While the general public remains fairly skeptical of blockchain gaming, there are a few companies that have jumped head-first into that brand-new world. These companies include those created specifically for the world of Web3, but also a few traditional video game publishers who hope to use the strength of their established IP to propagate the benefits of the blockchain to the masses.
One of those publishers is Level-5, the studio behind a number of iconic JRPGs including Dark Cloud, Yokai Watch, and Ni No Kuni. That last property is one of the company’s latest attempts at blockchain gaming, and, while it definitely has its faults, it has a lot going for it. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t in this review of Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds.
What is Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds?
Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is a brand-new free-to-play entry in the renowned Ni No Kuni franchise that boasts blockchain functionality and play-to-earn mechanics that benefit a robust player-focused market. It is developed by Netmarble and features the kind of real-time, action-oriented gameplay you might expect from a JRPG, lush visuals created in Unreal Engine 4, and original music composed by Joe Hisaishi, a frequent collaborator of Studio Ghibli.
Combined, these aspects would create a fine traditional video game. However, the injection of blockchain functionality makes it much more, and it makes the future of traditional gaming and play-to-earn much more evident.
Art in Motion
The Ni No Kuni games have come to be known for their Studio Ghibli-Esque presentation, and that tradition continues for Cross Worlds. In fact, this might be the best Ni No Kuni has ever looked. As previously mentioned, the game is built in Unreal Engine 4, which is used by many games to create realistic worlds. In Cross Worlds, Unreal Engine 4 is used instead to bring the hand-drawn world of Ni No Kuni to life.
Every frame is a masterpiece. Colors pop, 3D character models look like they could be from the highest-quality 2D animated film, and every location you visit is just as gorgeous as the last. You expect this when you purchase and boot up a Ni No Kuni game, but Cross Worlds is free-to-play on every platform it is available. Even before you begin to evaluate the play-to-earn aspects, the value is already there.
Speaking of the platforms Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is available on, there are three: iOS, Android, and PC. Now, you might have noticed that the majority of those platforms are mobile operating systems, and that there are no consoles in sight at the moment. Unfortunately, this is one of the game’s faults.
Don’t get me wrong, Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is a ton of fun to play wherever you can get it, but it is clear where the game’s development was prioritized. This review covers the PC version of the game, which appears to be a barebones port of the mobile versions.
Movement is tied to WASD as with most PC games, but attacks and abilities are bound to conspicuously smartphone-style buttons on the bottom right of the screen, camera movement requires you to click your mouse and drag it around to change the camera, and even all of the tips and UI information repeatedly says “tap” with animated finger icons hovering over specific elements.
If you’re playing the game on iOS or Android, this will never be an inconvenience, but being faced with smartphone UI on a game that runs beautifully and scales fantastically on a large-scale, high-quality PC monitor is pretty upsetting.
Hack and Slash
If you can forgive the game for its apparent laziness on PC, there is definitely a fun game to be played here. There are five classes to pick from, each with its own features and abilities, and you can even customize the character you select to a high degree. I spent some time with both the Swordsman and the Engineer, and while how you play is largely the same, their different attack styles and abilities made each experience unique and fun.
The mobile-first development begins to rear its head occasionally if you’re in heavy combat, as the camera becomes difficult to control when you’re using the mouse to click your attack and special abilities. I found myself needing to run away in order to adjust my camera and make sure there were no enemies behind me.
But, all of the attacks and specials feel powerful, and wiping out groups of enemies with AoE attacks felt great for both characters. Continued battles lead to your characters leveling up and becoming even stronger, a standby JRPG mechanic that feels just as good here as it ever has.
Bring on the Blockchain
Now, for what makes Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds very special: the blockchain integration. The game is built on developer Netmarble’s own MARBLEX blockchain ecosystem, and features two tokens: Territe Token (NKT) and Asterite Token (NKA).
Curiously, players don’t directly earn either of these tokens through gameplay. Instead, they will earn in-game currencies of Territe and Asterite, and be able to exchange those in-game currencies for their associated tokens. They can then sell or trade those tokens on the open market for real money. It’s kind of a curious new way of doing play-to-earn, but we will need to wait and see how effective it is long term.
The developer’s roadmap includes upcoming features like staking for your tokens and NFTs, along with plenty of regular content updates. It will be interesting to see how Ni No Kuni: Cross Roads grows over time.
Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds is a fascinating new entrant to the world of blockchain gaming, and one that will continue to grow and evolve over time. In its current form, it is adventurous, but a little rudimentary. No PC gamer wants to feel like they are playing a blown-up smartphone game. But, if you’re playing the game on a smartphone, this might be one of the best examples of what to expect for the future of blockchain gaming.