I’m about 12 or so hours into Ni No Kuni, and have just gotten both alchemy and my final companion. The game borrows from a lot of places (Pokemon), and I have to say there are some things about it that really bother me (awkwardly punishing combat), but the game’s ‘Wizard’s Companion’ is just about the coolest thing ever.

For those who haven’t played, the Wizard’s Companion is a thick book given to your character, Oliver, when he first begins his journey to sage-dom. Apparently, a special edition of Ni No Kuni was at one point available which offered a physical copy of the tome, but for those of us with the regular version it’s perusable through the main menu. It is literally hundreds of pages long, and can be virtually flipped-through page by beautiful page (although a table of contents also allows jumping around quite a bit). It contains sections on magic, alchemy, familiars, and just about everything else in the game, and is generally a mixture of world lore, gameplay tutorial, secrets/hints, and even key gameplay information.

One of the things that blows me away the most about it is the way it interacts with alchemy. In Ni No Kuni, alchemy recipes that are not learned may be used regardless, so long as the player is able to put together precisely the correct formula. And the Wizard’s Companion contains a large section with tons of recipes which Oliver apparently hasn’t put the time in to learn. So here’s the great part: the game doesn’t just give Oliver access to these recipes, just because he has the book. The player has to be Oliver, has to open their book, flip through the pages, compare what’s available with what they have in their inventory, memorize the formula, and attempt to combine the ingredients in the cauldron.

The result is that the act of reading the book and flipping through the pages becomes important gameplay, and the player actually gets to take part in learning to be a wizard. This is true in other areas of the game as well. For instance, by finding a familiar’s genus in the Companion, Oliver (/the player) can find out what that familiar’s favorite food is, which is a mechanically important bit of trivia—feeding a familiar their favorite food has real benefits. The familiar pages also list what kinds of materials different familiars drop, which can be very useful after having read in the alchemy section about a specific weapon you’d like to make.

Even better, mixed in among all of the important/exciting information are actual short stories, written in the world. And little lore-insets, just mingled right in there. And full-page illustrations of historical events, familiars, weapons, famous characters, etc. And awesome secret messages written in the Nazcaan alphabet, a decoder-ring style language with a reference sheet at the back of the book. This thing is awesome.

Feb 21, 2013