Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review

A kingdom reborn…

The original Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch, is not only one of my favourite games on what is arguably my favourite Sony console, but it is arguably the greatest modern JRPG in recent memory – ranking meteorically high amongst the small repertoire of contemporary greats. With its brilliantly realized world – complimented with gorgeously animated sequences produced by the masterful Studio Ghibli –, an exquisite musical score co-composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi, a Tales meets Pokémon battle system, and a surprisingly poignant narrative that resonates on multiple accords, Wrath of the White Witch is a rare treat of an RPG that never fails to impress. Its sequel, Revenant Kingdom, takes a number of steps forward -establishing some new ideas while polishing the original’s foundation – but questionably stumbles in other areas, arguably taking a few steps backwards. Studio Ghibli’s involvement is objectively non-existent, exposition is divulged in extensive text-based dialogue sequences, the intuitive hybrid active/turn-based system is entirely replaced by a simplistic, yet fun, action-based combat system, and its narrative is disappointingly shallow in comparison to the original’s emotional brilliance. Despite its disappointing nature, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an undeniably fun experience that is exceptionally beautiful and surprisingly engaging. Revenant Kingdom never reaches the resonating heights of its predecessor but manages to establish an aura of its own, thanks to its fantastic world-building and unexpected level of gameplay variance.

Continue reading “Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review”

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My Favorite Games from E3 2017

E3 2017 has come and gone. Everyone seems to be doing their E3 awards now, so I’ll do the same. Though I’m mainly basing this on my personal experience of attending the event, and since I couldn’t experience every game E3 had to offer, my selections will (mostly) look different than most peoples’. I decided to do something of a top five, but instead of ranking the games, I’ll award each one in its own category, to compensate for the long lines preventing me from playing more.


*Best Game I Didn’t Play*

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

There were plenty of games at E3 that I didn’t get to play, so I guess it makes sense to make a category honoring the best of the games I (unfortunately) missed out on. Of course, I kept track of all the big games from the show through…basically every source I could. And while there were a lot of games I wish I had the chance to play at the show, the one that I regret not getting the chance to play was Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.

I loved the original game, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, on the Playstation 3. In fact, it was my favorite game of 2013, and one of the best RPGs of recent years. Though the sequel seems to be changing up the formula a bit in terms of combat, it’s still aiming to bring the ineffable charms of Studio Ghibli to the world of video gaming. And frankly, the new combat system looks just as fun (I really liked the “Dragon Quest meets Pokemon” gameplay of the original, but the Pikmin-esque elements are winning me over). In a year chock-full of great games, Ni No Kuni II is among the titles I’m most excited for. And with all due respect to the other great games I wasn’t able to try at E3, I’m kicking myself the most over missing out on Ni No Kuni II, whose line seemed to always be closed every time I tried to play it…

Yeah, I’m also eagerly-awaiting the remakes of Crash Bandicoot and Superstar Saga, but they’re remakes. It’s different.

 

*The “Wow, I Can’t Believe This Actually Works!” Award*

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

For years, I’ve found the Rabbids to be nothing but annoying. When I heard the rumors of a crossover with Super Mario, I was more dumbfounded than anything. Never would I have imagined that this oddball combination would actually lead to a very promising tactical RPG.

It’s Mario. It’s Rabbids. It has XCOM-esque gameplay. It has music by Grant Kirkhope. The Mario and Rabbid characters use sci-fi weapons… This is the weirdest concept for a game I’ve heard in a very, very long time. Almost like Ubisoft pulled a bunch of ideas out of a hat, and decided to put them together. But, if the demo I played is anything to go by, it actually works.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle proved to be surprisingly complex with its battle system, and it seems to be using both Ubisoft’s Rabbids and Nintendo’s most iconic IP in a really creative way. Here’s hoping the final game is every bit as much of a pleasant surprise.

 

*The “Outta Nowhere” Award*

Dragon Ball FighterZ

As a kid, I loved the Dragon Ball franchise. As I’ve gotten older, I still have a soft spot for it, even if it loses any shred of story structure once it goes into the “Dragon Ball Z” territory and beyond. The planet-devastating action from the manga/anime series should be ripe for the picking for the video game world. But to be honest, I think that Dragon Ball games, at their best, have only ever been so-so.

