You wouldn’t have to look very far to learn that JRPGs are my thing. I find that the genre harbours some of the more creative and interesting titles like Persona 5 (probably the best example) and Gravity Rush. A JRPG I never got to try out was Ni No Kuni, purely because I never had a PS3 and as such the title passed me by. It was one JRPG that made me regret siding with Xbox for the previous generation (I wasn’t in a position to own both platforms of the generation back then), and I feel like I missed out on a real gem if the general consensus is to be believed. With this in mind, when I was invited by Bandai Namco to come into their Sydney offices and play the demo for Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, I relished the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
To kick things off, let’s talk about how the game played and felt. For starters, it features a combat system which is similar to that of Xenoblade whereby you give commands while also retaining control of your character. Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom opts for a more hack ‘n’ slash vibe, although not in the vein of Dynasty Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes II. You have your basic light and heavy attacks, you can block and you can dodge. I was actually surprised to see that the game might have iFrames like my beloved Souls games, with me dodging through attacks to negate damage, though I could have just been getting lucky with hitboxes.
A lot of what I played was combat-based, with very little downtime in between the scenarios. I was essentially given access to two boss battles, both very different from each other. The first fight I engaged in was against a giant orange and brown fire-breathing bastard seemingly inspired by an Egyptian sphinx. There were mechanics to the fight which centred around area denial, whereby an Area of Effect is placed as a way to prevent players from standing in the one spot. Repeatedly I was forced to move position due to area denial and this was something that was kind of fun to work around, however if it became a stock-standard thing for all the bosses in the full game I can see how it would quickly become more tedious than cool. There were also a few other notable moves that this boss used against me, like a fiery laser beam of death and a mortar type move that left hot chunks of rock on the battlefield only to be detonated by other moves. I quickly learned that to combat this you had to destroy the rocks yourself before they were given a chance to detonate.
The second boss I battled against could be best described as a rotund bloke who didn’t know when to say when while ordering at Macca’s on a Friday night after coming down off of a serious dose of ketamine. This second boss was a lot more basic in design than the lava sphinx, and we went toe-to-toe in a large, circular arena which offered a lot more breathing room than the Lava Sphinx. Moves often had an area of effect and again dodging was really a thing that has to be used and abused liberally. At least in the sections I played the game wasn’t overtly challenging, but I’m confident that the full experience will nail that steadily increasing difficulty curve that good JRPGs tend to feature.
Towards the end of each boss encounter, a power-up dropped for me to pick up that essentially allowed me to go Super Saiyan. Attack strength is heightened and special moves don’t consume any of the special bar so basically it’s just spam your favourite special moves, and I can confirm this is fun. I’m not sure how often you’ll be able to use these power-ups in the game and whether or not they’re exclusive to boss fights, but it definitely allows the last 25% or so of a boss’s health to be decimated in not too long at all. However, it is definitely possible to miss these power-ups (as I did in my first few attempts) and doing so can be frustrating but it also by no means determines whether you will beat a boss or not. It almost felt like a shortcut for the remainder of the boss’s health as for most of the encounter the boss is a bit of a damage sponge.
Now to the visuals. To put it simply, this game is beautiful. I wouldn’t compare it to games like Horzion: Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV or Forza Horizon 3, but it is beautiful through its approach to art style over photorealism. One thing that I love about JRPGs is that a majority of them approach their visuals with an eye for simplicity and style, assuring they often perform admirably in a technical sense compared to more graphically-demanding titles. The game played at a beautifully stable 60 frames per second, and having optimal performance is something that I welcome with open arms, gladly sacrificing high-end graphics for a buttery smooth gameplay experience.
If the state of the demo says anything, we are in for a real treat come January 19th when Level-5 finally drop this massive game for us all to play. Many people are waiting to see how the sweeping changes made in terms of combat will pan out, particularly the ditching of the Pokemon-esque catching and taming of familiars in favour of Higgledies (terrible name) which reportedly you have less direct control over. Level-5 are obviously not content to rest on their laurels with the sequel, and if the small snippet I’ve played is representative of the whole experience I guarantee that I’ll be playing the living daylights out of this game.