Ni No Kuni II is an evolution of traditional JRPGs-Reviews
The original Ni No Kuni had a fairytale origin to match its fairytale premise. Level-5, one of the most respected Japanese developers out there, joined forces with legendary animation company, Studio Ghibli, to craft an original game that looked and felt like a living, breathing anime. Ni No Kuni II is mostly more of the same, with a few key differences.
First and foremost the entire Pokemon-like familiar system from the first game is entirely gone. You can no longer catch creatures and have them fight alongside you at all. Plus, the turn-based combat system from the first game is also entirely gone. Instead, now everything is in real-time with more streamlining and you can manage an entire kingdom with some serious Suikoden undertones.
A Magical World
Ni no Kuni™ II_ Revenant Kingdom_20180310214123.jpg
In Ni No Kuni II, players take on the role of Evan. At the start of the game he is the new king of Ding Dong Dell after his father recently passed away unexpectedly from an illness. Soon, you find out that it was no accident as the former king’s second in command has staged a coup to take over the kingdom and replace Evan on the throne. Roland, an older man, is somehow transported to Evan’s world from a realm that resembles our real world via an unexplainable phenomenon. It’s up to you to take control of Evan, Roland, and the rest of the characters you meet along the way to found a new kingdom and bring peace and happiness to the entire realm.
The opening hook in Ni No Kuni II is strong and does a great job of selling you on the premise — especially with the interesting “fish out of water” dynamic regarding Roland — and major plot points start kicking off very early on in the adventure. Everything stays true to the central theme and you really start to feel like a king building a new kingdom instead of just going through the paces.
Ni no Kuni™ II_ Revenant Kingdom_20180310232222.jpg
One of the ways Ni No Kuni II sells this premise so well is in how you actually manage everything. At around the seven or eight hour mark you’ll finally unlock the kingdom management features and this enables you to build new structures inside your kingdom and assign citizens to different tasks.
While this facet of the game is surprisingly deep, it adds very little. Certain points in the story require you to make advancements here and there or build certain buildings, but for the most part you don’t actually need to worry about kingdom management at all. And the same goes for the Overworld army battles. Since these elements are so inconsequential to the rest of the game as a whole (generally speaking) it’s nice that they can be mostly ignored, but it ends up making that part of the game feel like a bit of a chore at times. Narratively it plays well with the themes and settings, but overall I would have preferred this stuff was purely relegated to background cutscene development. If I could pick, I’d ask for the familiar system once again instead in a heartbeat.
Trading Familiars For Fluidity
Ni no Kuni™ II_ Revenant Kingdom_20180317194801.jpg
Instead of familiars Ni No Kuni II has what are called Higgledies. They’re a semi-collectable creature once again, but there are far fewer of them and the abilities they grant your party are mostly passive. In fact, other than the handful you get near the start, most of the others are all optionally found at hidden bargaining stones around the world.
Higgledies come in a few shapes, sizes, and colors. In the Party menu you can choose which four types to bring with you into battle and periodically a blue circle will appear that you can activate to call upon that Higgledy’s ability. For example, some might create a healing ring or others might launch a big attack at an enemy, which is useful for boss fights. Outside of combat they help Evan and his team traverse the world, but that’s about it. Nothing they bring to the game is made better or more useful than if a party member had just done the same thing. Instead of using Higgledies, the developers could have let you activate partner abilities near party members instead of when near the little critters.
Thankfully the rest of the combat system is delightful. The sluggish, often inaccurate, and always unexciting combat from the first game is totally gone in favor of a fully real-time action combat system. On PS4 the square button did light melee attacks with triangle handling heavy attacks, while R1 launched basic ranged projectiles. Holding R2 brought up a list of my four special abilities, like massive elemental attacks or spells. Using L2 I can swap between three different melee weapons so I’m always using the one that’s most fully-charged and ready to unleash its big attack bonus.
Ni no Kuni™ II_ Revenant Kingdom_20180310231058.jpg
Combined together it feels incredibly fast and fluid. You can swap between party members at will, which is nice to take advantage of particular strengths or avoid weaknesses. I found myself playing mostly as Evan so I could pick and choose when to use his magic and when to save it up.
One feature from Ni No Kuni II I wish more RPGs would replicate is how your in-game mana is earned. Instead of only regenerating mana when you level up, rest, or use an item, you can also earn it back by landing melee attacks. That creates a really engaging feeling in combat in which I rush in to land a flurry of blows when a boss is vulnerable or enemies are weakened, then back off to unload my spells from a distance. The great part about this is that it incentivizes actually using the full complement of abilities at your disposal instead of just stockpiling mana for the big fights.
While I do really wish they’d kept the familiar system in some form, the fluidity of real-time combat feels like a fair trade off if they weren’t able to incorporate both. The bright, beautiful visuals really come to life on the battlefield.
Pushing The Genre Forward
Ni no Kuni™ II_ Revenant Kingdom_20180310184128.jpg
And since combat is entirely real-time, the way you engage enemies is a bit different this time too. When you’re exploring on the overworld map Evan and his allies are tiny little chibi-style avatars running around, but upon colliding with an enemy you’re transported to the battlefield. This is where Ni No Kuni II feels the most like the Tales Of or Star Ocean game franchises.
However, if you’re down inside of a region already, such as in a dungeon or exploring a forest, then your avatar is already full-size. This means you fight enemies directly in the environment just as you found them without any loading screen at all. It feels kind of like Chrono Trigger, but it’s not turn-based and doesn’t need to even pause to load the fight here.
The way you seamlessly move in and out of battle that way is a breath of fresh air and honestly made me dread ever seeing the overworld map because I knew it meant frequent loading screens and just wasting time. In some ways Ni No Kuni II feels like a game that’s struggling to find its identity as it clings to archaic designs from yesteryear (restricted save points, a chibi-style overworld, fetch quests, and level grinding) while also innovating in clear ways (fluid real-time combat, seamless exploration to combat transitions, liberal fast traveling, and a creative kingdom management system.)