That all changed when I played Dragon Ball FighterZ. Visually, it looks just like you’re playing an episode of the anime. Actually, considering the game’s animation is far more fluid than the anime’s, Dragon Ball FighterZ looks better than its source material. More importantly, it plays beautifully. The combat is classic, 2D fighting at its best.

The game oozes both depth and accessibility in its gameplay, with easy-to-learn combos and mechanics that definitely take some time to learn to use to greater effect. Plus, it rectifies one of my major gripes with most 2D fighters by making the matches decently lengthy. Normally, I feel like if you get hit by just a few moves in a 2D fighter, the match is nearly over. But here, players get to choose three characters apiece, with each one being decently durable, leading to matches that felt lengthy, but not so lengthy they overstayed their welcome.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited for a fighting game as I am for Dragon Ball FighterZ.

 

*The “Right in the Childhood” Award*

Sonic Mania

Sonic the Hedgehog was one of my favorite video game series as a kid, but somewhere along the line, the games started sucking. I – like many people – believe this all happened around the time Sonic made the jump to 3D. Some still swear by the Sonic Adventure titles, but I’m sorry, they really show their age. Not to mention they also began the trend for Sonic games trying to be melodramatic story-focused, furry-baiting nonsense, which focused more on introducing more small armies of dumb animal characters in each game than actually making a good game. The more I think about it, the more I think Sonic Generations may be the only 3D Sonic title I actually like…

Sega has tried in the past to bring Sonic back to his former glory, with the Sonic Advance/Rush titles being decent attempts that never quite felt right. A more literal approach was taken with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, but both of that game’s “episodes” felt like dumbed down, clunky versions of the formula.

But with Sonic Mania, Sega seems to finally be getting Sonic right! It looks and feels like the Genesis Sonic games in many ways, but also feels like a proper sequel to the 16-bit Sonic classics. It takes the best bits of Sonic’s most beloved games, while also making everything smoother, and adding a good dose of originality and creativity to boot. Plus, we get the classic pot-bellied, Felix the Cat-esque Sonic that we all love, instead of that obnoxious, desperately-trying-to-be-cool buffoon that the Hedgehog has become.

Whether or not Sonic Mania can repair the franchise as a whole is yet to be seen. But at least it looks like we’ll finally get one game that does the series proud.

 

*Overall Game of the Show*

Super Mario Odyssey

Earlier this year, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game which reinvented the foundations of the Zelda series to masterful effect. Now, Nintendo is aiming to do the same with the one franchise that is arguably more highly-regarded than Zelda.

Nintendo may be boasting that Super Mario Odyssey is returning to the “sandbox style” of Super Marios 64 and Sunshine. But it’s actually so much more than that.

Super Mario Odyssey looks to be rebuilding what we know and love about the Mario series. The worlds of the game are outlandish even by Mario’s standards, and that sense of originality is finding its way into the gameplay.

Instead of one-off power-ups being found in blocks, Mario can buy different outfits – with each boasting different abilities – which he can then wear whenever. The famed plumber is free to search for Power Moons (the replacement of Power Stars) however the player sees fit, with the episodic nature of past 3D Marios no longer limiting Mario’s options. And most prominently, Mario can take control of enemies, NPCs and even objects using his new magic hat, which means the gameplay is constantly changing.

Even with all the changes Odyssey looks to bring to the Mario formula, it still retains the level of polish, intricate controls, and bountiful charms you would expect from the Mario series. Odyssey looks to be a classic in the making.


Well, that does it for my E3 awards. I now leave you with this video of the Super Soul Bros. performing at E3 (pardon my recording skills…or lack thereof).

E3 2017: Day 3

E3 2017 has come and gone. While there are plenty of discussions to be had on the presentations and such, I’m just here to recollect my experience at the show. While there were some detriments to this E3 (namely the ungodly long lines), it was fun to be able to experience E3 again, and I look forward to next year’s show… provided they sell reasonably-priced tickets to the public again. Anyway, here’s how my last day at E3 2017 went.

