It seems odd to think that Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom was announced all the way back in December 2015, but now after a few delays and just over two years, we're gearing up for the full release on PC and PS4 on March 23. To give us one last look at the game before release, Bandai Namco invited us to England's Hever Castle (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, no less) where we got to play a few more hours of the game between Chapters 3 and 4, and this included a first glimpse at the Kingdom mode as well.
While previous preview sessions had been isolated segments giving us short snippets of gameplay mechanics or visuals, here the game was given more time to breathe, as we were given a quest to talk to Goldpaw's leader Pugnacious (a pug, could you believe?) to see if he could return the nearby forest to its rightful owner, Niall. The trouble is that Pugnacious is a very greedy leader, and although we won't spoil anything here, the whole kingdom of Goldpaw is based on luck and the role of a dice, from taxation to criminal trials, all of which is overseen by him.
We were told by the kind folks at Bandai Namco that the city of Goldpaw is loosely based on Taiwan, as the entire thing is bathed in neon light and packed with Asian architecture. What's more is that there's a big focus on gambling - as you'd expect in a society so obsessed with chance and dice - but the catch here is that when you get into debt the government slaps you with a bird that follows you around screaming "YOU OWE ME!" until the debt is cleared. Trust us when we say that we didn't want to stay in debt for long.
This is the first time we'd really been given a quest to delve into and explore freely, and we were really impressed with the narrative presented to us. Almost every character we walked past in Goldpaw could be interacted with, giving us insights into their own lives and the city itself, and there were plenty of NPCs dotted around as well, making the city feel like a busy, bustling metropolis. Sure, the actual city wasn't that big on the map, but it was sizeable enough to have multiple fast-travel points.
What's more is that Goldpaw also gave us a glimpse into the stores and merchants we'll have in the full game, although it's hard to gauge exactly what's available to us when we're thrown in at the deep end like this. All we know is that there are a lot of weapons you can buy, which are then assigned to individual characters in your party, and you can buy other things like consumables as well, for when battles get sticky and you need some help.
As we've mentioned in previous previews the visual approach switches depending on where you are, as when you're in locations like Goldpaw or the forest your party is all normally proportioned and you walk around as you would any other third-person game, but as you travel in the world map to different areas (as we did in this quest), you become a cute little avatar with a big head and little body, and you enter the normal viewpoint again if you encounter enemies and are forced into battle. This is a pretty nice way to ensure that you're not just forced to fast-travel or do tons of walking, as the world map rewards those who explore, in particular those who face the big bad monsters guarding treasure.
It's also worth noting that you don't have to go through the entire game as our protagonist Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, as with a simple tap of a button you can switch between other party members like Tani and Roland, who offer different styles of combat to suit your needs. We used Roland a lot, for example, because one of his abilities was a wide swiping attack that could take out loads of enemies at once, and his gun was also useful at long-range as well. Of course, Evan is still present in story cutscenes; he is the star of the show after all.
Although the character you're controlling is always the main focus, it's worth keeping an eye on your other party members too, as they can be downed in battle just as you can. Making sure they're healed when necessary is vital, then, although if you really want to take direct control you can switch between characters on the fly to make the most out of each of their abilities rather than relying on the AI to do the job for you. It's worth mentioning that you can pause the combat to heal yourself and teammates, so Level-5 hasn't hit us with a Dark Souls-esque stress test.