As a Welshman, Ni No Kuni stole my heart before the graphics even got a chance. Ni No Kuni 2 is set to do the same.
The original was a reminder of why people used to love JRPGs, a love letter to the very best the genre has ever had to offer. Fun, stand-out characters, great story, stunning visual design, solid mechanics. I was in love, and clearly 1.1 million other people were right there with me.
The figures meant a sequel had to happen at some point, but after spending some time with Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom at Namco HQ earlier this week, it’s definitely not in the way I expected.
Much like Ni No Kuni 1, Revenant Kingdom is full to the brim with gorgeously animated cartoon cut-scenes that make it seem like you’re watching a feature-length anime rather than a half-hearted scripted sequence. The Studio Ghibli influence is still clear for all to see, but the difference is that you’re in the heart of a magical world right from the very beginning rather than admiring white picket fences in Motorville.
The story is set hundreds of years after the events of Wrath of the White Witch, so if you’ve never dived into a Ni No Kuni game before then you won’t need to worry as this is a seperate adventure, though Ding Dong Dell does play a big part. As young king, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, you are not only trying to build and a shape a new kingdom in your image, but also venture out into the world and help your people with their problems, flanked by a group of loyal subjects and friends. This is where my demo picked up as I started on the outskirts of a town called Goldpaw.
Before I got there, though, I needed to walk through an expansive, living, breathing map where I fell prey to many random battles and encounters. It looks and feels similar to the world view in Ni No Kuni with the mini map in the top right and treasures to pick up along the way. Monsters also still run towards you with a large exclamation mark pointed over their heads, though everything has a much sharper and more polished design now.
You’ll also see their names and levels above an enemies head to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with at all times. Obviously their aggro range is higher the stronger they are in comparison to you, but you can get sneak attacks in if timed right. Just be careful as the enemy can do the same, and enemies are attracted to you like magnets. I had no less than fifteen battles in what was a fairly short walk. Fortunately, I was more than ok with this as the combat was pretty darned enjoyable.
Again, this feels faithful to Ni No Kuni 1 in that you start a battle, running around in circles fighting the enemy in front of you in real time. The difference now is the combat is a lot more dynamic, fast-paced, and there’s opportunities to pull off combinations and power moves. You still have spells which can be used in a pinch, as well as ranged wand attacks, but where Ni No Kuni was content to pay homage to old school JRPG titles, Revenant Kingdom takes more of a fresh, modernised approach with more pace and urgency about it.
For instance, rather than growing and building up a familiar which evolves as you do like in the first game, this time you have higgeldies which are tiny little creatures described as phenomena that adopt different elements, like fire, water, and earth. You can synch up with these during battles to perform extra special attacks like turning into a massive cannon, or giving you and your party members a heal. Their abilities also can be customised in the options menu and do feel like a real evolution over the previous system. Also, the transitions between battles for instance, feel more immediate as opposed to drawn out. It also makes the action feel less stunted, avoiding this feeling that you’re repeating the same attacks over and over.
Even the UI also looks much more slick and user friendly, making it easy to change out your equipment and see how different weapon types compare to others, while also showing you what your character looks like with their new gear.
Which brings me to the core of the game shown off in my demo in the city of Goldpaw. Here, I walked around and talked to people to learn more about a sordid plot centered around, of all things, gambling. Goldpaw will be found in Chapter Three of the game, and it really is a sight to behold with its futuristic bright coloured lights, coupled with an almost Roman-like architecture with stone archways and winding streets. It’s a fascinating mix, but one that’s immediately striking. I had to resist the urge several times to just look around and marvel, but I knew I was on the clock so pressed on.
The aim in this chapter is to find out why the taxes in the town have risen, and to do this you need to talk to the right people, visit locations discreetly to collect evidence, and pay a visit to a dungeon with a dark secret. This saw me take on various mobs of enemies at different stages, while casting spells on small mushrooms which then grow to be full sized and can be jumped on to reach higher areas. And, of course, at the end was a huge fire-breathing boss with earth-shaking stomps which took a few hits to bring down. It was a nice step up in challenge, but one I felt ready for and wholly satisfied by the end.
The story really gripped me and the outcome met an unexpected end, keeping me on the edge of my seat. Narratively, that’s not a position I’ve been in with a JRPG for a very long time. Even DunK, who was also at the event and isn’t a JRPG fan, was drawn in by what Ni No Kuni 2 has to offer.
Press events aren’t the easiest of places to get completely immersed in a game and forget what’s going on around you. They certainly don’t rival the comfort of your own home as there’s a lot of different distractions with other screens, players, and games. But I was glued to my monitor, fully sucked into Ni No Kuni 2, smirking to myself at the jokes, totally at ease with the mechanics, and completely engaged. I had three other games to get through and a train to catch, but I was still debating whether to put the controller down. After just one hour of play, I was absolutely spellbound.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is set to be one of the best JRPGs this generation and a far superior successor to Wrath of the White Witch than I dared dream. This is winning awards for a reason, so get excited and get that pre-order in, you definitely want to be in Ding Dong Dell on day one.