Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom was shown off at this year's E3 in Los Angeles, and Bandai Namco was kind enough to show it once more in London at a post-E3 event, allowing us to play two sections of the game and get a taste of what the sequel to 2013's Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch holds for us, showing us two large battles in which we got to try out the gameplay mechanics.
Before we give an account of our time in combat, players should know that, instead of focusing on Oliver, the protagonist from 2013's Wrath of the White Witch, players now control Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a young king who needs to reclaim his kingdom after being usurped. This adventure takes you through various open worlds and missions, and it's similar in terms of setup to Oliver's journey, in the sense that it's a third-person RPG in which you have a colourful world, battle systems, and a party of heroes.
The first demo section we played wasted no time in throwing us in at the deep end, as it squared us off against the not-so-friendly sounding Longfang, Lord of Flame, who was essentially a huge dragon-like creature swimming in a pool of lava as our party sat perched on a rocky island. As we started hitting his hands and firing projectiles, it dawned on us that this wasn't going to be a quick boss fight, as every attack we did knocked mere slithers off of his giant health bar.
Whereas the first game had familiars, creatures you needed to catch and tame before being able to use in battle, little creatures called higgledies are a big part of this game, and we got to grips with how to use them to our advantage in this boss fight. Every now and then a group of coloured higgledies would make themselves available for use, for example, and if you got to them in a certain amount of time and activated them you could then harness their powers for the good of your team, whether that be to heal your party with the greens, or produce a shield wall with the red ones. There's even a handy little counter on the screen to indicate how many of each colour are around you.
On top of this we could also use our own skills to try and battle the might of Longfang, and these can be both offensive and defensive. Holding R2 (to activate skills) and pressing triangle, for instance, healed our parties a little, but holding R2 and pressing cross unleashed a flurry of blows for great damage. These each had limited uses based on a blue bar above our health which filled when we attacked, so we found ourselves often lamenting using one in a wrong position or at a bad time. Once we got how to use both the higgledies and the skills, Longfang became much more manageable, and we could get up from his giant lava blast attacks without fearing a smokey doom.
Of course, if you don't budget wisely and waste all your skills like we did, there's always your bog standard attacks to keep you going, which include both melee attacks for getting in the face of your opponent, and long range attacks, which can be charged up (as can skill attacks) for greater damage. The latter, while good at keeping a distance for those cowards among us, doesn't do much damage, so it's really going to get boring if you rely too much on that.
Once Longfang was done attempting to chargrill us, we were given the chance to try another level in the game, which took us to the Trial of Courage in the King's Cradle. Here we got a brief glimpse into the game's narrative, as our party visits the King's Cradle to get a kingmaker, which involves Evan (the protagonist) making a pact with the guardians. After making this rather bold claim to an ominous and deep-voiced statue, he's then tasked with taking on a Trial of Courage to prove his worth, and by Trial of Courage we basically mean a gladiatorial arena.
Much of the combat here was the same, except now we were facing a big grumpy giant called Thogg who, while still huge, was smaller than Longfang. Because he was agile, melee combat was thrust more into focus as we had to dodge out of the way of his attacks. To make matters worse, Thogg had called his minions to help him out, and little enemies were scattered around the arena as well, trying to do us harm. This, on top of Thogg's similarly huge health bar, meant that we were in here for the long fight yet again.
Whereas Longfang was much more structured in the sense that we had to wait for him to put his giant paws in reach of our attacks, avoid repeated attack phases, etc., Thogg felt like a much more organic fight. We had to outwit and get behind him rather than wait for him to make himself vulnerable, and even though he was smaller his speed posed a lot more of a threat at times.
Eventually, though, we whittled his health bar down to zero as well, and this was actually done with tangible help from our party. It can so often be the case that playing a game where you're in a party basically means that you're doing all the hard work while the others were there for the ride and/or as cannon fodder, but here we noticed our allies doing noticeable amounts of damage to each boss without having to be micromanaged, something that's very much appreciated when you have to keep on top of your own health and abilities at the same time.
So far so good in terms of gameplay, but the cherry on top of this is the visuals. The Trials of Courage, on the one hand, showcased how bright the game could be, as all of the rich colours popped in the brightness of the daytime setting, but the battle against Longfang showed the other side of the coin, as you could almost feel the heat through the ambient glow of the lava in the darkness, faintly illuminating the surroundings.
While we were a little surprised by the fact that we went up against two huge beasts right from the get go, the game's mechanics are not only easy to pick up, but allow for tactical options that make these big bosses a lot more manageable than they first appear. We only got a taste of what the game and its higgledies can do, but we're excited to jump back in and try some more of it when it comes out on it's delayed release date of January 19 next year.