First the bad news: I didn’t get to play Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. I tried – several times – to get in line for it, and every time the line was “temporarily closed,” until the last time I tried and it was closed for the day. So that sucked. Otherwise, I had a good last day at the show, though I didn’t actually play a whole lot.

The first game I got to play was a second go at Dragon Ball FighterZ against my brother. I managed to win once again after a hard fought battle (I usually suck at fighting games, so I don’t mind bragging here), but I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoy this game. It was definitely worth a second look, and was definitely one of the best surprises of the show.

Speaking of pleasant surprises, the next game I managed to play was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Now, when I first heard of the rumors of this game, I can’t say I was too excited. I was never a fan of the Rabbids, so to hear they were crossing over into my favorite franchise was a bit iffy. It also didn’t help that the rumored title was Super Mario RPG: Invasion of the Rabbids, which seemed like a disappointing follow-up to the classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (one of my favorite video games of all time).

Now that the game’s been revealed (and has no connection to Super Mario RPG), I’m actually really excited for it. The game basically plays like the XCOM reboot, but with Mario and Rabbids characters, and music by the composer of Banjo-Kazooie (Grant Kirkhope). That is an odd combination, but certainly an interesting one.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is essentially a tactical RPG, with the game featuring eight playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, along with four Rabbids dressed as those four characters), though the demo only featured three (Mario, and the Peach and Luigi Rabbids). The battles use a turn-based system, with players able to move their characters to different places within a certain distance on the field at any time. During movement, players can boost their characters’ distance by pairing them with another character or going through pipes, perform a sliding attack by crossing an enemy, and ultimately find a spot to cover from enemy damage. After the characters are positioned, they can attack enemies using an array of weird sci-fi weapons.

It sounds simple, but Mario + Rabbids proved to be surprisingly deep and complex with its tactical elements. What seemed so easy on face value had me making a number of mistakes before learning better.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever heard of, but if the demo was a taste of what is to come, then I can say I’m actually very excited for a game featuring the Rabbids. Never thought I’d say that.

Truth be told, standing in line for Mario + Rabbids took up a good deal of time, so I didn’t get to play a whole lot else on this final day of E3 2017, though I did get to explore the show floor a bit more, and I liked what I saw. Two games I’m looking forward to but skipped were ARMS and Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy. With ARMS literally being released tomorrow, I didn’t feel the need to stand in a lengthy line for it. And while the Crash Bandicoot remake compilation is one of my most anticipated games this year, it comes out at the end of this month. So again, I didn’t think waiting in a long line for it made much sense (I would possibly make an exception for Mario or Dark Souls, if that scenario ever occurs).

So the last game I played at this E3 was, well, the first game I played at this E3: Super Mario Odyssey. Mercifully, Nintendo seemed to learn from the chaotic mess of a line from the first day of E3, and tweaked things to make it more tolerable. There were more, smaller lines this time, instead of a gargantuan mass of humanity. I probably only had to wait a half hour, which was a godsend compared to the first time around.

On the first day, I played the desert stage of the Mario Odyssey demo, which felt familiar to the Super Mario Galaxy games in that it was built around action and platforming. This time, however, I tried out the city stage, which felt more in line with Super Mario 64 or – perhaps more accurately – Breath of the Wild.

The city stage serves as a massive sandbox with objects galore to be found and completed as the player sees fit. In retrospect, I probably should have tried out the different costumes to see their abilities, but I was too busy gathering Moons (Odyssey’s replacement for the traditional Stars).

I got one Moon by performing well at a game of jump rope, one for besting an obstacle course, and a few for braving precarious situations. In total, I earned a total of six Moons, which the man working at the kiosk told me tied the record set for the city stage during the demo. Of course, this leads me to an aggravating little detail: My demo ended just as I was climbing the pole at the top of the highest building in the city, which the Nintendo employee ensured me had an additional Moon at its peak. So I was apparently seconds away from having the best record of Moons on the city stage for Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 demo. Just my luck…

In between viewing, playing, and waiting in line for all these great games over the past few days, I also enjoyed some of the other things E3 had to offer: I enjoyed a bit of a GameSpot interview with WWE wrestlers Xavier Woods and Samoa Joe on the last day, while during the second day I had a listen to some awesome Mario Kart 64 remixes courtesy of the Super Soul Bros.

