Ni No Kuni 2 First Impressions: All Grown Up
From the very first moment of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, you know you're in for a very different ride than that found in the game's progenitor. Gone are the 1950's aesthetics and purity of the first game.
Almost immediately, players are thrust into the familiar Ding Dong Dell caught in the middle of a power struggle. Betrayal, murder, and a fight for life are crammed into the first half hour of the game, a far cry from the tragic but much less extreme opening of the first game. It signals to returning players that the Ni No Kuni they know and love is all grown up, and will undoubtedly tackle more mature themes this time around.
That's not to say that the game is all dark. In fact, the opposite is true: It's full of joy and color, a beautiful overworld, playing host to vibrant characters with the charm-factor dialed up to 11. The higgledies, for instance, are little elemental … things that help out in battle and run around looking adorable.
These creatures add a layer of depth on top of a new battle system that's already incredibly complex. You control one character at a time, with a heavy emphasis on action: Use light and heavy strikes to attack, guard and roll out of the way, and activate special skills with various effects depending on certain conditions.
In an interesting twist to the typical action-RPG battle system, Roland and his companions use a special armband which allows characters to switch between three melee weapons and one ranged. The system will feel surely familiar to Final Fantasy XV players, and it provides a broader range of play and some strategic weapon use.
Characters have limits on the types of weapons they can equip, but every character can equip all types of armor and accessories. Weapons have a charge meter which fills over time, and switching between them (either manually or automatically) will ensure you always hit as hard as you need to.
These elements are introduced in quick succession and feel like a lot to keep in mind, though we're sure that through repetition, they'll become second nature. Locking onto an enemy felt limiting, and Roland still attacked whatever was closest, making some battles more hectic than they should have been.
Still, we loved the seamless battles, which take place right in the space you're exploring without cutting to a battle screen (though the overworld map still transitions to fights like more traditional RPGs).
The game feels dynamic whether you're running around fighting baddies or just exploring. We only hope, though, that the surprising amount of sneaking around you do in the beginning of the game is not an indicator of future stealth missions -- this was undeniably the weakest aspect of the game that we've seen so far.
The world of Ni No Kuni has changed quite a bit, both in gameplay and story. And yet despite all the changes and new faces, the game still feels distinctly familiar. Both the storybook feeling and childlike wonder of the first game still permeate through the turmoil. Every character is fleshed out and real, and the two protagonists we've met thus far are a perfect match for each other.
Whereas the first game in the series was built around a very internal struggle, Ni No Kuni II is a much more external conflict, with entire kingdoms and nations at stake. Evan and Roland, along with other friends they will meet along the way, are on a journey to create a world where everyone can live happily ever after. Still, the potential for inner growth and allusions to real-world conflict are what make this game so intriguing: What are the qualities of a good leader? Can you ever truly have a state where every citizen is happy?
We've only barely scratched the surface of the game with our first impressions: There's an entire world to traverse and many more game mechanics to uncover (like crafting, cooking, kingdom-building, and more). But from the brief look we've taken at the game so far, it's clear that Ni No Kuni II will be an adventure of vast proportions -- and we can't wait to see what it has in store.