WB Top 100: Casablanca (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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I have long avoided watching “Casablanca” and I wish now I hadn’t. I was under the impression it was a romance. I thought star-crossed lovers would make googly eyes at one another and kiss their way through a forgettable plot. I imagined “Twilight” both before and after “Twilight” existed. Now that I have forced myself to watch it, I really regret my preconceived notions of the film.

1942’s “Casablanca” stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and (most importantly for reasons we will get to later) Claude Rains. It takes place during World War II in Casablanca, Morocco, while the city is under free France rule.

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Bogart again. Oh joy.

The setting largely revolves around Rick’s Café Américain, owned and operated by Rick (Bogart), a mysterious American expatriate with a penchant for fighting for the losing side in any war he participates in. At the outset of the story, he makes claims to Captain Louis Renault (Rains) that he is neutral, but the French prefect of the police in Casablanca thinks he is more sentimental than he lets on.

For me, the most fascinating and enjoyable aspect of “Casablanca” is its setting. The city functions as a neutral territory for all sorts of Europeans trying to flee the encroach of Nazi Germany. There, they wait to be flown out, but because of visa concerns and the black market cost to resolve said concerns, most end up waiting there indefinitely.

Rick’s Café Américain in particular is the place everyone goes to for a drink, to gamble, or listen to music. In particular, they listen to Sam, an African American and friend of Rick’s who left Paris with him. Sam, played by Dooley Wilson, is the first African American actor with any real role we have encountered on this list who was not playing a slave. I doubt he was the first ever actor to have that distinction in American cinema, but it was refreshing to see someone of color with some degree of agency all their own even if his role was limited.

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The dueling anthem scene was fantastic and perfectly captured why this setting is so much more compelling than most everything else in the movie for me.

When I first realized what was happening in the film’s setting, I instantly thought it would make a great D&D setting for an adventure. There aren’t too many films I can think of off the top of my head that feel this unique in just where they are set alone. The fact that the film was contemporary to World War II and that many of the actors were Europeans who had escaped the tyranny of Nazi Germany made it all the more impactful. For its historical importance alone, I think “Casablanca” is a significant and important film that more people like us should’ve seen before we turned 30.

Beyond the setting, the characters themselves are all interesting. Bogart and Bergman both give great performances. I am already tiring of “Bogart playing Bogart”, but this was the first time seeing Bergman. Diane remarked at how attractive she was, especially when compared to other leading ladies we have seen thus far, since she had a fuller face and wasn’t all angles. With a little less romance in the script, I think the character could’ve been phenomenal, but Bergman does well with what she is given.

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This is the most French picture I could get of the definitely not French Claude Rains.

My absolute favorite character is Captain Louis Renault played by English actor Claude Rains. We previously saw Rains as Prince John in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Here, he plays a Frenchman who is as cynical as he is unscrupulous. Everytime he was on screen, he would slime out a laugh from me. My favorite scene was when the Germans forced him to shut down the nightclub and he had to come up with a reason on-the-fly to do so. Without skipping a beat, he shouts that he has discovered illegal gambling just before being handed his gambling winnings for the night. Through and through Renault is a scoundrel, but Rains plays him so well that you can only love his cheek and nerve despite abusing his power at every turn.

My second favorite and Diane’s first was Carl, a waiter played by S. Z. Sakall. Though he gets relatively few scenes and even fewer lines, his facial expressions alone were enough to make him memorable.

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Duty over love.

As for the romance angle itself, it was hard to really care about whether the characters were truly in love or not. For both of us, that entire subplot took a backseat to world-at-war setting and gravitas of everything else. Scenes with dueling national anthems with people expressing their love of country had more impact than the will he/won’t he nature of Rick’s actions. The love triangle also barely factored in since the other male in the triangle, Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid) barely had time to pay attention to it while he was doing far more important things.

It didn’t help that we both knew how it ended. Bogart’s final speech to Bergman before she boards the plane has been quoted endlessly in pop culture. Without seeing the film, I knew it. Again I find remarkable what lasts from these older movies regardless of their historical importance. That speech, while worthy of quotation, failed to compare to everything else going on in the movie and in the world at the time of its filming.

