A waking dream for gamers where, during their childhood, Totoro, Mononoke and Chihiro looked without blushing at all the Disney idols, the first Ni no Kuni marked the collaboration between Level-5 and Ghibli for the creation of a Japanese-style RPG. A project with much blurrier contours than its beautiful sets, which had resulted in a product that was sympathetic, but in many ways lazy. Returning from the kingdom of soporific fighting, Ni no Kuni 2 now tries to give the basic idea forgotten letters of nobility.
From its small name translated “Second Pays”, the Ni No Kuni series deals with a certain logic of navigation between different worlds. If in the first episode, it was a young boy confronted with the death of his mother who entered a round and colourful universe, the context has now hardened. No more innocence, this time it is a politician who is parachuted into unknown lands after a missile accident in his company car. Rejuvenated and without asking too many questions about his presence in a world of castles and magic, populated by talking animals, he finds himself involved in spite of himself in a coup d’etat that allows him to meet the other “hero” of the game, little Evan.
A dynamic start, built with great mastery over a cascade of events and twists and turns that take at the throat. As in any good beginning of a story, only one desire emerges: to go on an adventure and walk in all these strange lands. In the J-RPG, without falling into caricature, one of the worries often comes from a dusty start, haloed by multiple learning of the game systems. On the other hand, Ni no Kuni 2 launches itself at full throttle, stars in its eyes. But like that little boy running with a knife, feisty but unconscious, the slightest stumble can end in tragedy. And that is unfortunately, in part, the case.
The Tales Of series is the powerhouse of the J-RPG and is the most alternative of the J-RPG power plants. Good episodes come along from time to time, in a year-round production of impressive regularity, almost martial. The family’s bad games all share common characteristics: lack of rhythm, unlovable characters, a game system that takes up more space than it should. Neither No Kuni 2 is, as its name still reminds us, between the two worlds. At the same time very similar to a bad Tales Of and yet animated by intentions so praiseworthy that they provoke a little smile of pleasure. Apart from Roland and Evan who are a minimum developed and benefit from a clear evolution in the course of the adventure, their wild camping buddies are all forgettable. Either clichés to the end of the quilt like young Tani, or on the verge of pathological silence like her own father Zoran, the various characters taking part in the quest suffer from NPC syndrome. At no time are they really endangered, doubting, expressing themselves in a different way than the player expects. Yes the game takes the form of a tale, and a story certainly needs archetypes, but here the impression that these teammates can leave from one moment to the next with a simple “to the next” is constant.
As a magician on the prowl, Level 5 manages to mask worry with a bewitching good-natured atmosphere that tackles feelings with delicacy. Sublimated by the unstoppable artistic direction of the Ghibli style, Ni no Kuni 2 is a tangle of sweet and gentle landscapes, whimsical architecture and that calm beauty that the studio has become a specialist in. Nothing could be simpler than to let oneself be carried away by this story of a crossroads of worlds and the regaining of power, less binary than it leads one to think, without reaching an honourable level of writing. Everything is simple, effective, and could work 100% without these disposable characters. A balancing act that continues in the game-design.
Awake, alert and plunged into a bathtub of coffee, it was nevertheless possible to fall asleep during the fighting of Ni no Kuni first of the name. On this point at least his successor does much better via a system that flies even more inspired by the recent Tales Of with a little boost on the intensity. Action-oriented balloons, the battles revolve around two principles, the use of three weapons per character – who are also in groups of three on the field – combined with various special moves and the management of mosses. No, the heroes of the game aren’t brewers, they’re the best friends of mimicked creatures called mosses.
Present during the fights, they give the heroes buffs and gather regularly in a circle, allowing them to launch an attack as soon as the player who approaches them presses the “cross” button. An interesting way to change the physiognomy of a battle and forces you to delay, but which in the end is of little use because of the obvious lack of difficulty. Even in small shape, the warrior group rolls on just about anything and everything. This is even when the game does a Tri-Ace by increasing the level of enemies by 10 or 15 points at a stage of the scenario for no other reason than to save time. But if the player has only snooped through a few side quests and systems in his famous castle, everything passes without hands.
A base entrusted to Little Prince Evan after a few hours of play, this stronghold will remind those who still know what Suikoden is all about. In fact, it gives a role to countless NPCs crossed here and there, affiliated with shops, forges, a shipyard, etc.. These citizens of your realm are obtained through more or less – very, very, very – exciting quests and must be placed in buildings according to their speciality. All this in order to have access to types of supplies or services. For example, a gifted blacksmith unlocks better armor pieces. A whole micro-management aspect that brings depth and the dreaded click of the collectionnite: this shameful need to bring as many NPCs as possible back into its walls.
But, and you’ve seen it happen, the downside of this good idea is that you have to go back to your castle for any evolution. Want to forge a new sword, develop magic, manage your mosses? We’ll have to investigate the route. As the RPG of 2018, Ni no Kuni 2 incorporates a fast moving system, but fading out loads every time does not encourage a regular return to its base. And especially not to undergo equipment developments subject to a precise time limit of up to 35 minutes – real time. A Free To Play logic that only makes the experience even more laborious. And it’s not over.
As the skeleton of an old-fashioned RPG, the dungeon plays a fundamental role in the pleasure of exploration. Especially when the scenario is not powerful enough for the player to make a concession on that particular point. And it’s also one of the weaknesses of the Level 5 game. Despite a rather successful attempt to diversify them with themed ‘puzzles’ – cogs to rotate, water jet to activate, etc. – the idea was to make them more diverse. – these dungeons follow more or less the same basic logic, which takes the surprise out of the discovery. Fortunately, they are rather short and they have the good taste not to drag the main quest too much, in a satisfactory overall rhythm, at least much more than in the previous Ni no Kuni.
But this bland and above all déjà vu side continues the enterprise of flattening the Level 5 game. Without waves or chaos, it moves forward in small steps, never surprising, little concerned, and this, once again, despite its fascinating atmosphere that cries out every second a call for exploration. Especially since there is enough to take care of, with hundreds of side quests, the management of his kingdom, and the few special dungeons generated procedurally, great idea of this Ni no Kuni 2. Equipped with a danger gauge that can be lowered for a few orbs that are also a currency for rare items, they offer the choice of difficulty for rewarding rewards or ease for little value. It’s a pity that this kind of strong concept hasn’t been applied to the whole game. A lack of character, a lack of risk-taking, which make Ni no Kuni 2 a nice trip on a sea of oil where the horizon shows billions of promises. The rudder is unfortunately jammed.