My game clock reads “1:08:20” and my characters are waiting patiently outside of Auntie Martha’s hut, so let’s go over my initial thoughts. From its outset, Ni no Kuni II: The Revenant Kingdom reaches to outdo its predecessor. The first game presented us a beautifully crafted narrative; reminiscent of bedtime stories, childhood dreams of far off places, and the crippling and deeply human struggle of loss, especially as experienced from a child is going to be difficult to outdo. This sequel begins by giving us a small framework for the “Two Worlds” of the Ni no Kuni universe, which is the rough translation of the aptly titled “Ni no Kuni”. The President of a modern country in the real world is killed in a missile explosion, and once dead is transported off to the other World through a yet unexplained magical aura. If a missile detonating over a major modern city isn’t shocking enough in comparison from the prologue that the original Ni No Kuni gave us, then gunshots being fired at the sword-wielding giant mice of the other world certainly throws it over the cliff.
This may seem to set for a different tone, but once the presence of this new version of Ding Dong Dell is established, and I came across my first magic-wielding adversary, most of my discomforts were at ease. I like the character Roland, the deceased president. It’s an interesting and almost daring idea to make the character a modern countries leader from the real world. Though his sword-wielding capabilities raise a few questions, I assume this background in government is going to play a pivotal role in Evan’s journey of establishing himself as a King.
Now as for King Evan, I’m not so sure how I feel yet. He seems, thus far to be filling the role that Oliver filled so movingly in the original. Oliver was a curious child thrust into the magical arts and called to a greater destiny in a Harry Potter like fashion. He was projected forward by his struggles with losing his mother, while Evan is dealing with similar issues; he hasn’t been given much of a spotlight. Evan’s father, the King, has recently passed, which he soon finds out was actually murder and thus regicide staged in a coup. Some of the soft moments of loss and grief from the first game are stripped away in this intro, as panic and action drive the narrative foundations. Roland and Evan must now escape from Ding Dong Dell, Evan’s childhood home, and get away from the usurpers who will murder Evan, as they murdered his father. I will remind myself that I’m only one hour in, so there’s plenty of game left for Evan to develop, I am far from giving up hope on that front.
As for Combat, I am very much in favour of these changes and systems. The combat of the original had me go through phases. At first, I hated it. It seemed like some sort of odd marriage of Pokémon and Final Fantasy XII, that seemed all at once too simple and also too much of a bother to deal with its intricacies. I eventually came around on it and found myself quite addicted to it for the next ten hours or so of that game. But as quickly as my addiction to it came, it wore out its welcome, and I’m glad to see it gone. I love a good action RPG and combined with Level-5’s know-how on innovation, I’m glad to say that I’m having an incredible time with this. Simple in its approach, but complex in its systems is exactly what I want from a modern Action RPG and one I have rarely seen on the Japanese front. The issue I have with the first game is that I didn’t find the system’s fun to play, while here, the systems flow through the basics seamlessly and make you feel rewarded for success. Without a single Menu within combat, quick responsive controls, and tons of depth to dive into and manipulate, this is the new gold standard for a non-menu driven RPG. Basic sword combo’s, “Tales Series” like Artes, and magical projectiles keep battle moving at a steady pace and with plenty of exciting twists. I’m also aware that this is a Japanese game so I expect to be spoon-fed more systems over the next couple of hours once enough time has been allotted to wrap my mind around the ones I have. I’m also in love with the Higgledies, which are little Kodama creatures that run around during battle and manipulate the flow of skills and create special actions. I have just discovered them so I don’t know too much yet, but the tutorial battle for them has them turn into a canon to shoot an aerial monster out of the sky, so needless to say I’m down for more of this. I have heard that combat is a little on the easy side, so hopefully, Level-5 will send us a difficulty setting in an update soon.
Despite some of these tonal differences, I’m very excited and interested in seeing where this story goes, despite the disparity between missile explosions and the fairy tale aesthetic being difficult to appreciate. As a student of literature, I’m always up for a good fairy tale, and the journey of the banished king to establish a new kingdom seems a good one to me.
It probably goes without saying that the game is beautiful. The Studio Ghibli art style has remained intact, despite their departure from the project and Joe Hisaishi’s work has never sounded better. My one only real complaint with the game’s looks is the Overworld. In the original title, the Overworld was one of my favourite parts. I would spend an hour or two grinding a dungeon and think to myself, “I’ll head back to town and save and be done”, and once setting foot on that finely crafted landscape with Hasaishi’s magical music playing, I’d be stuck in it for another few hours. This one, I just recently saw for the first time in the last ten minutes before I began writing, and I must say my reaction was the opposite. After seeing the Overworld I wanted to turn it off and never play it again. They have replaced the character models in the Overworld with Chibi versions of themselves that are hideous to behold. I’m less upset with the landscape, but something is definitely off about it, and it may just be something about the first area or the disparity between the landscape and the characters. Everything looks too “real”. Similar in style to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but somehow it just doesn’t fit for me. It’s jarring to look at, like a pair of Funko Pop’s running around the planet from James Cameron’s Avatar. But then I heard that sweet, sweet Hisaishi overture and suppose I can make it through this, especially if I focus on the landscape and not the characters.
Overall I’m excited to see where this grand Level-5 Adventure takes me. I have refrained from reading reviews, as JRPG’s are something I look forward to whenever they appear, nowadays. I’m eagerly waiting for OctoPath Traveler, and praying we see a Western release of Dragon Quest XI this year (Written before release announcement. DQXI releases in the US on Sep. 4, 2018), and any news on Shin Megami Tensei V. But until then I’m up for wherever else Ni no Kuni II will take me.