I will not give “Casablanca” the distinction of being my favorite film on this list, but I would watch it again. It manages to be horrifying, humorous, and historical all simultaneously. I wish more time was spent on stories like this rather than big budget war movies about World War II. It’s amazing how epic in scope such a small setting could be when the whole world is at war.

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I would let Sam play it again.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

Dungeon Mastering, My First Time

I have always been curious about dungeon mastering, but I only just recently had the opportunity to try it in a safe environment. That sort of thing makes me nervous. I worry about fucking up a rule or not being able to respond to some off-the-rails departure in a timely manner. I worry about maintaining the voices or really any kind of consistency. I should have worried less because it went well.

For my first ever experience as a dungeon master, I chose the one-shot “Wild Sheep Chase” by Richard Jansen-Parkes. I found it after googling to find a good “first ever” adventure for fledgling DMs. One of my players had already done the adventure, but I have never been the sort to do things exactly as written so I was less worried about that and more worried about what kind of characters the group wanted to throw at me.

They chose Team Rocket from Pokémon and it was kind of a perfect fit.

The premise for “Wild Sheep Chase” follows a wizard who has been true polymorphed for the last two years by his apprentice. His apprentice stole his wand of true polymorph and has been using it on mercenaries to guard the sheep wizard. It doesn’t make total sense, but it is a great excuse to have some fairly easy animal-based encounters with a moral dilemma at the end.

I started improvising almost immediately. For starters, I let my three players roll up level 5 characters, so a bunch of wolves were really no threat to them. I had a cool entrance for the animals though.

The players began in an inn and after the sheep exposited the plot, a half-orc, and local gang leader, summoned his animal friends to capture the sheep-wizard for his Mistress (I changed the apprentice to a lady for some romance angles). Bacon, a boar, jumped through a window behind the players before Meowth fried him in one hit with Booming Blade. Peeps the hawk came in through a young woman’s bedroom before being stabbed by James’s rapier. The wolf, Dagger, swallowed the knife he had in his mouth after Jessie blasted him for more than his HP.

The other wolf, Scarf, had a brilliant moment where he and James posed off and tried to look more glamorous than the other. Scarf felt like he had won, especially with the crosswind animating his scarf and the light reflecting perfectly on his eyes, and he left. This forced Guz to summon his backups, sibling bears named Ginger and Freckles. Similar to Bacon, Freckles exploded after a couple of rounds and another Booming Blade. One of those rounds included a critical stealth check by Meowth which resulted in him taking the perfect form of a chair.

This enraged his brother Ginger who proceeded to sit atop Meowth after critically failing the grapple contest and slipping on a piece of Freckles.

While Meowth and Ginger were battling, Scarf slipped in the back window while the players were distracted. He used his magic scarf to entangle the sheep-wizard, but Jessie summoned earthen tendrils shaped like an ekans to restrain the wolf before he could escape with their new ally. James used this opportunity to gloriously unravel Scarf’s scarf with his rapier which was the only thing tying his wolf head to his wolf body.

Realizing he needed to warn the Mistress that the sheep-wizard had strong allies, the half-orc fled the scene. James used his charms to try and convince Ginger to give up fighting. Ginger just wanted to go home to his mother who he missed though he realized since she was not a bear that might be a problem. Jessie successfully convinced Ginger to join their party and promised to undo the spell on him so he could return home.

After more exposition where the sheep-wizard revealed he had come onto his apprentice and she had turned him into a sheep so he could experience what it was like to be the prey, the party arrived at the wizard’s tower just in time to spot the half-orc warning his mistress that they were coming.

Surprising both me and the villains, the party ran out of the woods “guns a-blazin’” as they did not try and roleplay their way through this situation at all (we were running out of time). I still wanted the encounter to be memorable though, so after getting off their surprise round, the Mistress used her stolen wand of true polymorph to turn the half-orc into an elephant which she later enlarged.

The party didn’t struggle too much with the elephant, but it was scary for a time. Meowth ran up a tree to hide from him but the elephant rammed him out of the tree all the same. Jessie got a fireball off on the Mistress, but she was polymorphed into a lowly garden snake. James finally got the kill on the Mistress and Meowth finished off the elephant after some kiting.

All in all, I had a real blast. It was a unique experience as I had to balance enforcing the rules while sometimes bending them. I always tried to tell a good story, but not at the expense of fun or pacing. I also had to think on the fly and come up with new challenges to react to the player’s behavior.

