Even with my love of Japanese role playing games I have to admit I did not like Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. I was drawn into the games world and art due to its relationship with Studio Ghibli, enjoyed the story and loved the music, but I found the combat slow and uninteresting the majority of the time to the point where I wanted to drop the game.
While I did finish the game it felt like a chore and since then I have never touched it again. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the next installment, and it’s coming to PlayStation 4 and PC. While I did reserve myself quite a bit when I started my playthrough, all my past fears have been washed away. For the first 10 hours of my gameplay I cannot help but love what I’ve seen.
Considering the first games rough start I wondered if a new one would be released and if it could be improved on. Thankfully, it seems that Level-5 were up to the task and have the brand reinvent itself and come out with something refreshing. From the music, gameplay, and visuals, nothing seems to just fit, rather they work cohesively and give me a lot of excitement to play it more.
Staying with to the traditional Studio Ghibli look aids in amplifying the games personality. The vibrant use of color is appealing to the eye. While characters might look overly simplistic to people unfamiliar with the style, the cell shaded graphics are a visual treat and are accompanied with very smooth animations for both allies and enemies.
Terrain and large enemy textures upon close inspection have a painted look and mesh well with the character models. I have also been happy to find that even through this release I have not experienced any type of graphical issues such as pop in or missing on screen elements, or even if I have they have not been noticeable.
The story telling this far as been a lighthearted treat. I appreciate that the game has not tried throw at me overly hamfisted plot points in order to drive the narrative and have me progress as with many modern titles.
Instead, as the original did, it takes a wonderful fairy tale approach to wrap you into its world. The pacing of the story is also done really well and through its use of its characters and the voice acting accompanying them, it does a good job to keep you interested without ever taking itself too seriously.
With its light approach, some of the darker storytelling elements have been hit or miss with any real emotional drive.
Thankfully, those elements have never felt off putting or disruptive to the game and are still told very well and make sense to have for the narrative. A gripe that I do have however is that while the voice acting in the game is great and fits the games style, its not fully voiced. There has been a few noticeable moments where I wish I could hear the characters talking instead of reading text.
The music of the game is a treat. Where most recent titles being released try to take a route of incorporating modern elements into its soundtrack, Ni no Kuni II avoids this completely. I have not had a moment where the background music felt out of place, and so far the soundtrack has done an amazing job enhancing the game.
Joe Hisaishi has done a great job creating the glue that ties both the gameplay elements with the visual style. I’ve loved his musical composition thus far and look forward to what else is in store as I progress. I have to admit I did not have a stand out track to the game this far, however I still enjoy it greatly and will look forward to get the official soundtrack if it’s released.
Interestingly, Ni no Kuni II has now departed from semi turn based combat in favor of real time combat. The execution of the combat is one of my favorite parts of the game. The speed of which they play through is perfect and makes the game feels seamless between adventuring and fighting.
Not once yet have I felt interrupted during my play with needless fights and find myself engaging more of them even though it brings me to a point of over leveling at the part of the game i’m in. Still, even at the point i am in I have not found any part of the game difficult or challenging even at points when I was under leveled.
Ni no Kuni II brings a lot of gameplay to the table. On top of its cinematic story and adventuring I have been able to build up my own kingdom and take part in simple yet interesting skirmish army battles. So far, often I find myself avoiding main parts and taking on side quests for rewards. Not out of necessity, but for fun.
To go more in detail about the added gameplay elements of the game, Kingdom Building has been a hit or miss affair. While the game does have story and elements based around it, it’s not a very involved portion of the game as I like it to be. Once I got to the point where I could build my kingdom, it starts to feel like a cellphone game experience.
I could select a plot of land and build on it a predetermined building and do research with it. Research requires NPC’s with a score and some time specific skills or objectives in order to start. The required NPC can be acquired during story as well as side quests to the main game. Weapon, skills, armor, and other upgrades are unlocked through this feature and greatly helps through the rest of the game.
Disappointingly for myself, research as well as a separate currency are built up passively as you play the game or even if you have the game running while you are not playing it. It is disappointing for myself as I am a player who likes to have as much completed as I can until I go to the next portion of the game and hope more happens with it down the line.
Skirmishes on the other hand are a quick and fun mini-game most of the time. On the world map you have units of soldiers surrounding your main character and you rotate them with a push of a button. Each unit is strong or weak to another type of unit in an expanded on rock-paper-scissors style of real time gameplay.
Skills and abilities can be used over time and units can be replaced depending on your military might. Completion of the events unlock bonus rewards and items to help you out with your kingdom.
While the battles do get harder as the game progresses, through the Kingdom Building parts of the game you can unlock elements like more skills and abilities to help you. While its not as in depth as I like it to be, I find myself completing as many as I can. It’s not very exciting but it is a quick change of pace and can be fun regardless.
If you loved, hated, or didn’t play the first game, Ni no Kuni II is worth taking a look at. From what I have experienced this far I am enjoying the game and am fully invested to find out what happens as I progress.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is set to launch across PC (via Steam) and PlayStation 4 on March 23rd in North America and Europe. Expect our review for the game a few days prior to its release.