Created by Professor Layton developer Level-5 and animated by the legendary Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro), Japanese role-playing game Ni No Kuni was a surprise hit on the PlayStation 3. Its story, a touching tale of childhood loss, was combined with classic RPG mechanics to great effect. At a time when the genre was abandoning its turn-based heritage in favour of supposedly Western-friendly real-time action, Ni No Kuni showed how a traditional game, with a few modern touches, could remain relevant.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when publisher Bandai Namco revealed that Ni No Kuni 2—due out on PlayStation 4 and PC on November 10—drops the excellent turn-based combat system of its predecessor to replace it with real-time combat. Having played two challenging battles from Ni No Kuni 2 here at E3, I’d be lying if I said I was totally convinced by the changes (the loss of Familiars, the Pokemon-like creatures that you caught to accompany you in battle, particularly stings). But that’s not to say the new combat system is a failure—it’s a lot of fun, once you understand the quirks.
But let’s start at the top. Ni No Kuni 2 tells the story of King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum (yes really), the young, fox-eared ruler of the mythical kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. While a kindly character, Evan is considered too timid to rule the kingdom and is ousted by his own people. Undeterred, Evan enlists the help of a human from the real-world—a middle-aged teacher named Roland—in order to help win back his crown (and, according to Bandai Namco, give the game a mature edge). Along the way he meets the likes of Tani, daughter of a group of pirates, along with tiny spirit creatures called Higgledies.