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Ni no Kuni 2 is aimed at Western fans, and it’s better for it

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A JRPG for an international crowd

ni no kuni 2 skirmish
A real-time skirmish in Ni no Kuni 2.
Level-5/Bandai Namco Entertainment

Ni no Kuni was one of those games I desperately wanted to like. But Level-5’s collaboration with Studio Ghibli missed the mark for me, largely due to its anarchic JRPG trappings. Its combat was indirect, slow and tedious, borrowing from the genre’s worst-paced tendencies.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with its sequel, which feels more like a spiritual successor than a direct continuation. As director and studio CEO Akihiro Hino told Polygon during a Gamescom interview, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is looking westward for inspiration — much to its improvement.

“The first Ni no Kuni was very much intended for a Japanese audience, and it’s kind of tendency or a trend there to play a game where you don’t focus too much on the action,” Hino said. “Right now we had a very international design in mind from the get-go, so we redesigned the combat system to be in line with that philosophy.”

By “international design,” Hino means an emphasis on real-time combat. No more turn-based fights in Ni no Kuni 2; instead, traversing the world map can lead to one of two kinds of quick-paced fights.

There are encounters where Evan, the child king who stars in the game, takes on monsters by swinging his sword and using a variety of skills. It’s a total departure from the monster-on-monster battling from the first game, giving the player more agency.

What’s best are skirmishes, a separate mode that feels like a mixture of Fire Emblem and a tactical strategy game. Players command small troops with specialized weaponry, chipping away at enemy factions as they head toward an objective on the map. What I played wasn’t quite as strategic as the mode’s clear influences, but it was still about a thousand times more fun than any battle in the first Ni no Kuni. Learning which troops worked best against which and charging up their special attacks was a fast and fun challenge, one I had to actually be torn away from.

“In Japan, the trend toward simply inputting commands and letting the characters play out battle tactics is becoming an older trend as well,” Hino said of the decision to dump turn-based combat. “And I think we’re finally catching up in that sense, where people are more used to online games and interaction with other players on the screen in real time.”

Level-5 is still committed to pleasing its domestic audience, he continued, but games like Ni no Kuni have a special opportunity for Western appeal. The Studio Ghibli connection helped raise the first game’s profile stateside, so it checks out that the developer is going all-in for the sequel — especially since Studio Ghibli went on hiatus in between the release of Ni no Kuni and Ni no Kuni 2.

Although Hino said he felt no responsibility to have Ni No Kuni 2 live up to Ghibli fans’ high expectations in particular, I have confidence that it will satisfy those cravings. At any rate, Level-5 made a smart move in tweaking the combat for a broader audience — a decision that makes a very large, very positive impact on this RPG.

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom will come to PlayStation 4 and Windows PC on Jan. 19, 2018. Check out new screens below.