Thursday, June 15, 2017

'Ni No Kuni 2' changes everything but the Ghibli-esque charm

'Ni No Kuni 2' changes everything but the Ghibli-esque charm: nnk2.jpg

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is beautiful. If it's not the detailed environment, it's the expressive cartoon characters interacting with each other like some kind of CGI anime masterpiece. That's due to animation director Yoshiyuki Momose's input -- he previously worked at Studio Ghibli for many years, and it still shows in the sequel coming to PS4. During the two-part demo I played at Bandai Namco's E3 booth, cloaks fluttered in the breeze, the protagonist winced when struck with fire, and your tiny battle companions -- prime plushies of the future -- scuttled around the battlefield like even cuter Pikmin. The gameplay taster centered on two major boss battles, but I found myself waiting, hoping, for another sumptuous cut scene to help fill in the mysterious backstory -- and distract me from the fighting.

Yes, Ni No Kuni 2 is a sequel, but it does away with the characters, lore, battle system and even the collectible monsters that fought alongside you. We've seen references and Easter eggs in earlier previews, and while the sequel seems to take place in very similar areas to Ni No Kuni, there are so many differences that it feels like a completely new, connected, world.

The battle system is completely different, and while the original NNK's battles were rough at times, the fact that you battled with collectible "familiars" gave it a Pokemon-esque appeal. This time around, you have to fight for yourself, equipping a wand, a sword, weapon skills and spells to deal with intrusions.

I got to briefly explore an overworld map, and fight two boss battles, tapping into multiple skills, and support spells and buffs from those aforementioned tiny creatures that populate the battle area alongside the protagonist and his two companions. They're call Higgledies and while they don't deal huge amounts of direct damage to your enemies, their shields and attack support helped me evade demo-station death (the worst kind) several times. However, the battles were just.. chaotic. There's so much going on, and while you only control the cat-eared King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, this isn't a fast-twitch action-adventure. Some loose guarding and evasion is enough to limit damage, then you spam the attacks back at your enemy. Some will connect, others won't.

From the two battles I got to try, the system, at this early demo stage, just isn't very fun -- or if nothing else the learning curve is very steep. One battle with a fire-imbued dragon... thing, drags on. Lava rains down, molten boulders distract and your little Higgledies do their best to support you as you try to aim your water spells at your attacker. The battles look cartoonish and grand at the same time, but don't quite have the polish and delight of the exploration and cut-scene segments. That might be because there's just so much going on at the same time. The original Ni No Kuni's battle system was clunky at times, so it's easy to see why they'd try to recast it, especially after refreshing pretty much everything else in the game. This early taster suggests that Level-5 hasn't quite nailed it, however.

Looks aren't everything, but if NNK2 manages to offer a compelling story and a gentler introduction to combat, all while maintaining the delightful look (and sound), it might all come together on November 10th.

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