All familiars are a part of a familiar family that consists of four variations. The base familiar metamorphoses into a second-stage form, which can then metamorphose into one of two different ultimate forms.
You choose which ultimate form you’d like it to metamorphose into; they’re typically similar but differ in elemental resistances, growth pattern, and their assortment of tricks.
The level at which a familiar can go through metamorphosis varies by familiar, but the first metamorphose can usually happen somewhere between levels 10 and 20.
When the second form reaches somewhere between level 28 and 35, it will be able to metamorphose into its ultimate form.
To metamorphose a familiar the first time, you need to give it a treat known as a drop that matches its sign. For example, a familiar with the sun sign (or double-sun sign) needs to be given a sundrop. For the second metamorphosis, you need a more rare jumbo sundrop.
Once you metamorphose a familiar, its new form begins back at level 1. While it will keep all of the bonus abilities it’s earned from eating treats, most of its strength will be lost.
However, the higher the level of the familiar you metamorphose, the stronger its next form will be.
The change isn’t hugely significant, but a familiar who enters its second form from a very high level will always be 10–20 points stronger than a familiar who metamorphoses at its earliest possible opportunity.
For the purposes of playing through the game, you should metamorphose your familiars as soon as you can, so you can get started building up their new forms early.
But if your goal is to absolutely max out the power of a familiar, you’ll want to do all your metamorphoses at high levels.
Since metamorphoses of your familiars resets them to level 1, it’s important not to metamorphose them all at once, lest you be left with a team of very low-level second-stage familiars that will require extensive amounts of grinding.
Stagger your metamorphosis so every character has at least one high-level familiar to hold down the fort while the newly changed familiars regain their strength.
There are more than 300 familiars in Ni no Kuni, but because of the time and expense required to level them up and boost their abilities with treats, most players will want to stick with a small pool of their favorites.
For the most part, the familiars in the game are well balanced; you can choose to play the ones you like best without having to worry that they’ll be dramatically outclassed by new familiars that become available later.
That said, not all familiars will be equally effective at fulfilling the roles your particular party needs. When you’re trying to decide if a new familiar is worthy of your starting lineup, there are a few things you should look at:
While versatile familiars are helpful in the early hours of the game, you’ll eventually want familiars who excel at clearly defined roles, such as front-line fighter, elemental trick-performer, and defense-focused tank.
These roles don’t require high scores in every ability, so look for familiars whose abilities are a good match with their apparent role. Elemental trick-performing familiars will need high magical attack scores and solid defense and magical defense scores, but abilities like attack, accuracy, and attack speed are almost completely irrelevant.
Conversely, front-line fighters benefit from high scores in pretty much everything except for magical attack, while defensive “tank” familiars will ideally have high defense, magical defense, and evasion scores, and useful elemental resistances (particularly to physical damage).
Be wary of familiars who have the Psyche Up! command in place of a defensive command like Defend! or Evade!
While using Psyche Up! and Go Wild! can be an effective way of maximizing your damage potential, these familiars have no way to defend themselves against the extremely damaging attacks of late-game bosses. In the latter half of the game, look for opportunities to replace Psyche Up! familiars with familiars who are capable of complying when giving an All-Out Defense! order.
Your familiar team should include performing who are capable of performing powerful tricks with the water, fire, and storm elemental types, so that you can exploit the elemental weaknesses of a wide variety of bosses and bounty hunt targets. (It’s nice to have access to light- and dark-type spells as well, but that’s much less essential.)
If you’re missing a good elemental trick familiar who specializes in any of those types, you should jump at the chance when a new recruit offers the potential to fill that hole in your lineup.
It’s also nice to have a variety of familiars (particularly front-line fighters) who are resistant to each of the elemental types.
But the best resistance of all is to physical damage; that’s a trait that’s usually only seen in automata and mortui familiars, and it makes them fantastic as “tanks” that can absorb the damage dealt by physical attackers.
Unless you’re determined to absolutely maximize the potential of your familiars by raising them to extremely high levels before you metamorphose them, you’ll find that the most effective familiars are the ones that are early risers in their first two forms and follow a normal growth pattern for their third and final form.
When all else is equal, ask your potential recruits, “What’s your sign?” The fast growth of planet and especially double-planet familiars makes them ideal, and familiars with the star (or better yet, double-star) sign are probably second best, due to their ability to trump the signs of most bounty hunt targets.
Moon is probably the weakest sign, since the confusion effect is rare, and those familiars will be the least effective against bounty hunt targets.