Many RPGamers were excited to see the reveal of Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom earlier this year. Charalampos (Harry) Papadimitriou had the chance to check out the game at E3 and reported back on his experience with it. Bandai Namco earlier revealed that the game is to be released for PC and PlayStation 4 on November 10, 2017.
Releasing on November 10, 2017, Level-5's Ni no Kuni II arguably stole the show at Bandai Namco's booth. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that the game continues in its predecessor's goal toward a storytelling medium that blurs the lines between top quality animation and highly polished JRPG gameplay. The game's story centers around Evan, the boy king, and features many story archetypes including stories about coming of age, betrayal, sacrifice, proving one's worth, and forming strong bonds. The unique graphical and presentation style established in the original Ni no Kuni returns and, now backed with stronger hardware, is crisper than ever. The trailer and demos shown at E3 featured vibrant, detailed locations — including a city where everything is decided by the roll of a die — imaginative character designs, and exceptionally smooth animation.
The two-part demo mainly showcased the game's fighting system. While combat takes place in a familiar style of arena, it includes a number of significantly changed mechanics. Like in the first game, players can switch control to any of the three party members participating in the battle. Unlike the first game, the AI of allies seems to be much improved, freeing players from having to micromanage all of the characters to keep them alive. During both of the boss battles in the demo, AI controlled allies easily stayed alive without my intervention. In Ni no Kuni II, the MP pool depletes quickly when any of four equipped skills are used just three or four times, but it can also be regenerated quickly through battle actions like attacking and defending, circumventing another problem in the original game in which AI controlled allies quickly blew through all of their MP.
The Pokémon-like familiars are also notably absent from Ni no Kuni II, and instead characters fight directly in combat. Rather than familiars, game characters are assisted by Higgledies, small Pikmin-like creatures that affect the flow of battles. Groups of Higgledies that share an elemental attribute move around the battle field and have a sphere of influence. If players stand within that sphere, they can choose to activate abilities corresponding to Higgledies of that element, granting effects such as increased statistics, elemental barriers, and extra healing. Higgledies can also be used to charge up spells and other attacks for increased damage. These changes to combat remove much of the frustration of the original game's battle system and work to reduce complexity and streamline fights. The Higgledies mechanic also creates a rewarding demand for spatial awareness, as they move around the battle arena and players have to be spatially aware if they want to maximize use of the Higgledies.
Downsides to the combat changes include party members that are almost forgettable, and battles — at least those available in the E3 demo — that feel too limited in terms of options and strategies available to players. Where Ni no Kuni featured both strategy and preparation in the form of familiar selection, and active execution in the form of party micromanagement, I felt that both boss battles in the demo offered little in terms of strategic options or challenging execution. I mostly found myself ignoring what my allies were doing, mashing the attack button most of the time, and throwing in a dodge, block, or heal every so often. Once in a while a boss would execute a powerful attack and I found myself scrambling to find and activate the Higgledies that guard against it. Other than those moments, however, battles felt too simplistic. With that said, there's still enough complexity in the mechanics to where one can imagine a whole host of interesting boss battle designs and situations, and we can hope that the fights showcased at E3 were purposely limited in scope to accommodate brand new players being thrown directly into boss fights.
The last feature that stood out was the game's Kingdom Mode. This was not showcased, but the description sounded like a type of town management component. This allegedly also affects combat, and although we don't yet know exactly how, we do know that Evan's kingmaker — a being that assists Evan in building a kingdom — grows stronger as the kingdom grows. It's a mechanic that sounds intriguing and may provide a good replacement for the gap left by the removal of the familiar system. Overall, the game looks incredibly promising, and there's a lot here to be excited about for fans of Ni no Kuni, including those who were put off by the PlayStation 3 title's combat system.