Ni No Kuni games, and while this PC preview build is clearly a mobile game ported with only minimal effort (the game still shows battery life and my wifi reception in the bottom corner!), still seems consistent with the rest of the series.

Cross Worlds also sounds like a Ni No Kuni game, with the same fine score by Studio Ghibli’s Joe Hisashi, which I’m pretty sure was pulled directly from Revenant Kingdom. The sound effects and cute voice work together to create a similar atmosphere; in fact, there’s a lot about Cross Worlds that seems to have been copied from the 2018 game; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was surprised at how shocked I was to remember Revenant Kingdom.

But while Cross Worlds looks and sounds like the real deal, once you really dig into the gaming experience, it really doesn’t compare to the mainline games. Sure, it’s a completely different design, but I’ve found that it looks more like a typical mobile MMO model, rather than something innovative or particularly fun to play.

Image source: Netmarble

The main problem is not that the nature of the game is different, but that the content itself is generic; the quests are uninspired quests, the stories behind them aren’t interesting, and the combat isn’t engaging. Granted, I didn’t expect the gaming experience to match the mainline games, such are the limitations of the mobile platform Cross Worlds is primarily developed for, but recent mobile RPGs like Genshin Impact exhibit a much standard higher in comparison.

During my time on Cross Worlds it occurred to me that while I love the world of Ni No Kuni, it’s really the gameplay that has always driven previous games: the turn-based strategy in Wrath of the White Witch; the rush and satisfaction of comboing and casting spells in Revenant Kingdom, and the wonderful Pokémon-type pets present in both.

There are mechanics that replicate some of these traits in Cross Worlds, sure, but they’re not as fun or interesting. Instead, the game is far more concerned with locking you into a loop of progression mechanics and ultimately driving you towards monetization.

For me, all of the good work that Cross Worlds does in creating the enchantment and magic that is such a big part of Ni No Kuni falls apart when I’m constantly being annoyed by these progression mechanics. From the very first moments of the game, my progress was limited by level as I had to complete race after race before progressing through the main story; nothing can be done in Cross Worlds without undertaking a lot of tedious side quests to increase “reputation”.

If you’ve played Revenant Kingdom, this kind of level lock was one of the worst things about that game, but it’s built into Cross Worlds on a much more egregious level. Of course, you can always skip the level check if you have gold in your wallet!

Image source: Netmarble

I understand that this is all an integral part of mobile games with gacha mechanics, revolving around dozens of different currencies to collect, experience points to collect, and materials to harvest – a loop designed to keep you locked in and on the go. It’s the same in Genshin Impact. But where that experience more or less won me over with its quality content and more robust gameplay, Ni No Kuni Cross Worlds doesn’t meet the same watermark and feels soulless by comparison, which it is, to use an appropriate adjective. , heartbreaking for a Ni No Kuni Fan to admit it.

I’ve also found that Cross Worlds’ auto-completion mechanic is another big factor contributing to this soulless feeling. The system is activated by tapping a quest marker icon in the top corner of the screen, which automatically tracks your character on a quest and even through combat encounters, completing each step seamlessly.

It’s optional, to be clear, but once you’ve seen the computer seamlessly come out of battles in the blink of an eye, and have taken the hustle and bustle of exploring between searching for Cross Worlds missions out of you, you start to wonder why you would bother to play it. You can even set it to continue playing after you close the game.

But where is the gratification, the excitement, and the reward for investing in RPG mechanics shoved down your throat? I couldn’t find any of that in Cross Worlds, which instead left me longing for a good Ni No Kuni game. Ironically, if that ever happens, it hinges on the success of Cross Worlds, which brought in $110 million in revenue for Level-5 in just a few days when it launched in East Asia in 2019.

I have no doubt that fans of gritty and gacha RPG systems will find it very pleasant to wander through the beautiful spectacle of the huge world of Cross Worlds. Again, there’s a lot of content, including quests, mini-games, and pets to catch, and you don’t have to spend real money to partake in the experience. However, for fans of previous esteemed Ni No Kuni entries, approach with caution if you’re not already familiar with this type of design. I won’t be back for the full release.

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