The sequel that no one saw coming, but everyone wanted. Ni no kuni II offers a rather different experience to the original, whilst mostly retaining the high standards set in place by it.
This time around, we’re introduced to our main character, not as an innocent little boy from the real world, but as the crown prince, and acting king of Ni no kuni itself.
Coming from this angle gives us an immediate idea as to the angle this game is going for, that being a Ni no kuni-centric plot, revolving around a single large world map.
It is large though, I’ve put upwards of 50-60 hours into this game, and even upon completing the story, I have yet to fully traverse it.
If you’ve played the first in the series, you’ll feel quite comfortable running about the world map, as the look and feel of it is all quite similar, apart from characters now being portrayed as chibi versions of themselves with immensely heavy-looking heads.
Where things differ however, is when entering a battle, and things here are… Very different. They’ve gone very much for an action RPG combat system this time, and while that might sound odd at first, it actually works brilliantly.
You now have full control over the player character, with light and heavy attacks as you might expect, and different spells tied to different buttons.
A point that is unique to Ni no kuni II though, is what they call “The higgledies”.
These are little Pikmin-like fellas that wobble about the place and assist you in battle.
The concept is simple, but like most things in this game, it goes a lot deeper with differing abilities, levels, even personalities.
You can have up to four higgledies join your party at a time, with the others you’ve gathered patiently waiting in your typical dark void of a pocket that most RPG protagonists seem to have.
In battle, each higgledie will have a small army with him, and they’ll occasionally prompt for you to step into their circle and activate their ability.
This is completely optional, but its something you will need to get used to if you want to master the combat here.
Abilities vary in usefulness and style, with anything from forming a canon out of themselves to adding elemental damage to your sword, or even healing, they are well inserted into battles, and feel like a refreshing take on a system that has been used time and time again.
A new form of battle was introduced, in the shape of a top-down RTS style command-the-troops event. It sees you selecting and using four teams of soldiers, each with a speciality, such as sword, hammer, shield, etc.
They’re not the most fun, and you’ll often feel like you haven’t got the best control over things, but make for a fun little extra every now and then.
Thankfully these events are almost always optional, or part of a side-quest, with only a handful being integrated into the story.
An area where the game really struggles to find its footing is in the story. Things start out on the slow side, and never really pick up. Characters are introduced and each have a unique personality, such as the stubborn young girl or the strong-headed burly guy, but they never go beyond these traits.
They’re not given any sort of arc, and remain stoney-faced throughout most of the story, and when put in events that are intended to be sad or exciting, their reactions come across as ingenuine due to this.
This is a particular shame, as following the first game, which had an incredible story and characters, you would hope for the sequel to carry just as much heart.
It simply isn’t the case, and is more than likely due to Studio Ghibli having very little involvement this time around.
We’re treated to a revamped version of Joe Hisaishi’s theme from the original however, which is much more dramatic and.. Loud.
It doesn’t feel like a track that should have been altered, but I understand the desire not have an identical main theme in both titles.
This theme is heavily used throughout both the world map and my personal favourite addition to the game, the town building.
The story leads you to start up your own, new kingdom, from the ground up. This is the main driving point of the game, as you’re tasked with recruiting people to join you, open up shops and barracks, etc. for them to work in, and constantly upgrade the village to a town, a city, and so on and so forth.
This feels incredibly good. Well after completing the main story, I am still gathering money and resources and citizens in an attempt to garner enough prestige to continue expanding and upgrading my city.
The progression feels almost limitless, and is what keeps me coming back time and time again to this world.
All things considered, my final review score for Ni no kuni II is…
Ni no kuni II is an astoundingly good RPG, with fantastically fun combat, a beautiful world, and absurdly addicting town-building.
It may fall short in writing and story, but that doesn’t hold it back from being one of the best RPG’s to come out in a long time.