Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Ni No Kuni: a modern classic RPG.

I've claimed to love classic RPGs since playing Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, but admittedly haven't played many since then. The later works of Square Enix made them seem like they were destined (or doomed?) to evolve into some mish-mash of genres and periods, overcomplicating the original recipe for greatness. They were simple in their execution and gameplay, like a time-spanning song or dish.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch has some of that – in particular, you can move freely around a battlefield to your advantage or detriment – but that's about as daring as LEVEL-5 got. (In some ways, it's even simpler: you control only one character at a time in battle while the others fight or defend at will.)

I didn't play this one either. Instead, Twitch enabled me to watch Lexie play it, and it was as good to watch someone play their first RPG as to watch any friend play through large stretches of any game again. It had been a while.

The title translates to "Other World" (or literally, "World Of Two"), and – especially considering this was apparently anticipated as the "Studio Ghibli game" despite no direct involvement from Miyazaki himself – I'm glad the title went untranslated. An earlier version was released for Nintendo DS, which was expanded for modern consoles years later. The familiar trope of a fantasy world explored within the mind of a child facing life's hardships is handled with care, and while I'd probably leave the voices set to Japanese, I'm glad I didn't miss the voice behind the unabashedly Scottish and inimitable Drippy, a yellow, somewhat gasoline-container-shaped fairy lord with a lantern dangling from his nose, who is irreplaceable. (Honourable mention to the purple Shonky-Honker, a duck-like species with an orchestral brass horn for a beak, who you typically fight in the wild, but can also recruit as a companion. In terms of lovability, they surpass moogles and even rival Yoshis. I mean, come on.)

Also present: a full book. Books can be awkward and tedious in games, but I love their function as unmistakeably serious invitations to temporarily believe the world is real, and this one is availed with dozens of pages of text and illustrations worthy of print. Far exceeding a typical instruction manual, its collectible sections serve as a valuable reference for the game's creatures, treasures and lore. Its style is distinct and literary, you'll end up achieving more in-game the more you study it, and it even includes an entirely fictional script and cipher, for those willing to learn and translate. Truly impressive.

I won't elaborate further, except to reaffirm that I took this game as a sign that classic RPGs' elements are still recognized and embraced, to players' benefit. A sincere story as the vehicle for simple gameplay that amounts to an adventure.