“Joe’s gonna kill you!”

I’ve had a great time at this year’s E3. Yes, the lines were disastrous (hopefully they’ll learn how to better handle the extra people if the event is still open to the public next year), and sure, people can go ahead and comment about how Sony’s presentation wasn’t up to their usual quality, or how there weren’t too many surprises. But for me, it was simply a great time. I made lots of memories, played some terrific games (particularly Super Mario Odyssey, which I feel is destined to be a Nintendo classic), and just had a good time.

I’m hoping I can return to E3 again next year, but all I can say for now is that it was great to attend the event again. But good luck with 2018’s E3 having as stellar of a lineup of games as this year.

“Me…about to be crushed by the DK Rabbid…”

E3 2017: Day 2

Day two of my ventures of E3 2017 have come and gone. Today, I managed to play a few different games, and actually found some great surprises. On the downside, the AAA booths have proven almost too crazy to deal with. I made the exception for Super Mario Odyssey, and I hope to still play a few more AAA games if I’m able (I really want to try Sea of Thieves). But their lines are pure evil. Just evil.

On the plus side of things, I’m not the biggest fan of the direction many AAA games are taking these days, so missing out on them at E3 isn’t a personally crushing loss. But there are a couple of games I hope to catch tomorrow, seeing as it’s the last day of E3 2017 *sob*.

Anyway, the great news is that I spent most of the day with my brother, so we got to experience a number of games together. First we played Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, the newest edition of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy spinoff fighter for the Playstation 4. It was pretty fun and interesting, though I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. In a game placing two teams of three against each other, I came in last place in the losing team, while my brother got first place on the winning team. Ouch.

I got a bit of vengeance, however, with one of E3’s biggest surprises. Dragon Ball FighterZ had a bit of a line, but it was definitely worth it. The game is a classic-style, 2D fighting game from the makers of Guilty Gear, and uses the same beautiful cel-shading as said series, which looks as close to hand-drawn animation as possible.

Dragon Ball FighterZ uses a team system, with players picking three different characters. The demo consisted of six characters from the anime franchise: Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Frieza, Cell and Majin Buu. Both me and my brother picked variations of a Frieza, Cell and Buu team (because Saiyans are boring). The game not only looks gorgeous, but the controls and gameplay are incredibly fluid. Better still, unlike many fighters, where it seems like characters are eliminated rather quickly, it took a good few minutes before either of us knocked out our first character. I ultimately ended up victorious in my match against my brother after a hard fought battle. But the real story here is how disappointed I was when my time with the game ended. I wanted it to keep going. Dragon Ball FighterZ was that much fun.

“The bounciest game of the year.”

Another surprise of the show was Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash. Yeah, yeah, this is a series all about waifus and bewbs (as if that’s a bad thing), but it was fun. It basically works like Splatoon meets Super Mario Sunshine, with teams of bosomy, bikini-clad ninjas using squirt guns against each other. Once you have an opponent down, you can continue to squirt them to remove their bikini top or bottom for extra points (convenient lighting prevents all-out nudity). Look, it’s actually a fun game, okay! I know sites like Kotaku are probably already writing their SJW-fueled negative “review” of it. But it’s harmless fun, and more humorous than anything.

Sadly, due to long lines and rather chaotic crowds, I didn’t get to actually play much else, but I did get a good looksy at Sony’s booth, and made another trip to Nintendo’s. That Spider-Man game looks great, and call me a sucker, but I’m really excited for the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, even though I’ve already played it on PS2 and PS3.

I really wanted to try out Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but the lines for it at both the Nintendo and Ubisoft booths were closed by the time I made it to them. Strangely, Ni No Kuni II’s line was “temporarily closed” the first time I approached it, and then closed for the day the next time. So I guess I know which games I’m starting with tomorrow.

“I never thought I’d want to play a game featuring the Rabbids so badly…”

I did get to play one additional game before the day was done though, Sonic Mania. The Sonic Mania demo allowed you to play as all three characters (Sonic, Knuckles and Tails), and had two different stages to try out (the classic Green Hill Zone and the brand-new Mirage Saloon Zone). I decided to go the classic route and play as Sonic, though because Green Hill Zone seems to be recreated in every Sonic game in existence, I picked the original level instead.

