Weekly Update: Ni No Kuni II, Oxygen Not Included, No Way Home

(Note: I meant to post this on Saturday, but I had a seizure and that threw all my plans into nothingness. So instead I’m posting it today and will post the Nephilim Protocol story as usual on Tuesday)

What I (Was) Playing: Ni No Kuni II

I was feeling tired. Worn out. Maybe slightly depressed. It’d been a solid week of dealing with unruly students. I wanted to disappear into a fantasy world, and I wanted something familiar, something I could not be too pressured by. And mostly, short, so I could be ready to start a new game once Christmas Break hit and I was feeling energized and ready to go with something new.

So naturally, I went with Ni No Kuni II, a game where a single playthrough took me 72 hours. Also, in my defense, a tooth-achingly sappy and sentimental game about a Little Lord Fauntleroy half-cat prince who achieves world peace through the power of love, but definitely not something short, and also definitely something so addictive that it dominated my every waking moment for the past three weeks, which I should have known was going to happen because of what happened the last time I played it.

The game’s unrealistically feel-good nature should be no surprise once you learn it was produced by Studio Ghibli, the makers of My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky and half a dozen other beautifully colorful stories about how the world is wonderful and evil people are really just lonely or corrupted. It has all the hallmarks–whimsical characters, beautiful environments, sky pirates. I really probably should hate it because of how unrealistic it is, but gosh dang it, sometimes I just want to live in a pretty fantasy world.

Also one of the main characters is the President of the United States, who’s gotten sucked into this smarmy story-book fantasy realm. How can you not love that?

Possibly even funnier is the way the president just kind of takes it in stride. “Sure, I’ll help this half-cat boy create his own fantasy United Nations. Why not?”

Since playing it the first time, I have played–at least, I started–Ni No Kuni I, which gives me the context of some of the details. For instance, in Ni No Kuni I, Ding Dong Dell was exclusively cats–sorry, Grimalkin–and they did indeed fight the mice, who were forced to live in the sewers. It’s a detail that does, actually, make the opening villain more sympathetic. He comes across at first as twirly-mustached villainous, but once you realize that his people have, historically, been the oppressed, it makes better sense.

Like, practically literally twirly-mustached

That guy does kinda break the game, though. One of the big points is that everyone can be redeemed, that everyone can work together if they just connect properly. Evil people in the game have been corrupted by dark magic but always started from a good place.

Except for that guy, Mausinger. Supposedly, he started from the good place of caring for his people. Okay, as I said, that makes sense. But it apparently led to him staging a coup where he poisoned the progressive king who was integtrating mice and grimalkin, trying to savagely murder the king’s ten-year-old son (which he later says he’s “long been waiting” to do), and institutes a program where he starts locking up every grimalkin, exiling the rest to a dangerous ghetto next door to deadly monsters, and in the final confrontation says that “Every grimalkin must DIE!” AND, as comes out, he’s not even been corrupted by dark magic. He achieved this level of evil all on his own. Because apparently he “was too pure” to be infected outright, and had to be misled by his advisor.

Bro, I’m sorry. Misled or not, if you get to a level where you’re full-on genocidal, you’re evil. That’s not remotely pure. I don’t care what your motives are. This guy is basically mouse Hitler, and the game redeems him by saying, “yeah but he started from a good place.”

For the most part, though, apart from a few callbacks to the events of the former game, there’s little that it shares. Indeed, the major traits that are important–the major legendary weapon and one of the big plot points–aren’t even foreshadowed before they pop up at the very end, which frankly is a terrible weakness.

Apart from that, Ni No Kuni II improves in nearly every way on its predecessor. There’s less grinding involved, and instead of the pokemon-esque mechanics of the former, combat is fast-paced and personal. The various cities are more detailed and full of unique characters–characters you can recruit, even, in an added city-development game mechanic, which might run the risk of feeling tagged on if it wasn’t so darn fun (frankly it’s my favorite part of the game). The plot, perhaps, is simpler, but it is also more streamlined and flows more quickly (the lack of grinding helps with this enormously.) Even when I was playing Ni No Kuni I, what I kept being reminded of was how much more fun Ni No Kuni II was.

It’s a great game. It killed most of any chance I had of making progress on my stories or my backlog of games/books/tv shows over Christmas break. But sometimes, you need to take a break from everything and just relax with something comfortable and familiar. And for me, that’s Ni No Kuni II.

What I (Am) Playing: Oxygen Not Included (But not for long)

Klei Entertainment is a pretty awesome developer. Their Invisible Inc is stylish cyberpunk goodness, Mark of the Ninja is elegant stealth platforming at its finest, and while I haven’t played it, Don’t Starve is among the games rated Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam. They specialize in stylish 2-D type games that are plenty entertaining but still feel relaxed (I’ve found recently that AAA games actually sort of intimidate me because of how long and complicated they tend to be). So when a friend of mine recommended Oxygen Not Included and it popped up during the Winter Sale, I picked it up.

I’ve enjoyed it so far. You’re stuck underground on a strange asteroid, and you have a stream of clones to help you mine your surroundings to produce a functioning colony. You need to find water, produce food, and yes, produce oxygen for your clones, while keeping an eye on their stress and happiness levels. The game has a steadily building level of complexity, with you needing to employ increasingly complex mechanics to manage your growing number of clones and the ever-dwindling supplies of your environment. There are water filtration systems, electrical wiring mechanics, and signposts to instruct your dim-witted clones to wash their hands or put on oxygen masks when entering/leaving particular areas.

But I’m going to be honest. I’ll probably drop it before long, because the further levels look like more complexity than I want to get into.

I’ve looked ahead under “researchable topics.” You can set switches for water pressure and sensors that trigger the switches. You can get signposts that measure when a certain amount of people have passed a point and then change the orientation. Already I have a workshop bench that I need to produce the oxygen masks for the airlock to the polluted oxygen zone.

Quite frankly it looks like more complexity than I really want in my video games. I’ve noted before that I’m a pretty casual gamer, and while intricately designed systems like this are doubtless cool for people who really get into micro-managing subsystems, they’re entirely the reason I stopped playing Surviving Mars and never started Dwarf Fortress.

So the next game on my docket is likely going to be Kingdom: Two Crowns, a series I’ve played before that’s wonderfully elegant in its simplicity and is just complex enough to keep me thinking. Or I might start up with Jedi: Fallen Order, which has been almost universally praised and which really looks like a fun coming-of-age style experience.

What I’m Watching: No Way Home

It’s good. Go see it.

Okay, just a bit more, and I can’t talk about this without spoilers, but dang was it fun to see Willem Dafoe back as the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin is the quintessential Spidey villain, the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to a Joker character. And honestly, I’m not sure he’d make as much sense in the more-nuanced MCU, or at least if he’d be as terrifyingly amorally gleeful in any version they’d make of the character. Green Goblin was probably more iconically evil than anything in the MCU short of Red Skull has been, and he was the perfect villain for a story that’s essentially the MCU’s Spidey finally crystallizing into the classic form of his character. It was an average teenager up against a superhuman evil, and it felt glorious.

Oh and dang, but I loved Tobey Maguire coming back. I feel like the guy hasn’t been in a movie in forever, and he was like this older mature Spidey providing wisdom to the two younger kids who hadn’t had all the experiences he had. Tom Holland is human, Andrew Garfield is hip, but Maguire is iconic

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