What we’ve seen of Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom so far is a sign that Level-5 wants to distance itself from the Pokémon-esque gameplay of the original Ni No Kuni; a collaboration with famed Japanese filmmaker Studio Ghibli. Retaining some of the key personnel behind it, it was a pleasant surprise to learn a sequel was in the works, but with my brief time at Gamescom I’m excited to say that I’m impressed thus far.
Set a century after the events of the first game, it introduces a new protagonist, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the boy king of the cat tribe in Ding Dong Dell. However, he’s ousted from his rightful rule in a coup, and has to search for a way to regain his kingdom.
The story revolves around Evan proving himself to be a legitimate and worthy king on his own merit. It’s a sign of his leadership to control an army of his own, moving them together across the battlefield and engaging the enemy. Each unit type follows the Fire Emblem style of thinking – Sword beats Axe, Axe beats Lance, Lance beats Sword. There are also Archers and Shield-bearers who have no overall strengths or weaknesses. Presented in a ‘Chibi’ form, it looks adorable, reminding me of Little King’s Story.
Evan determines the positioning of his army around himself, rotating the units around him in order to put stronger types in front of him and weaker ones like archers behind. All of this is done in real time, meaning what may have been a decent line up one second might be quickly overwhelmed seconds later without adjustment. Arrows that appear allow for players to quickly determine which is the case by colour. It’s an intriguing idea to say the least.
In addition to this, the army has the use of the Guts Gauge, which in the demo consisted of an option to quickly charge the opponent and one order to make units attack with everything they have. Later on, Shock Tactics was introduced that allowed for temporary invincibility, meaning even units weak against a certain type could kill their more powerful adversaries. Companions also have abilities tied to holding the R2 button, which can have devastating effects.
The other part of the demo I tried was a boss battle against Longfang – the Kingmaker. He’s essentially a lion and dragon hybrid. While the Chibi style is adorable, the more familiar style of the original game returns here and is gorgeous to look at, and aims to run at 60 frames per second. It is just as breathtaking as the original was.
Combat is far more interactive this time around as Evan uses his Higgledies as support rather than another party member, while he takes a leading role in battle. His skills are numerous, able to use basic attacks as well as two special sword attacks, heal himself, and conjure a fireball. Magic power is regained by hitting enemies with normal attacks, balancing out how often Evan and his friends can fire them.
Even though I used the Higgledies when they were ready by approaching each squad and pressing cross, I didn’t really have any idea of how they helped. It’s only looking back that I can see the green ones heal the team, the red ones could shield me from Longfang’s huge flaming attacks, and the blue ones fired magic missiles.
It seems they have more versatility than I gave them credit for, with a whole menu dedicated to giving them commands. There’s also an option to switch control of the main character, something I didn’t do in the video, allowing the player to use the skills of one of Evan’s companions.
Bosses can be stunned for extra damage, meaning that it’s worth wailing on them once prone. With multiple phases, it was cool to see the boss started throwing fire stones that eventually exploded, on top of his claws and fire breath attacks. This is also true when fighting the Thogg boss, so multiple phases on boss encounters seem the norm, which is a great thing.
As you come to the end of a fight, dealing enough damage to these bosses causes them to spit out a golden orb that, when picked up by Evan triggers a Royal Awakening within him, shrouding him in flmes making him unstoppable for its duration. After enduring a boss that’s steadily grown to deal more powerful attacks, and having to try to learn their attack patterns to avoid taking too much damage – no easy feat against Longfang – it’s great to be able to turn the tables and finish the fight in a decisive manner.
Much like in the original, the game is being brought to the West with the most fabulous array of regional accents. Anyone who loved Drippy’s Welsh accent will be delighted with a small spiky-haired familiar who explains we’ve been transported to “an inter-dimensional dimension, en’t it!” and cries out “Oh! Knickers!” in battle in a similarly lovely Welsh accent. While Roland – a school teacher that Evan enlists from the real world to help him earn back his kingdom of Ding Dong Dell – has an American accent, but there’s a common as muck Thames Estuary accent for Tani and various others on show as well.
It is of course a vastly different game to the original in terms of how it plays, but Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is shaping up to be a worthy successor. It’s got a beautiful art style, a Welsh sidekick, a great looking cast, neat RTS gameplay, and an interesting evolution on the original’s battle mechanics. Waiting until the beginning of 2018 almost seems too long now, but given the strong showing it seems worth waiting for in the end.