I could see myself doing it again!

WB Top 100: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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It struck me while watching “Mrs. Miniver” that the film was incredibly current for its time. It is rare to watch a movie about an event that is ongoing and rarer still that event be as important as World War II. 1942’s film “Mrs. Miniver” follows the Miniver family living outside of London, England, at the outset of the war, the Blitz, and directly references the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. Despite its focus on the English in World War II, “Mrs. Miniver” was an American movie rushed to theaters by President Roosevelt as a propaganda film to stir up more Americans to support fighting the Germans.

It was also one of the most boring movies I have watched. As stirring as its speeches and as important as its history, “Mrs. Miniver” spends too much time on romance and on the idyllic lives of the pre-war English middle class and aristocracy. In a way, it reminds me of “Gone with the Wind” only less exciting.

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Greer Garson was adorable.

It is a shame too because the movie is well-acted. Mrs. Miniver is played by Greer Garson, who’s soft eyes look straight through the heart of everyone she meets. Later scenes in the movie, after her initial introduction as a vapid consumer housewife, bring home the tragedy of war even if the movie takes too long getting to them.

The rest of the cast is also very good. I especially liked Walter Pidgeon as the husband of Mrs. Miniver, Clem Miniver. He has a kind of old sitcom dad vibe to him throughout the film, despite there being no laugh track and even less to laugh about. An early scene where he and his wife have dinner and slowly work up the courage to admit to one another what they wasted money on that day felt like a scene from “I Love Lucy”.

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“I Love Lucy” in a bomb shelter would be a welcome twist on the sitcom though.

Other than the children who were terrible by default, I initially hated their son and the film’s romantic lead, Vin Miniver, played by Richard Ney. Vin is initially introduced as an Oxford student who cannot stop talking about the troubles of classes in English society. I found it very humorous how he wanted to stand up for the middle class against British aristocracy when his parents lived in a house large enough to have its own name. Blue blood or not, he hardly suffered either.

His character did grow on me and if the film hadn’t dawdled so much I might’ve cared for his romance with Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the well-to-do Lady Beldon. I did appreciate that she called Vin out on his bullshit when they first met since all he was was a “talker” and she at least did something with her time when she wasn’t busy being rich.

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British.

Carol Beldon’s grandmother, Lady Beldon, is played by Dame May Whitty and she owns all of her scenes. As classist as she can be, Lady Beldon is one of the few comedic elements in the movie, which was much appreciated given the rest of the subject matter even if she was a total bitch about most things. Her character arc revolves almost entirely around a flower competition which her family host, pays for, and that she always wins. It is all rather tripe.

The absolute best scene in the entire film takes place at its very end. Gathering in a bombed out church, there are gaps in the seating where lost loved ones once sat. The pastor’s sermon is rousing. The story goes that it was written over and over again up until the day it was shot. It was so important, that President Roosevelt cribbed it in his own speeches regarding the war effort. If the war hadn’t already been won, then I might’ve jumped out of my comfy living room and gone off to fight for freedom myself.

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Easily the most memorable scene, this speech, especially in context, was perfect.

Regardless of all these qualities, Diane and I both spent most of the film wondering when it would lead to anything. When we realized it was a World War II movie, we got interested despite the movie maintaining its glacial pacing. “Mrs. Miniver” feels long and is long. It takes too much time to get where it needs to be for the story to begin and every time you think it is over, it isn’t. We very much appreciated the historic value of this film, but we will never watch it again.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


For both of us, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, the 1942 biographical musical, was a surprise. As Americans, we were obviously familiar with the songs in the movie, but we had never gotten the additional context of George M. Cohan and his life. Though not necessarily true-to-life, James Cagney played the role of the “song and dance” man to perfection. Neither Diane nor I knew what to expect before watching the film, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” is a biographical story about Irish-American George M. Cohan (played by James Cagney). Cohan was an entertainer, dancer, singer, producer, and writer. Of all his hits, the two I am most familiar with are “Over There” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, two songs I have heard all my life though I knew nothing of their composer.

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“Yankee Doodle Dandy” includes the first depiction of a sitting President while on film.

