Ni No Kuni proved to be quite the success when it was released on the PS3 in 2013 in the West, after initial launch in Japan some years before. The blend of JRPG strategy combat and the art style of Studio Ghibli, which provided the game’s cutscenes, meant that it was an incredibly unique, stunning and fantastical experience.
Thankfully, there’s a sequel inbound called Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. It’s not got quite the same look as its predecessor did, with the graphics having a slightly more realistic quality to them, but it’s still very much a playable Studio Ghibli movie at heart.
Set hundreds of years after the original game, Ni No Kuni 2 sees you play as Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a young king who’s been usurped from his throne and his kingdom in the midst of a war between the cat and mouse tribes of Ding Dong Dell.
There is a cast of brand new characters to explore, including Lofty, who’s very similar to Drippy, the lantern-nosed friend from the original game. Playing through two sections of the game as part of a Ni No Kuni 2 preview, it’s clear that it’s going to have the same charm and appeal as the original when it comes to the story, even if it was just a tantalisingly short snippet of what’s to come later this year.
The two main characters that you’ll meet aside from Evan are Roland and Tani. Roland is an older character who’s been transported to this land from the real world (fun fact, “ni no kuni” actually translates to “another world”). Along the journey he’s been transformed into a young man, but in the real world he’s much older, but still acts as a mentor for Evan. Tani is the orphan daughter of a pirate and is a bit of a tomboy. Bandai Namco suggests that she’s struggling with her identity, so there’s going to be some themes of identity in the game too.
In terms of combat, this game is much more of an action RPG than the original. We got to play through two small sections of the game, both very much focused on fighting. First, we were tasked with fighting a fire beast called Longfang, the Lord of Flame, who’s one of the local Kingmakers, but he’s gone on a rampage. If Evan and his team don’t stop him, he could ruin the entire city.
Not only is he capable of spewing flames at you, he’s also got big feet that can stomp you into burger patties. Just to make things a little more complicated, you’re instantly transported to a lava-surrounded platform before you can fight him, just to make you feel the pressure.
And it’s definitely not an easy battle to be thrown into as your first experience with Ni No Kuni 2. The combat has moved away from turn-based affairs to much more action-based, with a little strategy thrown in for good measure. You have all Evan’s attacks on the face buttons, and then if you hold down L2 when you’ve enough power charged, you can unleash another set of attacks and a handy health boost using the face buttons.
Dodging and rolling becomes crucial too, as you’ll need to get up close and personal to use most of Evan’s sword-based attacks, although he does have a fairly weak ranged magic attack.
But there’s an added combat perk that comes in the form of the gorgeous little creatures known as Higgledies. In the original game you caught familiars in the forms of funny little creatures you met around the world. It was these that you used to battle for you in fights, but the Higgledies are a little different.
In the battle against Longfang, the Higgledies will occasionally form groups that allow you to trigger their special power. There’s a flame resistant/attack huddle, another for boosting attack and another for defence, and in our demo we also had a group of the little guys dedicated to giving you more health.
To use the Higgledies’ power, you’ll need to move into their circle and hit X (PS4) in order to activate it, and then sometimes even collect the orb that they spawn. Initially it’s incredibly annoying, but the more you get into a rhythm of looking out for Higgledy clusters and utilising their powers, it became a lot easier to tackle Longfang.
The second section was more story-focused, seeing Evan facing the Trial of Courage in King’s Cradle. The Higgledies were back to aid in a fight against a foe called Thogg. He was a lot easier to tackle, even with some mouse archers because we’d gotten into the swing of using the Higgledies. It’ll be interesting to see how they evolve throughout the game and whether you’ll gain any other powers on your quest to regain Evan’s throne.
Is Ni No Kuni going to be good?
From what we’ve seen so far, Ni No Kuni 2 is going to be another beautiful, excellently put together Studio Ghibli adventure from the team at Level-5.
Ni No Kuni 2 is launching November 10, 2017 on PS4 and PC.