I was a little hesitant to pick up Ni No Kuni II. I was feeling burnt out on RPGs as I had dedicated a lot of time to them in 2017. I finished Persona 5 and Final Fantasy 6 (for the very first time!) and had sunk over 30 hours into Divinity Original Sin II. The thought of dedicating time to another long RPG seemed daunting at best. The mixed reviews from the first game didn’t help, especially since it supposedly turned into a late game grind. Good word of mouth of the sequel prevailed though and I ended up purchasing it based off those recommendations. And boy am I glad I took that advice.
I am currently about 10 hours in and loving it. I’ll save any discussion of story for another post as currently, as I am still early in the game and (in true RPG fashion) it has yet to really develop in a meaningful way. I’ll would much rather focus instead on the variety of mechanics the game has to offer. This variety has made the initial hours fly by as the game slowly introduces its surprisingly diverse systems (with still more coming my way).
The core of the game revolves around active time RPG battles. Rather than having a traditional turn based battle system, instead battles are more similar to a combination of Kingdom Hearts and Devil May Cry. You control one of 3 characters (you have the option to choose which character to control) that can participate in battles while the other 2 are controlled by AI. Each character has a light, heavy, and ranged attack and can also be equipped with 3 close-combat weapons. Each character also has a total of 4 magic abilities, which can range from casting fireballs to spinning sword attacks. You can cast your special skills at any time, but it is to your advantage to build up your different weapon meters. Weapons individually build percentages as you attack and when they reach 100% your special skills do extra damage. Ni No Kuni thus requires you to constantly cycle between your close range weapons to build percentages up to augment your special attacks. The game also has you recruiting (and eventually making) little spirit helpers called higgledies. These pint sized spirits assist in battle as well, providing damage or buffs to your party. They can also activate special abilities during battle, which include projecting a healing barrier or dropping a large dark orb on enemies.
If this sounds a bit complicated, so far it really isn’t. The early parts of the game can feel a bit like training wheels as battles require little more than jamming on your light and heavy attacks. But the game has slowly increased the difficulty, requiring strategy in implementing dodging, blocking, and activating special abilities. Ni No Kuni also has what they call the “Tactics Tweaker” that allows you to invest points earned from battles that adjust your parties’ strengths and weaknesses. There are quite a few settings to tweak to advantages against certain enemy types, elemental affinities, and even higher drop rates for items. These settings are all tied to each other though. For example, if you choose to do more damage against blob-like enemies then you won’t do as much damage against fairy types. This system keeps your party from completely running over enemies as different areas will necessitate different affinities based on enemy and elemental types.
Breaking up the RPG action battles are optional, more unit focused battles called skirmishes. Skirmishes take place on a wider map than the confined RPG battles do. They are much similar to Dynasty Warriors, where you maneuver across an open map. These battles have up to 4 squads of minions orbit around your main character and engage in fights with groups of enemies. These battles aren’t the same type of active as the regular battles; you won’t be pressing buttons to have your characters attack. Instead it’s all about placing your orbiting minions in line with enemies. Your minions then automatically attack the enemy troop until either you move them or one of the squads fall.
Skirmishes have a rock-paper-scissor style of troop combat. Troops are either one of 3 types: light (swords), heavy (shields or spears), and range (archers). Put a sword group against the ranged troops and they’ll easily win, but put them against a heavy troop and you’ll face casualties. Skirmishes are decided by reducing the opponents’ military might to 0. Taking down enemy troops results reduces the enemy’s military might so defeating all the troops is the only way to win. Player’s also has special abilities to activate during the match as well, but these cost military might so they have to be used sparingly.
The final piece of the gameplay puzzle is the Kingdom Builder. The main focus of the game’s story revolves around you creating a brand new kingdom, so Ni No Kuni II puts you in charge of it. You aren’t completely creating a city from scratch a la Sim City, but instead choosing what buildings, upgrades, and research to perform first. Your kingdom has specific areas where specific shops must be built so it is up to you to prioritize what shops to build and upgrade first. Shops all offer unique advantages; for example you can prioritize researching higgledies by upgrading the Higglery or bolster your military might in skirmishes through the Barracks.
These individual shops are also manned by NPCs that you place in each building. Each character has specific skills that allow for more complex projects and faster research. You’ll start out with a small number of NPCs to choose from, but you can collect more by completing side quests. This places a great incentive to complete side quests, something I have a hard time reconciling in other RPGs. The idea of not only receiving specific items as rewards but also having a new person join my kingdom makes me more motivated to put the main story on hold. Ni No Kuni II gives player’s like me who tend to stick to the main story quest path a reason to pick up side diversions.
I was not expecting to write this much about Ni No Kuni II’s gameplay before purchasing. The cute fairy tale setting and Studio Ghibli animation houses a surprisingly complex RPG. The variety of systems at play keep things fresh and I can’t wait to see how all of these mechanics evolve throughout my time.