Even the movie remarks upon the familiarity of Cohan’s music. Later in the film, teenagers arrive needing water for their car. George is asleep in a hammock reading a magazine and they ask him if he was ever in showbusiness. He says he was, but they don’t know any of the songs he mentions were his. Instead, they only know that new hit single “Jeepers Creepers”. Of course “Jeepers Creepers” is a jazz standard now and a “hit” horror movie franchise, but Cohan’s music has lasted the test of time too or else people like us wouldn’t know them.

As Cohan, James Cagney is sublime in the role. We previously saw him on this list in “Public Enemy”, but playing a singer and dancer in George M. Cohan is far removed from his turn as a criminal. It’s amazing seeing his range and after watching “Yankee Doodle Dandy” I am finally understanding why he was a respected and well-known actor in his time.

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This scene in which George M. Cohan first meets his future wife was an absolute delight.

Similar to most of the films on this list thus far, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” covers George M. Cohan’s entire life, absent his final years and death. The story is bookended by his meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Cohan’s twilight years.

It is also a musical and, in the same vein as other movies on this list depicting Broadway, we had no idea what any of the plays performed within the movie are about. It is amazing how much is lost over time. I am sure the musical Little Johnny Jones was better known in the ‘40s, but the only thing from it for which we were familiar was the song “Give My Regards to Broadway”. The depiction in the movie of Little Johnny Jones, Cohan’s first full-length musical, was confusing and completely alien to us otherwise.

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Mericuh!

The best praise I can give for a movie like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is that I would watch it again. It was fun, funny, and an all-around great performance. There was an instance of blackface, but it was within the context of Vaudeville and excusable enough for the time. And, again, I cannot speak enough of Cagney’s performance. He made me laugh, nearly made me cry, and his stiff-legged dancing mixed with his sing-speak songs kept me engaged.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Look here: I got something to say and I am going to say it. This is the kind of thing that makes a man, I mean really makes a man. Without it, the world would be chaos – glim, glum, no glamour. With it, man has the power to rewrite it all. He can kiss the dame and he can win any fight. Money is nothing in comparison. And love? Well, we already got that, precious.

And just what is that “thing” that “really makes a man”, you ask?

Watching “The Maltese Falcon” from 1941, of course!

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There’s nothing manlier than dressing like this. Sadly, fedoras (and hats) have been ruined by men who say “M’lady.”

To me, nothing says classic Hollywood dialogue like film noir. It has that perfect blend of slang, speed, and philosophy. At any moment, a line can dip into the most sexist thing you have ever heard or wax romantic at the next pair of legs that walks by. Style over substance, etc.

Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” is no exception. He plays your archetypical private eye, a man by the name of Sam Spade, who spends the entire plot knowing nothing and everything at the same time. He’s a variation of the “smartest man in the room” who uses his street smarts more than his intellect to read his way in and out of any room. With charm and moxey, nothing stops him.

I have long wanted to watch “The Maltese Falcon” and other movies like it. I didn’t grow up with any want to be a detective or private eye, but this is a classic distillation of a male power fantasy for those of us who don’t want to be Achilles or some other kind of muscle-bound man-strosity. It is incredibly sexist, of course.

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This guy’s eyes creeped me out every time he was on screen. I would’ve sworn he must’ve played Igor in a Frankenstein movie at some point.

The women in “The Maltese Falcon” are varied but undeveloped. The wife of Sam’s murdered partner reveals her and Sam’s affair early on. She barely factors into the rest of plot give or take a few sad-eyed shots of her looking onto the rest of the story. Sam’s secretary busts her ass the entire movie and she doesn’t even get kidnapped once for more screen time. She’s the most positive female character, but she is entirely limited to doing what Sam orders. The love interest, Brigid (Mary Astor), spends the entire movie “being afraid” despite being one of the principle villains!

That’s not to say I disliked the movie, it is just dated by default. I am sure there is an alternate universe incel version of me that worships Humphrey Bogart in this role. I know this universe’s me wishes I could wear a suit and hat half as well. But I’d prefer a version without women if they are only going to serve as accessories to a plot that would hardly change without them.

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Surprise! Women can get arrested too. Progressive.

I will say that Brigid’s turn as being an actual villain and Sam’s refusal to protect her since she murdered his partner was refreshingly modern. Even if I cared little for what happened to her and we had to suffer a scene about how Sam and Bridgid were “in love” after a few days of making eyes at one another, seeing the romantic interest get arrested was great. Diane and I both loved that they didn’t end up together.

