There’re some experiences that people come to expect when they play the sequel of a game: Same or familiar characters, similar but upgraded combat styles, basically the same bare bones as the original with a lot more meat thrown on for added flavor. The developers of Ni No Kuni 2 looked at these popular trends in gaming and said … Nah.
If you played the original Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, you will be able to recognize the whimsical style of this new game, but beware: these are the only elements that have come from the past game into this sequel. Everything else is a complete break from the original story and style of the original, everything from the combat, to the characters, even to a new RTS (Real Time Strategy) element of the game. Even with all the changes this new entry in the series has to offer, you can still feel the same love and effort placed into every element of the game that was placed into the original. On a happy note: there is no requirement to play the original game in order to enjoy this one. Other than a few nods to the first game, everything else is a stand alone.
Story (Minor Spoilers)
The story of Ni No Kuni revolves around two primary protagonists, Roland and Evan. Roland, like Oliver from the original Ni No Kuni, is a human from earth who was transported to the magical world (never given a name). Unlike Oliver, Roland is a president of a nation (not defined which country, possibly America). Upon reaching the new world Roland meets Evan, the Cat-like prince of the city of Ding Dong Dell, a land dominated by Cat-like & Rat-like people. Roland meets Evan in the midst of a coup. The Rat-like people, commanded by the Chief Counselor of the former king, are leading an uprising against the current monarchy after the Evans father had been killed by their own hands. After escaping from the castle, and losing friends along the way, Evan vows to make a new kingdom, one without war, violence or fear, and so Roland and Evan set off to make a new kingdom.
What drew me into the story was how it started hitting the fan right from the get go. The story got dark, fast. Immediately, you are pulled into the middle of this power struggle for the throne, and get your emotions played with as you see people sacrificing themselves for the sake of the young prince who doesn’t understand what truly is going on, and isn’t ready for the role that has been placed upon him. I also appreciated that, unlike in the 1st game, the character that you start off as, Roland, is actually a mature adult, who is able to make decisions and count the cost of actions in the long run. He is like the voice in the back of your head when you’re playing a game that when an overly optimistic character says “Maybe we can just talk to them and everything will be alright” that actually interrupts them and says “yeah… no, that isn’t going to work.” It’s a nice breath of fresh air.
As you progress through the game you get see this relationship between Roland and Evan grow as you start to actually develop the kingdom and meet more main characters along the way. Roland respects Evan’s sovereignty as a king, allowing Evan to make all the decisions even though Roland has shown he could be running the nation by himself. Roland even forces Evan at times to make decisions that Evan doesn’t believe he should have to make in order for Evan to mature as a leader.
Gameplay (Minor Spoilers)
The developers behind Ni No Kuni 2 did a complete reworked of the original combat system from the first game. They went from a classical RPG style (select a move, wait a certain amount of time, select your next move) to a free flowing Action RPG style, where you are able to aggressively and freely fight your enemies with a flurry of sword, spear, axe, magic, and firearm attacks. This new style of gameplay is what truly sets it apart from the original and allows the players who are not fans of the slower, rugged pace of an RPG to fully enjoy the world created by the developers, and appeal to a wider audience
An interesting piece of equipment that you are provided early in the game is the “Arms Band” which allows your character to switch weapons seamlessly in battle (also automatically refilling your ranged weapons, which is helpful since Roland has brought a handgun from earth but didn’t think to carry an extra clip or two on his person). With the help of this new tool you can swap between 3 different weapons, allowing you to counter weakness of different enemies you face along the way. Along with swapping your weapons, the Arms Band provides your weapons with a “Zing gauge” (No I’m not making this up I swear) that once it reaches one hundred percent allows the player to unleash a ridiculously powerful attack against your enemy, and since you have 3 weapons, you can potentially activate 3 powerful attacks back-to-back.
Another new addition to the game is a RTS gameplay element that threw me for a loop when it first introduced it to me. As Evan is developing his kingdom and trying to set up himself in the world, large forces of enemies will come against him, and it’s up to him to command his large armies of soldiers with different abilities in combat. If this concept terrifies any new comers to the genre don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it might sound. Evan has the ability to command a total of 4 armies that surround his character, each army having a different style of combat. One may be Bows, another swords, another hammers, and the last being firearms, this is customizable as you get more commanders for your army. Each army that surrounds Evan can be manipulated so that they are the primary army to engage the enemy at certain junctures. Each army has different strengths and weaknesses that need to be analyzed when fighting more difficult enemies, and gain experience the more they fight in battle.
