It is rare I finish a game I am so mixed on. Released earlier this year on PC and Playstation 4, Ni No Kuni II is a solid roleplaying game that will likely be loved by many. It has a young protagonist out to make the world a better place. It has stats, gear, and all the other bells and whistles of a typical Japanese roleplaying game. It also manages to perfectly capture what I have enjoyed more recently about JRPGs: their relaxing and familiar gameplay loops. But, for me, Ni No Kuni II was only just okay.
Ni No Kuni II is not a direct sequel to the first game released on Playstation 3 by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Professor Layton, Yo-Kai Watch, etc.). It also lacks the involvement of Studio Ghibli though the aesthetic is similar. That helps because I never played the first game so I have no reason or ability to compare this Ni No Kuni to the original.
First and foremost, Ni No Kuni II is an almost too saccharine game. The game’s lead, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, is the child king of Ding Dong Dell, a kingdom divided by animosity from its ruling class (cat-people called Grimalkin) and Mousekin (obviously mice-people). After he is ousted in a coup, he sets out to unite all of the world’s kingdoms in peace under the banner of his brand new kingdom. He does so with kindness, generosity, and the understanding that most bad rulers are not evil.
I do not think there is a better JRPG to use to introduce younger gamers to the genre or to play as a family. At least not one that isn’t far older. Ni No Kuni II looks great (especially on the Playstation 4 Pro) and I never got tired of the character or enemy design, even if it frequently repeated itself.
Even better for younger gamers, this is not a particularly difficult game. Battles focus on a single character with a limited array of combos and other abilities. Controls are responsive and animations are crisp. Enemies explode into a variety of items (mostly materials for crafting) when defeated. The combat never stopped being fun for me despite its simplicity. You can switch characters at will and each has a different weapon type they can use which further differentiates them when you need a change of pace.
While I failed to get into Persona 5, an obviously superior and deeper experience, Ni No Kuni II does better what I like JRPGs to do. I love being able to fire it up for some brief farming or to complete a few side-quests. Ni No Kuni II also has a limited city building element that reminded me of Bravely Default which kept me engaged as well. I loved how all of the loops feed into it. Farm enemies for resources to complete side-quests to recruit new citizens of your kingdom who then help you build up that kingdom or produce better weapons/armor/spells.
I wasn’t achieving much nor was I overcoming any challenges. If anything, Ni No Kuni II had more in common with mobile clicker RPGs which satisfy players much the same way a slot machine satisfies grandma. That isn’t a bad thing though I wish the game was harder or had harder challenges.
Beyond the simplicity of its gameplay and characters, I did appreciate the games story even if it got to be a bit silly. It was a nice change of pace being the one who wanted to conquer world (though in peace rather for my own personal gain). In the opening, it is revealed that the secondary main character is essentially the President of the United States transported into a fantasy land moments before witnessing the presumed beginning of a nuclear holocaust. It is easily the most unique opening in any JRPG I have ever played.
I won’t spoil it here, but I also enjoyed the main villains backstory once it was revealed in the game’s final act. Like all of the villains in Ni No Kuni II, he starts out twirling his mustache and ends with pulling your heart strings. That seems to be a story trope of sorts often used by Japanese writers (villain of the week becomes best friend for the remainder of the series) and it works perfectly in this game’s narrative.
Overall, I think I recommend Ni No Kuni II though maybe not at full price. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone that wants a hard game to play, but it’s perfect for those of us who need something to relax while playing or something that’ll allow our brains time to rest between more narrative-intense video games or dense television like Westworld. If you haven’t yet, you may want to give Ni No Kuni II a shot.