The first Ni no Kuni was one of my favourite JRPG titles of the last few years. With elements of traditional and modern RPG games, some beautiful Studio Ghibli artwork, and an engrossing and entertaining story, it had me hooked from the outset and I really loved it. It wasn’t expected to be any more than a cult hit, but with worldwide sales of 1.4 million between the PS3 and DS versions of the first game, it turns out that there’s a much more widespread appeal than Level 5 initially expected, especially in the west, where this is a niche genre. Given the unexpected success of the first game, it’s understandable that we’ve had a wait of about five years in the west for a sequel. Was it worth half a decade of waiting though? Let’s talk about that.
One change that is apparent with this title is the change in combat. Rather than the mash-up of turn-based and real-time styles that we had before, the combat is now completely real-time. You’ll have a party of three characters and you can switch between them at will, with the two characters not in your party being controlled by AI while you do your thing with whichever is your current favourite.
I was not a fan of the new fighting style initially, as it felt more like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry than what I would expect from a JRPG, but it does increase in complexity as time goes on. The standard hack-and-slash of the early levels is supplemented with spells and boosts through buffs on weapons and armour. As well as that, there’s a funky little new addition called the tactics tweaker. This is kind of like a graphics equaliser for stats, with sliders to boost different stats as well as resistance to particular elements and the like. Remember how you could spend half an hour in Final Fantasy VII just junctioning materia to get the edge on the strongest bosses? It’s a little bit like that. If you don’t want to fight all of the optional super-hard creatures, then you can just complete the story with mindless swordplay, but if you want to have a spreadsheet-like array of options to maximise your ferocity and take on the biggest and baddest that the world of Ni no Kuni II has to offer, then you’ve got that too. It’s a perfect balance between accessibility and complexity.
Many of the mechanics of the game remain largely unchanged. That same engaging storyline is here (I nearly cried in the first half an hour) and that beautiful Ghibli animation is still present. Before anybody says it in the comments, I know that technically it isn’t Ghibli as the studio are on hiatus. The same animation team that worked on the first game returned for this one though, so it’s Ghibli in all but name. Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy and there’s only partial voice acting, just like in the first game, but it wasn’t a deal breaker in the former title, and it’s not one in the latter either. There’s even a cute little Welsh follower in the form of Lofty, played tremendously by Owain Arthur. I was worried that I’d miss Drippy, but his equivalent is just as adorable and amusing.
As before, there are hundreds of side quests to be found and enjoyed, and you can lose yourself in the world of Ding Dong Dell and the surrounding areas for hours before you do something that actually advances the main plot. Sure, you can ignore these and rush through the game in a much shorter amount of time, but why on earth wouldn’t you want to go and find skeins of thread for a half person, half dog embroiderer?
There are a tonne of extra distractions throughout as well. You’ll be creating and nurturing your own kingdom in what is essentially a cut-down city builder. Another new addition is a series of “skirmish” battles, which are like a basic form of RTS and see you pitting the armies of your kingdom against those of would-be invaders. There’s even a mini puzzle game that appears just once as part of a quest and is never seen again. With so much going on in this game, it’s no wonder we’re seeing people put 100+ hours in and still not see everything that it has to offer. As with the side quests though, these features are largely optional, with only a small amount of them forming part of the main questline. This really is a title which lets you play how you want. If you want a great story that you can get through in about 30 hours then you’ve got it, if you want tremendous value for money with the hour counter clocking into three figures, then that’s an option too.
The only thing that I could say that’s even a minor niggle about the game is that some of the text is too small. The cutscene subtitles aren’t too bad, but some of the dialogue between characters when on the world map was too small for me to read from the sofa and I had to move closer to the TV. It’s a minuscule issue, but I had to say something negative or run the risk of sounding sycophantic.
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed Ni no Kuni II. It’s one of the best JRPGs in years and it’s a must-buy for fans of the genre. It’s cute, thoroughly addictive and has more tweaks and statistics than you can shake a sword at. If you enjoyed the first game, you will love this.