The first Ni no Kuni is a gem. It’s divisive, understandably so, but still a game I’ll go to bat for. Much to my excitement, I was able to get my hands on Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom at E3 2017. The combat in the original could be a bit of a snooze, but there’s still a loveable cast and rich world there to be adored so I was prepared to have similar sentiment going into the second.
From the demo, Revenant Kingdom seems like a response to criticisms from the first that have skewed too far in the opposite direction. We’ve known that the game has dropped some old tricks we were familiar with, but finally getting to play it had me missing Familiars and the more strategic combat system. Familiars are now Higgledies (think something like Pikmin), while the combat leans more heavily into real-time action.
Ni no Kuni II’s demo is largely just two boss fights, with one very briefly sampling the way we’ll travel. For those familiar with the first, it’s much of the same. There is a world map with characters revisiting the same miniature style as before. No need to fix what isn’t broken - it still gets the job done and is as easy to navigate as ever.
The first fight pit Evan and his friends against Longfang and his HP bar, LongerFang. He's a nasty dragon with an even nastier health pool. Longfang’s health was the worst part of that fight. He felt like a sponge, and while scoring a hit on him was easy enough, it felt like I was hardly making a dent. He just soaked the damage up and carried on.
It’s frustrating how the fight felt needlessly long, but Longfang’s encounter is at least broken up with a changing arena. Dodging fire plumes and destroying volcanic rocks was something I could do outside of whacking away at Longfang’s health. If the worst thing about this encounter is the dragon’s beefy HP bar, then the best is certainly the arena.
Combat in this encounter was locked to Evan with aid from the Higgledies. And then this is where my mixed feelings come in. The original Ni no Kuni felt a tad slow, easy to break, and later on just plain uneventful in battle. But the combination of a real-time and turn-based combat served that pace better. Now it’s slow, painfully so, with real-time combat. When pairing that sluggish battle pace with Longfang’s HP bar, the fight drags.
Thankfully, Evan’s kit was interesting. Ni no Kuni II doesn’t lock players to only one fighting style. Instead, there’s an ability to seamlessly switch between melee and long-range magic spells. I did favor the melee combat, but the staff came in handy against Longfang as he would move in and out of range.
In addition to the basic attacks with triangle and square, holding down R2 gives Evan four more skills that can be used to heal or deal more damage. Charging up for those abilities always felt like the best course of action against Longfang and Thogg (another boss I went on to fight later).
Like a proper action title, Evan can also roll and defend. When I fought Thogg, those two skills didn’t seem very useful, but Longfang demanded you roll to safety from his fire breath quite often. Perhaps defending against Thogg would have made more sense when the beast charged, but he did so little damage I easily tanked it all without a worry.
As for Higgledies, I’m not sold yet. The Familiars had more distinct styles and personality. These creatures feel like a less interesting Pikmin. All I did in the demo was run to them and select the X button a few times so they would heal or attack. I’m honestly not quite sure if they ever made much of an impact on my fight, and that feels like a bad sign. I could have probably ignored them and been fine.
Regardless, I will say there’s something there in Ni no Kuni II I want to love. Even from what little dialogue I experienced, I’m still intrigued by the cast. They’re a precious bunch that I’m smitten with, as they have that endearing Ghibli look and tone I adore regardless of the studio’s absence.
Revenant Kingdom may be another case of rough around the edges combat, but hopefully, it follows its predecessor in terms of story and atmosphere. As it stands, my impressions are that the combat is incredibly easy, but arbitrarily drawn out. The action-style combat doesn’t seem to serve it well, but there’s something there I desperately want to love, but it’s worth mentioning the demo really just boils down to two boss fights. I’m left hoping it was just a poor way to showcase the game and that other battles make use of your Higgledies while picking up the pace.