I have to say, it’s hard to get very excited for Sonic games these days, but Sonic Mania has been on my radar since it was announced last year. Even with under ten minutes of playtime with the demo, I think I can safely say it’s the best Sonic game in years. It looks, sounds and feels like the golden age of Sonic games. Though I might even say it controls even more fluidly than the classic Genesis games, and the fact that it’s on modern hardware means that, even though it’s still 16-bits, it can allow for far more complex and robust animations. Sonic Mania is now a game I can’t wait to get my hands on, and it’s been so long since I’ve felt that way for a Sonic title.

Well, that about covers everything I actually managed to play on day two of E3 2017. There’s one more day left, and still a few games I want to be sure to try (mainly Mario + Rabbids and Ni No Kuni II, but if I can manage Splatoon 2, or the Crash Bandicoot and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga remasters, I’ll hopefully squeeze them in as well. And I wouldn’t mind another go at Super Mario Odyssey, provided the line isn’t two and a half hours long).

Even though I may not get the opportunity to play a good deal of games on the show floor, just being able to be at E3 is a real joy for me. As a kid I always wanted to attend E3, and now I actually get to go and play some of the most anticipated upcoming games on the show floor. That’s pretty cool the more I think about it.

Here’s hoping for another trip to E3 in 2018!

Totally Hyped for Ni No Kuni II!!

Ni no Kuni II

After Playstation Experience, many gamers were left with even higher anticipation for Uncharted 4, and utter confusion as to whether the remake of Final Fantasy VII is actually a remake at all. But for me, there was one thing that stood out above everything else presented at the event, and that’s Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.

When Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was released in the US in January 2013, it became one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and despite its release so early in the year, it remained my favorite game of 2013, and my favorite PS3 exclusive.

Though the game sold decently well and got its fair share of acclaim, it didn’t necessarily fly off shelves. And while it won a number of awards in the RPG genre, it failed to gain very many mentions for Game of the Year in 2013 (perhaps because it wasn’t purposefully created to be a Game of the Year like GTAV, Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us were).

So what made Ni no Kuni so special? For one, it was a good old-fashioned JRPG made new. It didn’t reinvent the genre, but it combined elements from series like Pokemon and Dragon Quest in a way that made it feel fresh and innovative. It had the best cel-shading since The Winder, giving the graphics a gorgeous, timeless appeal. The character designs and cut scenes were created by Studio Ghibli, and composer Joe Hisaishi – famous for his scores for Ghibli films – provided the game’s phenomenal soundtrack. And, of course, it told one of the sweetest stories I’ve ever seen in a video game, complete with one of gaming’s greatest cast of characters.

Ni no Kuni was a terrific game, and holds a special place in my heart for both personal reasons and for the game itself. And the announced sequel looks to keep the heart of the original, which can only be a great thing.

Ni no Kuni III’m not sure what other people’s reaction are to the fact that Ni no Kuni II features the same game world but a new cast of characters. Personally, I don’t think it would make much sense to have the same characters from the first game, since that felt like a complete story (more accurately, two complete stories). I suspect some of the secondary and tertiary characters will show up again, which is perfectly fine, but I’m excited to see where the game goes with the new characters.

The released trailer already gives a brief introduction to some of the characters and plot elements (though only vaguely), and shows how beautiful the series’ visuals look on PS4. Once again Ghibli animators and Joe Hisaishi return for the character designs and music, respectively. And it all looks wonderful.

Of course, the trailer didn’t show a whole lot in terms of gameplay, but there’s still plenty of time for that. Considering it’s only the second game in the series (not counting mobile spinoffs), and that the first one came out almost three years ago already (in the US, in Japan its been almost five), it’s not exactly like the series has seen overexposure. I’m hoping the gameplay remains similar to the first title, with maybe some meaningful additions here and there. There’s no need for a total overhaul at this point.

Sadly, the game has no release date as of yet (otherwise I may have to revise my list of most anticipated 2016 games), but no doubt it has joined the likes of Yooka-Laylee and Zelda Wii U as one of my most hyped games on the horizon.

If Ni no Kuni II is anywhere near as beautiful of a game as its predecessor, it will be a real work of art.