Beyond that, it is a beautiful film. Unlike “Citizen Kane” where parodies spoil the plot, parodies of “The Maltese Falcon” tend to ape the style and not the story. Despite always knowing of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time wondering what might happen next. Like “Citizen Kane”, there are some really cool camera angles and shots that really heighten the intensity at times or focus in on the actors.

I doubt either of us ever revisit “The Maltese Falcon”. It feels like a product of its time, albeit in a less harmful way than some of the racist or even more sexist movies we’ve seen in this series. There’s a lot to love and I still want to explore the film noir sub-genre further, but this is a one and done for us both.

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Don’t be this guy. Never be this guy.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Citizen Kane (1941)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Now arriving in 1941 to see the ‘greatest film of all time’: Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane”. It is my second time seeing the film and Diane’s first though pop culture has long since spoiled the mystery. Does the movie live up to its hype? Will I hate it arbitrarily solely because of its popularity? What will Diane think of it?

Yes and no.

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I am more familiar with Orson’s voice rather than the charming young man he briefly plays in this movie. It’s like seeing an alternate reality where someone like Vincent Price leads a romantic comedy.

If you are otherwise unaware, “Citizen Kane” is the answer to the trivia question, “What film did Orson Welles write, direct, and star in?” It is a fictional biopic following the life of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, a character loosely based off the real life William Randolph Hearst.

I have been fascinated with Hearst ever since learning about him and his war with his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, in a high school journalism class. Welles’s version of Hearst in his character Kane is over-the-top but not nearly as sensational as his real world counterpart.

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It’s a shame Orson never played Lex Luthor.

Its to “Citizen Kane”’s benefit that it is a loose resemblance rather than a movie about the wild exploits of Hearst or the more interesting bits of the invention of ‘yellow journalism’. The “model” of Hearst is more than enough to give us a compelling character in Kane. He’s over-the-top, rich, and has a great need to be loved. He’s a man who has everything anyone could ever want, but not the one thing he wanted: his childhood.

At the film’s outset, Kane’s mother has come into wealth and wants her son to escape their life and his abusive father. She has young Kane shipped off with the banker who will oversee his wealth until he comes of age. The banker makes sure Kane goes to the best schools and gets a proper education though it does little to reign in Kane’s personality or ego.

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Everything in this scenes does an incredible job of capturing a poor, dreary place without spending too much time there. It is incredible really.

The entire story of Kane’s life is told after his passing by the people who knew him best to a magazine journalist trying to understand his final words: “rosebud”. Of all the movies we’ve seen that follow the entire life of a great person, this is easily the best. The after-the-fact storytelling focuses only on the highlights in stark contrast to something like “Cimarron” or “The Great Ziegfeld” that dragged at times. “Citizen Kane”‘s pacing is great and even with the mystery of “rosebud” solved, viewing the movie over and over again is still worth it.

The story still resonates in a way that makes me believe it timeless. While other movies on this list thus far have been watchable, none have honed in on the psychology of their leads like this one’s. Combined with Orson Welles’ outstanding performance and Charles Foster Kane feels imminently understandable. Despite his speeches, he never feels like a leading man playing a hero like so many other films of the era. He feels like a flesh-and-blood human with heart-and-soul problems.

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I loved this scene so much. Orson’s body-acting is incredible here. The way he stiffly moves about really makes him appear much, much older. It’s worth watching this scene again if you don’t remember how he moved.

The cinematography of “Citizen Kane” also stands the test of time. The shots and transitions in this film feel wholly different from other films we’ve watched thus far. Some of them work great – I loved the pan into the window in the pouring ran. Others are odd but unforgettable. For example, as we quickly see all the ways Kane has disappointed his foster father banker, the banker looks directly into the camera similar to a sitcom character like Zack Morris wanting to wink to the audience about the absurdity of the situation. The “screaming bird” transition before Kane destroys the bedroom of the woman who has just left him also stands out more than was likely intended.

I hate to call a movie like “Citizen Kane” overrated. In truth, it gets a lot of things right but not everything perfect. I think the movie’s lasting appeal comes from its intelligence, both actual and perceived, as it feels like the kind of film smart people should love. That, along with its story, acting, and composition, make it memorable and infinitely rewatchable. I think everyone should see it, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for not calling it the greatest of all time.