The last major gameplay element added to this entry in the Ni No Kuni universe is the addition of a kingdom management system. This system becomes first available as Evan establishes his kingdom and people start moving in and taking residency. From the throne room Evan is able to assign people to different shops and resource areas around the castle depending on their skills, where they are able to offer upgrades and equipment for different members of Evan and Roland’s entourage. These upgrades need both time and money, and not the currency you find by killing large groups of re-spawning enemies around the world. You have to use a new kind of currency, Kingsguilders, which can only be obtained over real time as your shops bring in money. The other thing you are required to wait for is the actual upgrades. Depending on the size of the upgrade, it can take anywhere from 1 real world minute, to 50 minutes or more.
I’ll be honest, once I first saw the implementation of real time elements into the game I was a little frustrated because that’s usually the time that game developers will throw in the obligatory pay wall for expedited updates. Firstly, those don’t exist, there’s no way to buy your way to more Kingsguilders or faster upgrades, and the game fixes the problem by encouraging you to engage in side quests. For a majority of the side quests you complete, a new citizen joins your kingdom, bringing their mastery in a certain field or area of study.
While this is a great system, and cleverly implemented, it does frustrate me a little. Quick small spoiler/warning for the end game, you will have to have your kingdom upgraded to it’s third tier before you can proceed with the final mission, and to upgrade your Kingdom you have to have a certain number of citizens and buildings constructed. This requirement did frustrate me due to it interrupting the pace of the gameplay. One of the great things about side quests is that they can be finished on the side, and while they are great for helping level up your characters and items, they shouldn’t be required for the completion of the game. That might not be as big of a deal for you if continual kingdom management is your forte, but as someone with limited time on their hands like myself, that did make for a little frustrating gameplay.
A friendly reminder: even though this is a pretty world with whimsical characters and beautiful animation, this is still an a fully fleshed out RPG. As you get into later levels of the game you are going to need to have been doing a lot of grinding in areas to make sure that your characters are prepared for the challenges that await them. There were times that I had to leave and then later come back to a dungeon because I hadn’t spent enough time fighting enemies in the wild to appropriately level up. Thankfully there’s plenty of side quests that need you to fight enemies and bosses that this process doesn’t seem too much like a menial task.
This is a beautiful game, and it can be observed by the love and dedication that was placed into it by the creators over at Level 5. The Visuals make you want to smile every time that you see them and the complex story and characters keeps making you want to come back for more. The game was a bit on the longer side but there’s still a lot to do and see in the game so it’s worth a majority of the time that you spend on it. Minus my one frustration of being required to be forced to side quest for the completion of the game, this is truly one of my RPG gem of 2018.
Story – 8/10: Great story format and well rounded characters. This game was not afraid to hit you in the sensitive areas when it comes to gripping narrative and has left me wanting more games like it in the future.
Gameplay – 7/10: Well balanced gameplay with a little to much focus on the Kingdom management, With the new combat style and RTS elements added to the game it keeps the fun coming even during tedious times of farming for experience. And while I felt forced to complete the side quests to complete the game, I did not feel bored while doing them.
Sound – 8/10: A good score to set the mood of the world, with perfect timings of music to pinpoint the true ups and downs of the game.
Replay ability – 8/10: There’s a lot of events to do in this game, as well as plenty of extra dungeons and quests that can be explored throughout the world.
Investment (Does not affect final score) – 9/10: There’s a lot of time that you need to invest to complete this game. You will be looking at upwards of 30-plus hours of game time to be able to meet all the requirements to complete the game, and that’s if you remember to keep managing your kingdom once you get the opportunity to start. Your play sessions with this game don’t necessarily have to be long with their being plenty of opportunities to save provided. A good of your time will be fighting enemies and completing side quests towards the end of the game if you haven’t been doing it throughout your play through.
Final Score: 7.75
Ni No Kuni 2
Developed by Level 5
Rated T, Available on Windows & PlayStation 4