Today's entry in the list of my favorite things of 2018 is the visually stunning follow up to one of my favorite JRPGs of recent years.
Ni no Kuni II might not have been an official Studio Ghibli collaboration like the original, but the returning presence of former Ghibli character designer Yoshiyuki Momose and longtime music composer Joe Hisaishi, both of whom worked on Wrath of the White Witch, means that the game looks and sounds like a successor to the original.
The story, which has a very surreal start, soon finds it footing and sees you trying to help a young king reclaim a kingdom that has been lost in a coup. Like the first game the central character is pulled from our world into this fantasy realm. This time around you just happen to apparently be the president of the United States thrust into this situation thanks to a, presumably nuclear, attack on New York. I did mention the surreal start right?
The gameplay itself is a step up from the first installment as well, with a decent balance between action combat and RPG mechanics. Everything feels a little tighter and better paced.
The game opens up into Kingdom building elements. You meet new folk, recruit them to help your cause. Find homes for them in your growing city, and level up buildings and heroes to further the cause. It's all standard progression stuff, and can on occasion prompt a little grinding, but nothing too egregious.
There is even has a fun mini-game where you control small armies of troops against other armies in very simple, yet weirdly effective, RTS style sections. Often you dread those 'weird side game' parts of a JRPG, but I found myself enjoying those sections. They were an interesting design lesson in simplicity.
The world building was strong, and the art style perfect for this type of game. I'll never be so cynical as to not find joy in well realized worlds like this, so this is an easy one for me to recommend.