An Innovative and Worthy Sequel
After its surprise success back on Playstation 3, Ni No Kuni II follows up on the success of the first game, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch with a sequel that improves in almost every area over the first. Although the lack of Studio Ghibli’s animated cut scenes are a little disappointing and the supporting characters are surprisingly under-developed, Ni No Kuni II is a great game and innovates just enough to keep the charm of the original game intact whilst taking much-needed steps forward for the series.
Set 100 years after the first game, Ni No Kuni II begins with a brief cut scene showing the President of New York City in present day. Transported to another world following a guided missile blast destroying New York, Roland awakens inside the chambers of Ding Dong Dell’s rightful boy King, Evan. It’s here he learns that his Father’s trusted advisor Mousinger, has usurped the throne and taken the Kingdom for his own. Barely escaping unscathed, Evan and Roland set out to build a new Kingdom to one day rival that of Ding Dong Dell and take back the crown that rightfully belongs to Evan. Midway through the 30 hour story, the goal evolves to include the vastly different geographic areas and Kingdoms across the globe before a big, cataclysmic fight to decide the fate of the world.
The world looks great to navigate and graphically the game is excellent
The biggest change to the core gameplay mechanics lie in the battle system. Unlike the first game that saw you take to the battlefield in a Pokemon-esque team of trained Familiars (monsters), Ni No Kuni II defiantly steers away from this formula to surprisingly good effect. The real time battle system is refined this time around; no longer do you have to rely on charged commands and instead you control one of 3 characters from your party instead. Attacks are broken up into simple commands – the Square button slashes with a quick jab, Triangle a more powerful attack and R1 fires a ranged weapon or magic depending on who you’re controlling. Coupled with a generous roll by tapping L1 and a direction and holding L1 for blocking, there’s a good amount of variation and in many ways, Ni No Kuni II feels like a more fluid version of Kingdom Heart’s battle system. The characters all play differently too with speed, precision and magical ability different for each of the part members. Late on new characters join you in battle that can replace the core 3 characters but these largely feel like slightly more powerful variations of the other characters you have at your disposal. What stops them all handling the same is in the effective use of skill moves that make all the difference.
Kingdom building is introduced this time around which plays like a simplistic city builder
Ni No Kuni II is much more heavily focused on loot this time around rather than hard grinding to level your team of Familiars. With hundreds of weapons, armour, guns and wands to choose from to equip to your characters, there’s a good amount of variety here that can help swing battles in your favour. Although levelling is still an essential part of the game, it also negates the need to really go to an armourer or buy any weapons in the game. Furthermore, we were completing missions with a recommended level of 59 at level 40 because of the weapons we collected. During our 33 hours spent completing the main campaign and a variety of side quests, we didn’t buy a single weapon or piece of armour from the shops and the only time we bought potions to help in battle was late on in the second to last chapter in the game. This was partly thanks to the generous loot system but also the lack of challenge inherent in vast periods of the game.
On top of the simplistic battling is the added inclusion of cute monsters called Higgledys. These strange, tiny creatures can be added to your party before battle and have an array of abilities to help you out during tough fights. Whether it be healing, buffing you with temporary stat improvements or dealing damage to enemies, Higgledys can sometimes make all the difference, especially late on when the fighting genuinely become a little more challenging. Higgledys can also be levelled up to increase potency of any special abilities but the need to do this is negated for most of the game thanks to the generous loot-driven system.
On top of fighting, levelling up and advancing the story, Ni No Kuni II boasts an array of other activities that help to break any monotony from settling in and pad out the time spent playing. There’s a city builder element in place which focuses on building and improving your Kingdom, skirmishes that see you take a small 4-piece army into a battlefield emulating real time strategy games and hundreds of side quests and errands to complete that grant experience points or recruit that individual to become a resident in your Kingdom. Both of these types of mission rely heavily on fetch quests or collecting a certain number of a specific item with little in the way of innovation. In a time where role playing games are at least trying to emulate Witcher 3’s success in more innovative and interesting side content, Ni No Kuni II revels in its simplistic side quest structure and rarely deviates from this model.
The battle system is much improved this time
There’s no denying that there’s an awful lot of content here and though much of the game is relatively easy to complete, late on the difficulty increases exponentially and makes battling far more strategic and tough. As a personal note it would have been nice to have a “hard mode” option at the start of the game to make battling a real challenge as when it does get tough late on, battling is exciting and wrought with tension as you try and tackle some of the harder foes the game throws at you. It’s here too that that some really nicely worked plot twists are thrown into the story and almost every question raised early on is answered. Although the game’s main villain is revealed early on, you never really learn of his true motives until very late on in the game (after fighting him during the last chapter) and although his antagonist motives make sense once you learn why he’s doing what he’s doing, until that point he comes across as bland and archetypal.
Skirmishes see you take a small army to the battlefield in an element of real time strategy
Despite all of this Ni No Kuni II improves in almost every area over the first game to deliver one of this year’s finest role playing games. The battle system is far superior to the first, the various gameplay options including Kingdom building help to flesh the game out and the story jumps straight into the meat of the plot without a lengthy hour long tutorial. With hundreds of side quests alongside the main plot and some really nicely designed areas and impressive bright, vibrant graphics, Ni No Kuni II has a lot going for it. There are still issues here with the lack of character development for some of your party members and a pretty easy difficulty level until late on makes this a relatively straight forward game to play but this is a fine JRPG that proves you can innovate a series to great effect for a sequel rather than copy and pasting the same formula in every game. It’s not perfect and there are still some niggling issues with some of the side content and mechanics but Ni No Kuni II carries the charm and engrossing storytelling from the first game to produce one of this year’s finest role playing games.
Verdict - 8.5/10