A Studio Ghibli MMO
You may not realize it, but the Ni No Kuni series has been around since 2010. Originally releasing in Japan only on the Nintendo DS, Ni No Kuni didn't get a western release until 2013 and even then it was exclusively on the Playstation 3. The first two games (Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom) take the JRPG expertise of developer Level-5 and mash it up with the immense style of Studio Ghibli.
Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds brings the series into MMO territory via developer/publisher Netmarble. You may know Netmarble from their massively successful games such as Marvel Future Revolution, Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross, Cookie Jam, etc.. However while Netmarble has been very successful in the mobile gaming space, they are also well known for their devious in-app purchase methods. Their monetization strategy does rear its ugly head in Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds, but we'll start with the good stuff first.
More like Ni YES Kuni
This game takes the story from the original Ni No Kuni, and somewhat throws it out the window. That isn't to say that the new story is bad - Actually I found the concept pretty interesting. Without revealing much beyond the first hour of gameplay, the characters within Ni No Kuni's world don't realize that they're living in a video game and that some of the people in this world are players from the real world. i.e. the worlds are crossing. It's a very similar setup to Sword Art Online and other cyber fantasy tropes, but I enjoyed the story for what it is. The fantastic voice acting helps, although there is a metric ton of dialogue to click through and the non-voiced parts aren't always interesting.
Beyond the story this game is gorgeous. Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds features an absolutely massive open world filled with a variety of landscapes and places to explore. Granted the game tends to explore itself, but we'll touch on that in the next section. Developer Netmarble also pulls from Joe Hisashi's original Ni No Kuni score which is still just as amazing today as it was when it was recorded by the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra for the PS3 game.
The actual gameplay of Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is an MMO in which you level up your character as you complete the main story missions. Beyond choosing your starting class and customizing your character's looks, there are skill trees and many methods for upgrading equipment. The game uses the all too familiar red/green/blue weapon triangle of fire, water, and earth seen in many other gacha style JRPGs + it also has dark and light elemental types being effective against each other. It's definitely territory that we've seen countless times before, but personally I found that made it a bit easier to understand.
Familiars also return, essentially being Ni No Kuni's version of Pokémon. These monsters come in a variety of rarities ranging from 1* to 4*, and you'll need to use the gacha system to collect them. There are actually separate gachas for event familiars, regular familiars, character equipment, and cosmetic items. Overall I found the gacha system to be somewhat fair, although it's crazy that the summon tickets only count as half of a counter towards this game's pity system which rewards you with a guaranteed 4* after a certain number of pulls. So if I do 10 summons using the summoning tickets, the pity counter will only reduce by 5 instead of 10. There are also gems that can be used for gacha summons, but you're better off using them to upgrade the limited inventory space.
Aside from the main story, there are are daily/weekly missions to complete, challenge dungeons, and you can even join a "kingdom" of players in which you build up the kingdom together and protect it from invasions. Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds includes PVP in some parts of the world map, which can cause issues, but I was mostly able to avoid being killed by other players. There were a few instances of other kingdoms declaring war on mine and waiting for unsuspecting players to walk by, but I deployed the expert technique of just logging out until my kingdom members told me it was safe again.
While Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds offers a ton of ways to play, it does not give the greatest first impression. On top of that, the opening global release month was sort of a colossal mess.
Put your phone into auto mode
When I started playing, I was caught extremely off guard by the fact that Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds mostly plays itself. You click on the next quest that you want to complete and your character will automatically move towards it. This might not sound like a terrible problem, but if you see something interesting while your character is automatically running it can be incredibly difficult to wrestle control back from auto mode. At first I found this frustrating, but as I got deeper into the game and came to accept the automatic movement/fighting, I realized that I was simply trying to play the game wrong.
If you can surrender to letting the game automatically control your character, you'll realize that there's actually a ton of menu options to click through while moving towards your next destination. And you'll know where to click because, especially in the early game, there are red notification dots everywhere. My OCD will not let the red dots persist, so I've found myself constantly clearing out notifications for available upgrades, achievements, and missions that I have available. Still, the red dots never truly end.
If you can get past the auto mode and red dot nightmare, there's also the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds and the crypto currency that is integrated into the game. I was happy enough just forgetting what this game calls "territe" as I have absolutely no interest in crypto or NFTs, but unfortunately less than a month after launch it became impossible to ignore.
In mid-June 2022 the game's servers were suddenly overloaded with bots mining the crypto currency to the point where there were queues of 4,000+ people waiting to enter the game and the actual humans couldn't log in. To make matters worse, at the same time the in-game shop sold an item for $7.99 USD that would let you bypass the queue. Other than the fact that I'd never pay for such a terrible thing, there wasn't even a way to log in and buy it with the servers overrun by bots. AND THEN the game offered daily login rewards while nobody could log in. To say it was a cluster would be an understatement.
Netmarble has since addressed this and cracked down on the bots, but if they insist on shoving crypto currency into their games then this will be a recurring issue. Ni No Kuni is a beloved series, and it deserves better than to be destroyed by crypto currency.
The verdict - Soul dive in if you can swim past the crypto
I love Studio Ghibli and the previous Ni No Kuni games, so I was able to forgive the auto mode, the red dots, and the crypto currency nightmare. This game is beautiful to look at and has a huge open world with plenty of things to do. The core of Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is fantastic, but you're going to have to cross several hurdles in order to enjoy it. I'm just not sure whether the average person who doesn't know Ni No Kuni will be willing to cross these hurdles.
I'm looking forward to diving deeper into Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds, but if crypto currency ever raises its ugly head to make the game unplayable again, I fear Netmarble may damage this series to the point of no return.
Studio Ghibli charm in every corner
Main story is engaging, even if it veers from past games
You will need to accept auto mode, there is no way to turn it off
Crypto currency made it impossible to log in and endangers the entire game