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I do think this is one of the greatest uses of set to deepen a character that I have witnessed. The vast maze of packed antiquities when combined with the earlier shots of Xanadu that are massively open rooms with little to no decoration really sell the lonely emptiness of Charles Foster Kane.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

Let’s Talk About Ni No Kuni II

It is rare I finish a game I am so mixed on. Released earlier this year on PC and Playstation 4, Ni No Kuni II is a solid roleplaying game that will likely be loved by many. It has a young protagonist out to make the world a better place. It has stats, gear, and all the other bells and whistles of a typical Japanese roleplaying game. It also manages to perfectly capture what I have enjoyed more recently about JRPGs: their relaxing and familiar gameplay loops. But, for me, Ni No Kuni II was only just okay.

Ni No Kuni II is not a direct sequel to the first game released on Playstation 3 by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Professor Layton, Yo-Kai Watch, etc.). It also lacks the involvement of Studio Ghibli though the aesthetic is similar. That helps because I never played the first game so I have no reason or ability to compare this Ni No Kuni to the original.

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Nothing like a furry page boy!

First and foremost, Ni No Kuni II is an almost too saccharine game. The game’s lead, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, is the child king of Ding Dong Dell, a kingdom divided by animosity from its ruling class (cat-people called Grimalkin) and Mousekin (obviously mice-people). After he is ousted in a coup, he sets out to unite all of the world’s kingdoms in peace under the banner of his brand new kingdom. He does so with kindness, generosity, and the understanding that most bad rulers are not evil.

I do not think there is a better JRPG to use to introduce younger gamers to the genre or to play as a family. At least not one that isn’t far older. Ni No Kuni II looks great (especially on the Playstation 4 Pro) and I never got tired of the character or enemy design, even if it frequently repeated itself.

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The game’s biggest boss battles are varied and interesting but there’s only four of them.

Even better for younger gamers, this is not a particularly difficult game. Battles focus on a single character with a limited array of combos and other abilities. Controls are responsive and animations are crisp. Enemies explode into a variety of items (mostly materials for crafting) when defeated. The combat never stopped being fun for me despite its simplicity. You can switch characters at will and each has a different weapon type they can use which further differentiates them when you need a change of pace.

While I failed to get into Persona 5, an obviously superior and deeper experience, Ni No Kuni II does better what I like JRPGs to do. I love being able to fire it up for some brief farming or to complete a few side-quests. Ni No Kuni II also has a limited city building element that reminded me of Bravely Default which kept me engaged as well. I loved how all of the loops feed into it. Farm enemies for resources to complete side-quests to recruit new citizens of your kingdom who then help you build up that kingdom or produce better weapons/armor/spells.

 

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Yes, this game has Facebook and, much like my own profile, I never used it.

I wasn’t achieving much nor was I overcoming any challenges. If anything, Ni No Kuni II had more in common with mobile clicker RPGs which satisfy players much the same way a slot machine satisfies grandma. That isn’t a bad thing though I wish the game was harder or had harder challenges.

Beyond the simplicity of its gameplay and characters, I did appreciate the games story even if it got to be a bit silly. It was a nice change of pace being the one who wanted to conquer world (though in peace rather for my own personal gain). In the opening, it is revealed that the secondary main character is essentially the President of the United States transported into a fantasy land moments before witnessing the presumed beginning of a nuclear holocaust. It is easily the most unique opening in any JRPG I have ever played.

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The President has a handgun, of course.

I won’t spoil it here, but I also enjoyed the main villains backstory once it was revealed in the game’s final act. Like all of the villains in Ni No Kuni II, he starts out twirling his mustache and ends with pulling your heart strings. That seems to be a story trope of sorts often used by Japanese writers (villain of the week becomes best friend for the remainder of the series) and it works perfectly in this game’s narrative.

Overall, I think I recommend Ni No Kuni II though maybe not at full price. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone that wants a hard game to play, but it’s perfect for those of us who need something to relax while playing or something that’ll allow our brains time to rest between more narrative-intense video games or dense television like Westworld. If you haven’t yet, you may want to give Ni No Kuni II a shot.

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