At first glance, Ni no Kuni 2 is an innocent tale of an innocent deposed king named Evan who wants to build his own kingdom called Evermore. But looking back at the story so far, this little kid is a dictator in the making. The story is framed so that everyone who comes into contact with him swears fealty either instantaneously or after a major quest which involves taming a country’s kingmaker (ie RPG level boss).
There is a sense of “my way or the highway” from Evan’s approach. He literally said that he wants to rule the world countless times -granted, to end all wars and unite every country you see under Evermore’s banner as the story progresses. If you’ve watched enough documentaries and films depicting historical figures, you know that this is how most jerkass rulers get their start: with a seemingly innocent idea of uniting nations. You know what they say about absolute power, right?
This does warrant many discussions on forum boards, but taken at face value, the story is harmless and has that friendly whimsical anime vibe. It sure doesn’t feel like a Ghibli-written narrative though. Compared to the previous game, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which deals with loss and acceptance of said loss wrapped up in one 50 hour experience, the sequel’s story comes off as standard. There’s a magnitude of charm and camaraderie in Evan and his newfound pals -Roland, the former president before he teleported to the Ni no Kuniverse) and sky pirate daughter-father duo Tani and Batu (the latter uses Earth spells; figures)
Coupled with the game soundtrack which could have used a lot fewer remixes and arrangements of the main theme’s leitmotif and melody, one would think that this game is just a shadow of its more charming prequel. Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find out that developer Level-5 has addressed a lot of the game’s past faults: they’re accentuating gameplay this time around.
How So, You May Ask?
For starters, the combat is more action-heavy. You control one of three heroes in a group as you defeat enemies with light and heavy attacks, as well as with magic. The playing field is big enough that you’ll fight more than four enemies at a time, or just one big lug like a Porc swordmaster or a chimera.
The combat features a weapon-swapping system: you can swap between three different weapons with each of them having their own Zing meter. When it goes to a 100%, that weapon will get buffed up a bit. If you pull off a Special move with a 100% Zinged weapon, you get an EX version of that move at the cost of resetting the Zing to 0.
You also gain access to cute little blighters called Higgledies who can help turn the tide of battle. These Mononoke Kodama clones usually gather in a group on a random spot during a fight. Once they’re gathered and a circle pops up around them, you can activate it to pull off a Higgledie special. These range from healing circles to giant cannons that periodically fire at enemies.
These elements help make combat incredibly fun, flashy, and gratifyingly. Your basic plan of attack includes kiting enemies so that your Higgledies can gather and be activated when there’s an opening. Enemies themselves can bum rush you or just flail randomly to disperse Higgledies, so you’re left to figuring out whether to use brute force or just turtle.
My only gripe here is that the enemies in the main quest are easy to deal with. Even if they’re 10 levels above you, you can eventually kill them off if you dodge right, summon the right Higgledies, or just build up your kingdom right to get the best possible weapons and spells.
Speaking of which…
You Can Manage Your Kuniland!
…or Evermore. After playing the game a few hours, you gain access to managing & building up your own kingdom. You can level up your populace, build facilities and shops, and assign citizens to them so that they gather resources or research new tech for you.
At the same time, you have to find new citizens from all across the Kuniverse and bring them over to your new country after doing a bunch of side quests for them. Because it’s a JRPG and no one, not even a king like Evan, is above being the Kuniverse gopher boy.
Luckily, the fast travel system here makes even this sort of busywork go by quick. And the map itself has one button that instantly brings you back to your kingdom. Keep in mind that if your kingdom coffers and resources vaults are full, it can’t amass more, so you have to make regular visits lest you waste precious time.
This bit ties into the game’s narrative and gameplay well. Getting more citizens mean that certain ideas and projects can get researched faster, and levelling up your kingdom and facilities means more power-ups and skills for your main party.
Ni no Kuni 2’s kingdom management system is a fun enough diversion that makes you do more quaint side quests that expand the story a tad more, and also helps out with the game’s other mode…
The Total War Arena Mode
…or Skirmish Mode. Certain fights require you to lead a small army to destroy another army of monsters or warring countries. You control Evan who surrounds himself with four units; you Attack enemies by simply walking up to them since your units auto-attacks whoever is within their line of sight.
Evan can either reposition units with either the L1 or R1 button, use special abilities to buff units up, or just summon more units at the cost of military might. Military might can also be used to launch special attacks like an air strike or an army stun move.
There’s also a simple unit triangle system to consider (red >green >blue>red) so that you can determine a unit’s effectiveness against another colour-coded enemy on the battlefield. While this Mode is rather basic, since fights can be won by mere attrition and numbers, it’s still a pleasant diversion.
Good Things Come In Threes
On their own, these two mini-games aren’t that strong to warrant separate games. When blended together with the new and improved Kuniverse combat however, they all make for a rich 30 hour or so JRPG experience that in many ways supercede the prequel.
True, it takes a hit in the story department, but it’s not a crippling blow as so much a graze. If you’re looking for a revelation of a JRPG like Xenoblade 2 or that Final Fantasy XII PC remaster, Ni no Kuni 2 is just a step below in that regard. On its own merit, it’s a worthy investment for your JRPG-loving time. The awesome-looking graphics and Ghibli aesthetics help a ton too.
Now if maybe Level-5 and Bandai Namco can push out a DLC to bump up the game’s difficulty a tad further…