NI NO KUNI is back! Are you excited? Once again, it looks as though we’ll be playing as a little boy going through some tough times, though instead of fish-out-of-water Oliver dealing with grief and thrown into a fantasy land, we’ll be focusing on Evan. Actually, King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, dealing with a coup, trying to regain the throne of a fantasy land. And it’s here that our excitement wanes a little – we’re not sure that’s as relatable an initial premise, to be honest. The hero’s journey template is the standard for a reason; we’re not convinced that a story about a rich, powerful child trying to regain his riches and power is going to resonate so well in our current times. It’s tricky to be on the side of a king regaining his power when you’re not entirely sure that a democracy wouldn’t be a better idea. Also, we’re hoping that for the game proper, King Evan won’t sound quite so whiny. Still, Ni No Kuni was one of our favourite RPGs of recent years, so we’re hoping Level-5 can deliver another gem.Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch gave us a gorgeous world to explore and a surprisingly creative battle system, all wrapped up in a genuinely emotional story. Plus, its cutscenes were provided by Studio Ghibli, of My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle fame. It doesn’t look like Studio Ghibli will be as involved this time around, but the good news is that Joe Hisaishi will be returning to work on the score, so expect more rousing battle themes, twinkling ethereal drama, and swelling strings. Despite losing a lot of its momentum visually in the last quarter of the game (with noticeably fewer Ghibli moments than the early stages), Wrath Of The White Witch was an engaging and delightful RPG that we’re more than happy to see a sequel to, not least because of the original’s crafting and battle systems.
A hybrid of modern Final Fantasy, Grandia, and Pokémon, Wrath Of The White Witch used both active battle elements and turn-based ones, with little monster friends you collect and feed cakes to improve their stats. Plus, they evolve. If that’s not right up your freaking street, we’re not sure we can be friends any more. Sorry. Sadly, there’s no sign of Welsh-accented, lantern-nosed something Mr. Drippy here, or any quirky little characters to join your party, for that matter – just regular old humanoid companions (although one of the enemies does look like a rat gone wrong). Still, it’s by Level-5, so it’s surely only a matter of time before we’re falling in love with some sort of Geordie puppycat or giant fluffy bee speakin’ all Cockney-like, ‘Eh, guvnor.’ Level-5 knows how to do sidekicks relatively well, balancing the potentially infuriatingly twee with a decent splash of well-localised humour.
Like all stories that stay with us, Ni No Kuni has its quirks, its weird and wonderful characters (Mr. Drippy, what even are you?), but it’s the deeper levels of storytelling that cemented it as a truly rewarding experience. Revenant Kingdom looks to be similarly blending quaint, traditional storytelling and addictive battling. And yet, despite drawing on these beautiful, whimsical, emotional stories, by way of the technology it played on, Ni No Kuni still fell short. Final Fantasy is the franchise that springs to mind; fifteen or so towns do not make a world, but you forget that fact due to their detail and variety. With a Ni No Kuni game on PS4, we’re expecting a lot more depth in the realism of the world, the interactions between locations; a world that feels believable within its setting. This storybook world needs to feel like more of a Narnia or an Ooo or a Discworld than another Hyrule. A world like The Witcher III’s, or Fallout 4’s; a world that feels as though people and creatures have been living there for hundreds, thousands of years. The PS4 can definitely deliver; we’ll have to wait to see if Level-5 can use it to its full potential. Rebecca RichardsAuthor.