Like most of my decisions on game purchases, I decided to get a copy of Ni No Kuni 2 based almost exclusively on the fact that it was drastically discounted on some sort of two-week sale that the Playstation Store had going on. It was a "lean" month as I was not terribly interested in the PS Plus games we were offered that month so I figured that the game is probably worth $10.
NOTE: I started writing this as a 1 part story, but since I actually really enjoyed this game, it was over 1000 words before I got through the second section: Therefore I have divided it into multiple articles. I hope you don't mind.
It turns out that it is worth $10, probably quite a bit more, actually. However, just like almost anything on the market it isn't without its flaws but for the sake of time and not making this too long for now I am just going to focus on the good, and a great deal of it is.
Ni No Kuni 2 is a traditional RPG, and at first glance it seems very similar to a great many other games. For me it seemed like a hybrid of classic Final Fantasy games with some Secret of Mana mixed in. This is because combat is "kinda" turn-based, but also is real-time. You have a wide array of items that can used during a fight pause, but all spells and attacks are done in real-time, just like Mana. This brings us to pro number one
Combat is simple and pretty great
Nothing turns me off faster in an RPG than the combat being too complicated right out of the gate. I ended up switching off many games including the much ballyhooed Witcher 3 game because the combat tutorial felt like I was studying for a college exam. In NNK2 you just jump straight in and learn that you have ranged attack, as well as light and strong melee attack and you use them both right away on some very easy mobs.
It's simple and it gets the job done. In RPG's I'm not looking for some sort of reinvention of the wheel especially when the ones we have already made in the past work wonderfully. NNK2 gives you a system that you have used many times before and are very familiar with. It also just kind of works.
You quickly acquire 2 pals that fight alongside you and while you can switch back and forth between them, this isn't necessary because they do just fine keeping themselves alive on their own. They do waste their magic right away even on enemies that do not need to be approached to viciously, but of the most part they do their own thing and are effective without you needing to micromanage everyone.
Fantastic art style
I get it ok, we have really powerful computers and consoles now that can display scenes that are almost lifelike. That doesn't mean that it is a good idea to try. Chris Rock famously said "I CAN drive a car with my feet... that don't make it a good f**king idea!"
By sticking with a cell-shading (I think that is what this graphical style is called) style, they were able to create a cartoonish world that is as beautiful as it is whimsical. This is a fantasy game after all, so I don't think fans of the series were really looking for a real life representation of the characters. This path of trying to make everything so "lifelike" is a path that many other companies have tried to go down and I think many of them, particularly the dumpster fire that the Final Fantasy franchise has become, has been horribly, horribly wrong in their attempts to accomplish this. It isn't necessary and it is also too taxing on the PC gamers out there.
NNK2 looks fantastic and is exactly what I am looking for in a Fantasy RPG
Lots of variety in gameplay
In this game you are going to experience 4 major game modes as far as getting around is concerned.
- Exploration mode
- Invasion mode
- Skirmish mode
- City building mode
These terms are all completely made up by me but by utilizing this the developers are able to mix things up enough that gameplay never gets boring.
In exploration mode you are zoomed way out in a top-down type way as you make your way from city to city, or go to find that dungeon that a villager, once again, wandered into. A totally different graphical representation of the characters is used here and I'll admit that it looks a bit silly but kind of works. In this portion of the game, you can see the enemies well before you are actually involved with them and you can choose to avoid them if you want to.
I LOVE this aspect of the game and it is one that many games, even to this day struggle with. I hate the "random encounters" that we would have in old school games like Phantasy Star or Final Fantasy (or basically any RPG back in the day) where you would be walking along and all of a sudden your screen changes because you ran into something you can not see on the screen and some random choice of enemies are now something you have to fight.
In NNK2 you get a visual and a level of the enemies potentially in your path, and you can make a choice about if you want to fight them or not. If you are the type of person that doesn't mind grinding levels you can level up before proceeding if you enjoy easy fights later. You can also dodge almost everything if you feel as though you are already level up enough. Enemies that are many levels lower than you will not engage you at all unless you choose to attack them. You can also run away if you find yourself in the face of some dragon 20 levels higher than you. It's perfect!
Invasion mode is a much tighter camera angle and is normally reserved for dungeons and towns. It is a more traditional way of getting around. Combat is harder to avoid in these instances but can still be accomplished.
The best part about this is that the transition from walkin' 'round and combat is almost seamless. You often will begin battle by striking a group of opponents. Then a circle is drawn around you that indicates the new "play area" that if you run against it for long enough, it means you are trying to run away. This keeps your group together and makes the elimination of foes far easier. If you do want to run away and succeed at doing so, the monsters forget you are there but will also respawn to full power. You can back off and re-evaluate the situation or go back outside and level up if you need to (this is unlikely to happen in "normal" difficulty setting.)
In Skirmish mode you amass 4 "battalions" and invade certain outposts or cities, or defend your own. With only 2 exceptions these are completely optional, but since one of the "not optional" portions is the path leading to the final boss, you better level these units up some because their levels and strength is not really tied to the level and abilities of your main characters.
There are stationary units that can be destroyed and rebuilt to use for yourself (cannons and archer towers) and the 5 or 6 unit types you can acquire all have their own strengths and weaknesses. This isn't as great as the other modes of play, but it is a nice way to mix up the styles so you don't find yourself getting bored.
The last aspect of the game is probably my favorite of all. You are charged with building a kingdom and acquiring citizens. These citizens then take jobs that you assign and you research ways of improving your combat capabilities as well as acquire items that progress the game in other ways.
The amount of money that you make and research that you perform is based on real time and I will admit that on more than one occasion I left the game running while I went and did something else. Apparently you can exit the game and alter the system clock to make this happen even faster, but I did not do this because I'm not insane.
So there you have it! Those are some pretty solid reasons in my book to give this game a very high rating and in the process of explaining it I have made one of the longest blog entries I have ever done - probably because I am so impressed with this game that it is very easy to run off at the mouth about it.
All in all, this is one of my favorite games that I have played out of all the games I have played in 2020. It is without question far superior to other, more well-known RPG's out there including and especially Final Fantasy 7 remake... Screw those guys over at Square-Enix. I"m still pissed off at them.