There’s a lot to love about the Ni no Kuni series. Signature Studio Ghibli-style graphics to give that anime aesthetic, beautiful music by Joe Hisaishi, and heart-warming storylines all combine in harmony to create perfectly packaged RPGs that you won’t forget in a hurry.
The series steps into brand-new MMORPG territory with Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds, which will soon be launching for PC and mobile devices. As a long-time fan of the series, I couldn’t wait to see what Cross Worlds would bring to the table, and I was thrilled to see the opening cutscene of Cross Worlds featured gorgeous 2D animated graphics (something that we sorely missed in Ni no Kuni 2), even if it was only for a brief scene.
Cross Worlds has a sci-fi anime flair reminiscent of .hack, as the premise involves players traveling to another world via a virtual reality game machine called Soul Divers. However, as one of these players, you soon discover that this isn't just a game — Soul Divers is transporting you to the world of Ni no Kuni and placing your soul into the body of a person who lives there. With players mistakenly believing themselves to be in a game where their actions have no consequences, and with a greater threat at play, it falls to you to save the world and unravel the mystery of the admin behind Soul Divers.
There are five different classes to choose from, and each one is a set character with a handful of customisation options. For example, if you want to play as a Witch, you will always be the cat lady, but you can at least change your hairstyle and a couple of other small cosmetic things. Each account can have one of each class/character, all of which will share the same name, and while story content starts afresh on each character, some progress is shared, such as codex entries and achievements. It would have been nice to see a broader range of customisation options available, like being able to choose your character type and class separately. I wanted to create a cat lady Swordsman, but alas no.
Like many MMOs, stepping into Cross Worlds can be pretty overwhelming. There are so many menus and features to learn, and while the game does a decent enough job of rattling off compulsory quests to teach you the basics of each, it’s a lot of information to learn in quick succession. You certainly don’t finish those quests feeling like you have a solid grip on whatever it just taught you, but it’s one of those situations where you learn best by putting it into practice. The more you play, the better your understanding of the game's many mechanics and features. You just have to power through that initial feeling of being thrown into the deep end.
Cross Worlds is free-to-play, so set your expectations to something more along the lines of Genshin Impact rather than Final Fantasy 14. There are gacha mechanics to score some coveted familiars, equipment, costumes, and other items, including some fan-favourites like Mite and Draggle. You’ll also find restrictions for some content, with specific tasks limited to once a day unless you choose to fork over some currency. And, as with most mobile games, you can also hand over currency to skip quests or to fast-travel to some locations.
I played on PC, but it feels as though the game is better equipped for touchscreens. There isn’t controller support, and unfortunately, the controls felt a little clunky and unnatural. I plan to play on mobile at launch instead, which should tell you how I feel about the PC version.
That said, it does look gorgeous on PC. You can’t help but be impressed by the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics and full voice-acting of Cross Worlds. It looks and feels more like another mainline title than it does a mobile game, if it wasn’t for the gacha mechanics and typical currency shortcuts, you’d even believe it was a fully-fledged sequel.
At least, most of the time. Another telltale sign that this is a mobile-based money generator comes from the fact that, by default, your quests and battles automatically complete. Essentially, the game plays itself for the most part. Your character will run to the quest giver, run to the area you need to go to, defeat the required monsters without your input, and return to the quest giver. Sure, you still have to click through the cutscenes or occasionally perform a special action, but for the most part, you can leave things on autopilot. At first, I wasn’t too keen on this, but it grew on me. I realised letting my character run from A to B to deal with insignificant beasties gave me plenty of time to dive through all those menus and sort out upgrades for equipment, familiars, and more, all while on the move.
The two primary Ni no Kuni games featured different mechanics; the first favoured familiars you could tame and evolve to fight in battles for you, while Ni no Kuni 2 offered Higgledies to help you in battle instead. Cross World brings elements from all the games together in one, so you’ll see plenty of recognisable types of characters, items, and locations.
It’s clear to see the game pays homage to both Ghibli and its previous titles in other areas too. You can’t tell me the Swordsman doesn’t look like a home-brand Howl with his hairstyle and jacket resting on his shoulders, while you can choose to give the Engineer Tani’s hair from Ni No Kuni 2. The King of Evermore is a descendant of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum (the protagonist of NNK2), and you’ll also hear plenty of familiar music as you explore this new adventure. Without a doubt, my Ni no Kuni nerdiness peaked playing Cross Worlds, but you don’t need to have played any of the previous titles to enjoy it.
While I’m not convinced that Cluu lives up to the adorable and hilarious mascot standards of Drippy or Lofty, I’m completely enamoured with Cross Worlds and I can’t wait to dive back into it at launch. It looks great, is full to bursting with Ni no Kuni goodness, and has plenty of charm and whimsy. There were plenty of parts that made me laugh, and you can ride a giant cat as a mount, it’s hard to beat that.
Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds is coming to both PC, iOS, and Android on May 25, 2022.
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