Anime Now! got to play the demo for Ni no Kuni II—the sequel to Level-5’s critically-acclaimed RPG—at Bandai Namco’s pre-show for Tokyo Game Show. Although it lasted only a few minutes, the demo showed me that it’s bringing back some classic RPG features while mixing it up for a new generation.
Full disclosure: I’ve never played the first Ni no Kuni.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom takes place hundreds of years after the events of Wrath of the White Witch, the first game in the series. It revolves around a boy named Evan who has been forced to become the king of the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell, a place inhabited by Grimalkins, a race of cat-like people. It used to be a peaceful kingdom, until Chudine (official name not confirmed), an ambassador to the Mou Kingdom (also not official) causes a coup d’état, making himself king instead and throwing the two kingdoms into chaos. The timid and kind Evan is forced to leave Ding Dong Dell and departs on an adventure to reunite the land of Ni no Kuni and create his own kingdom. The story is fresh, but also has the taste of a classic video game with its warring kingdoms and fantasy setting, making for nostalgia mixed with excitement for new innovations.
The demo featured a number of sections of the story to play a sample of. The one I chose was a mission in which the protagonist must go to save Tani, who is part of a band of pirates. The demo shows off the many ways Evan explores the world. Beginning in a peaceful pirate town, the player is able to talk with the townspeople. Moving onto the world map, Evan and his companion turn into “chibi” markers on the map, similar to the world map system from games like Tales of Symphonia and Final Fantasy VII. While traveling on the map, you can find treasure as well as monsters that can be encountered by coming in contact with their avatars.
This system hasn’t been used as much lately, mostly being replaced with “open world” areas in between towns and dungeons, and for games with smaller budgets, menus to jump to any area. But here’s the thing–done right, the world map system can work very well. Even better than open world, in fact. Open world can be very good, but less focus is put on every nook and cranny, leading to areas that look the same. In the case of Ni no Kuni II‘s world map, it’s easy to navigate through, and the vast landscapes are very memorable. It’s a welcome throwback to classic systems that really should make a comeback in more games.
When entering dungeons, players can use their sword and spells freely, even outside of battle. Battle does not employ classic RPG menus like the first game, but instead is active combat in which the player controls Evan and defeats monsters using a combination of sword slashes for close-range combat and magic spells for long-range combat. Sometimes, enemies will be out of reach for sword attacks; in my case, wyverns would fly into the sky. To bring them back to the ground, I would have to shoot magic spells. It brings a variety to battle that can’t be found in just mashing the same button over and over again.
With smooth graphics, memorable character designs reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, and throwbacks to classic RPG features of yore, I’m tempted to pick this game up myself when it comes out.
Ni no Kuni II will be released for the PlayStation 4 and computers via Steam on January 19, 2018.