So where is the full review? Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is out later this week but we didn't get a key until close to embargo time. Definitely not enough to complete a full review of this sprawling JRPG. In the meantime, I do have this review in progress for you that will cover some of the things you can expect in the first few hours.
I dove into Ni no Kuni II with few expectations. While the first game was well received I did not play it. So while I'm hopeful this second entry into the franchise will be good I do not come attached with any preconceived notions.
The only thing I did expect was a high fantasy RPG with a little bit of whimsy based on the early art of the game. Humanoids range from full humans on one end, some people with cat ears in the middle, to anthropomorphic mice on the far end. Whimsy this game has, even some of the enemies could be accused of being too cute, but not all of them. There is still sinister creatures to be found. Very early in the game, I did not find the story compelling. In fact, there was an early cutscene involving a nuclear attack that almost pulled me right out of it. However, the two main protagonists start to develop nicely. There is stern Roland that was a leader in a former life and now wonders if he should be a kingmaker and not a king. Then there is young Evan who seems like a wet behind the king that will end up being more bratty than brave but starts to show he is more than a milquetoast character.
The overworld navigation gives me serious Final Fantasy Type 0 vibes. While I really enjoyed that game my opinion is not shared universally. Besides enemies there are set pieces that you'll encounter on the overworld that will transport you to stages. When you run into a monster in the overworld you’ll transport to a battle scene. If you run into an enemy in a stage, which you can see in advance, no random encounters so far in this game, combat will play out much like combat in the Tales series, or Star Ocean. A certain area will be circled off and combat will take place inside. If you try and run off after a period of time without taking damage you'll escape. Combat inside the circle plays out in real time. You can guard, dodge, and use skills, on top of heavy and light attacks. You can also have up to 3 different melee weapons and one ranged weapon you can switch between on the fly. Your weapons gain power as you kill monsters and once they reach 100% can be used to unleash more powerful skill attacks.
While traversing the different areas you'll learn spells that can help you get to blocked off or hard to reach areas. In this way stages aren’t extremely linear, you’ll get a chance to double back and look for things you missed the first time, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is an open world by today’s standards. One other item that strikes that whimsy chord is the Higgledies. These small little forces of nature look like tiny woodland sprites. Sprites that turn out are willing to help you do some dirty work on the battlefield. You can equip these little ones in your party and based on the combinations they can unleash havoc once triggered. One example is they can form a cannon to assault your enemies.
There is also a town / castle building system that is present in the game but I haven't arrived at it yet so nothing to report back there. Keep an eye out next week for our complete review.