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Ni no Kuni - Worst. Demo. Ever.
I'm not a man who has played a metric ass-ton of demos, so I really can't make a statement about the demo for Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch in regards to all demos, anywhere, ever. However, I can say quite definitively that the demo for NnK is the worst demo I have ever played. That's not to say that I've never played a demo that's worse; Daikatana's demo might have been crappier, but Daikatana was universally recognized as a crappy game. But if NnK is as good as the reviews say it is, then it's not that the game itself is bad, it's that the demo is, itself, horrid. It is a textbook example of how not to sell your game.

The demo gives you two scenarios to pick from. The first gives you a story-book format "the game up till now" intro and then puts you into a forest. It doesn't give the game to you from the start, doesn't give you any neato cutscenes, and otherwise puts you into the middle of the game. Personally, with the game's Ghibli connection, I'd think you'd want to include some cutscenes and all of that jazz. But if they're going for just giving you a taste of gameplay, this was probably a good decision. I could see it going either way.

But the problems really start after that decision. You're dropped into a forest, and you are given no primer on how to play the game whatsoever. No buttons are explained. No menus are explained. I pressed all my various buttons and found a bunch of shit that made no sense to me, a bunch of menus I couldn't really do anything with, and some things that I was told I didn't have access to. I walked thirty feet into the forest, and then I was thrown into a boss fight.

A boss fight? Fucking seriously? You are introducing me to the game, and you do so by way of a boss fight? Right off the bat? No time to learn combat, no tutorial-style, low pressure situation? A boss fight?

I was given no instruction on how combat works, no instruction on how my pets - or whatever the fuck they are - work, no instruction on anything but the Defend command, which the game told me I should use at one point (and I did). As a consequence of having no idea what I was doing and being up against a boss, I died. The game stripped me of all my money and offered to throw me back at the beginning of the tutorial. How lovely. I tried again, using my character instead of my summoned whateverthefuck, and I died again. I tried again with my summon, and I died, again. At that point I gave up and quit the game, since there was no option to return to the title screen and try the other scenario.

So, to recap: the demo put me into the middle of the game, gave me no instructions on how to play it, and then threw me up against a boss immediately, who then killed me. Awesome.

Here are some of the things that (upon doing some research on the internet) I learned that the demo did not tell me:

That I can move my character. The combat system allows you to issue one of a variety of commands to your character, at which point it carries them out, pseudo-turn-based style. The characters move around without any input from you, and I've played plenty of JRPGs where I had no control over my character's position on the battlefield, so the fact that I can move my character is not a given. It also does not help that I actually tried moving my character, and he moved so slowly that I thought my input wasn't actually having an effect. Seriously, your creatures move as if through chest-deep mud. It does not look or feel good. It looks and feels shitty.

That I can control multiple characters at once. I guess I can do this? I still have no idea how this works, because the game never explained shit. I guess I can summon a guy, and then control both him and my main character? Do I actually summon guys? Are they always out, and I just pick which one I control off the bat? Or do I have to pick one or two per battle? I have no fucking clue. The game told me nothing whatsoever about my Pokemans. I have no idea how that fucking system works. Not the faintest.

A bunch of other shit. Honestly, I'm sure there's a ton of other shit they could have told me that would have let me win that battle. I don't even know what I don't know. Shit I could have done to prepare for the fight? When, how, and why to use special abilities? Weak spots on enemies? Positioning? Teamwork shit? I have no idea what I don't know, but I suspect it's a fucking lot.

So, after failing scenario one, I went to scenario two. Said scenario was kicked off by the game telling me I was inside a volcano that would explode in three minutes, at which point I laughed out loud. I don't know how to play the game, and my two choices are (A) being thrown immediately against a boss and (B) being thrown into a high-pressure, timed situation. Awesome! Awesome.

Luckily the time limit turned out to be largely unimportant. I tried to avoid many of the random encounters on the way, but it doesn't seem like you can actually avoid enemies, which really just makes the whole thing kind of frustrating. I was saddled with three or four summonable creatures, but they weren't explained to me, so I just picked one at random, smashed the attack button over and over, and won every encounter that way. To say combat was boring is an understatement. Roughly halfway through the maybe fifteen minute scenario, I was so underwhelmed by combat that I nearly turned the demo off. Random encounters (whether you can see them coming or not) are so ten years ago. So is press-A-till-you-win combat.

At the end of the scenario, I was given yet another boss fight - which I lost. It was during that combat that I was indirectly made aware that I could move. Sort of. The game told me that the boss had a weak spot on his tail, and that I should make sure I struck there, which I had no fucking idea how to do.

Upon doing some internet research, I found out that the demo supposedly makes instructions on how to play the game available in some buried menu during the second scenario. The instructions were one of those links that I tried to check out in the first demo, but was denied access to. Because, well, of course it makes sense to not allow players instructions on how to play the game in the first scenario of the demo and then to give them access to those instructions in the second! Of course.

At the end of my brief experience, I quite honestly felt rather personally affronted by the demo. I'm not sure what else they could have done wrong, really. It's almost as if they were compiling a demonstration of what not to do. I wondered for a long time if I were missing something, or downloaded the wrong demo for the wrong game, or was otherwise at fault somehow. I don't think that's the case, though; however good or bad Ni no Kuni is, the demo is, without question, as fucking terrible as demos get. It is so bad that I was ready to purchase the game that day based on the praise it has received, wanted to whet my appetite with the demo, and after less than an hour with the demo, I changed my mind and decided not to purchase the game.

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