When playing video games, it's easy to get caught up in the notion of utility. Is this ability useful to me, does this skill make my character more powerful, will it improve the ratio of my numbers to my opponents' numbers, robot, robot, numbers, beep, boop, etc.
And so it goes with Ni no Kuni, the wonderful new role-playing game from Studio Ghibli and Level-5. The game features a wealth of deep, satisfying systems, from the Pokémon-like monster collection to the complicated real-time combat.
You'll be able to power-up your protagonist Oliver and his party-members in a lot of ways, and you unlock power-ups by earning merit stamps. It works like this: As you complete sidequests, you'll get stamps, which go onto your merit card. If you get enough stamps, you'll fill up a merit card, and you can turn in complete merit cards for upgrades like "enemies will drop more health orbs in battle" or "you'll move faster across land." Given that Ni no Kuni can be right difficult at times, these power-ups are very valuable, indeed.
But my favourite upgrade so far is the only one that has no practical application: The jump.
The jump is actually the first power-up you can buy. It's very up-front about its uselessness, telling you, before you trade in a precious merit card for it: "Not very useful, but a whole lot of fun!"
That may be the most accurate power-up description I've ever seen. The jump is indeed not very useful — it doesn't turn Ni no Kuni into a platformer, and doesn't allow Oliver to leap to higher areas or access anything he couldn't before. But it IS a whole lot of fun, as advertised.
For a "useless" ability, a lot of work has gone into making the jump feel special. Like all the animations in the game, the jump looks lovely — Oliver throws one foot out in front and pushes off with his rear-leg; it's a real bound. Stairways are set so that Oliver can jump from the bottom to the top with precisely one press of the button. And the jump is available to you no matter what part of the game you're in: you can also jump in the lovely world-map and you and all of your familiars can jump in combat.
As purely cosmetic upgrades go, Ni no Kuni's jump is hard to beat. It's been lovingly worked into every part of the game, one of many seamless inclusions that serves to make the game and its world feel richer.
And yeah, OK, it would've been pretty cool if the jump let me get up to some new areas. But I'll take it.