Tag Archive: anime


I’ve reviewed a lot of games over the years, but I realized recently that I had never taken pen-to-paper (so to say) when it comes to JRPGs. Sure, I had written about them as a “secondary” reviewer when EGM print went back to old-school multi-person reviews a few years ago, but I had never been the primary reviewer. And, admittedly, the genre is a bit hit-or-miss for me. While I’m not a big Final Fantasy person, I do love the Tales series, and I also really enjoyed Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a few years ago. So, in order to fill in that blank spot on my reviewing career—and also get my hands on the much anticipated sequel early—I was more than happy to take a crack at Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. And, I can attest that it did not disappoint.

Players take charge of an elder statesman named Roland who is mysteriously teleported to a new world when a cataclysmic event befalls his. Roland is shocked to find his youth restored, and that he now sits in the royal bedroom of a newly-crowned king in a medieval world. Roland’s timing could not be more fortuitous for this would-be king named Evan, as a coup by Evan’s chancellor has just begun. Bewildering situation put aside, the two resolve to escape the castle, and thus begin an adventure that will leave both their worlds feeling the ramifications for generations.

It should be said right off the bat that you could jump right into Ni No Kuni II without having played the first one, as there is almost no connection between them given each is a stand-alone story. The only similarities between the two games is the fact that they each share a significant artifact called the Mornstar—similar to how the Sorcerer’s Ring can be found in many of publisher Bandai Namco’s Tales games—and the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell returns. It could make you wonder if this game takes place in the far-flung future of the first game, but there are few other similarities present except one: that people in one world sometimes have a doppelganger in the other with which they are inextricably linked. This point is far more muted here, though, as unlike the first Ni No Kuni—where main character Oliver would bounce back and forth between the two realms—we remain in Evan’s world for the entirety of this game, with only passing references by Roland to his previous life.

No matter whether you played the first game or not, it’s easy to appreciate the stellar storytelling present in Ni No Kuni II. Evan soon composes himself after his escape, and steels himself for the trials ahead. He doesn’t just wish to regain his kingdom, but also create an entirely new one called Evermore than shall unite the world under a single banner to the betterment of all peoples. It’s the kind of wish that a child would make, but the fact that Evan doggedly sets off to do so continues the storybook theme the game takes on from its very beginning, as it empowers a child to do amazing things for both his world and himself.

Evan’s undying optimism and youthful exuberance gives this adventure a tone that gamers of all age groups can enjoy, as he is a refreshing change of pace when it comes to most protagonists in modern games. Continuing the enjoyable-for-all-age-groups aspect is that—as much as I didn’t want it to end as I absolutely adored exploring the world—Ni No Kuni II should clock in for most gamers around the 50-hour mark, a far cry from the norm in the JRPG genre. But, there’s an efficiency and natural fluidity to the storytelling here that games in this genre typically lack, and this, too, was refreshing. Sure, there are a few fetch quests, but none of them felt like they were forcibly bloating the game, instead continuing to serve Evan, Roland, and the rest of the party in their character development.

Another aspect of Ni No Kuni II that gives it a fantastical feel is its art style and music. Although Studio Ghibli did not collaborate with developer Level-5 on this game like they did on the first Ni No Kuni, character designer Yoshiyuki Momose does return in the same role here. His art style clearly permeated every character in the game, giving them all a distinct feel, but also a familiarity to those in tune with his work. Composer Joe Hisaishi also returned for Ni No Kuni II after his work on the first game, and whether it was trumpets triumphantly announcing another success for Evan or the individual themes of each new kingdom I visited—feeding into the character of each of these worlds within the world—the music breathed a special kind of life into Ni No Kuni II that kept a smile plastered on my face.

As much as the style has stayed the same between Ni No Kuni games, the substance—or in this case the gameplay—has seen some major overhauls. The first and possibly biggest change is the removal of Familiars. These friendly sidekicks would fight alongside Oliver and his crew in the first game, where leveling them up was a critical element to finding yourself victorious in battle. However, many labeled the idea a knock-off Pokémon-esque mechanic that required you to keep catching more of those Familiars as the game went on. In Ni No Kuni II, they’ve been replaced by sprite-like beings called Higgledies. These cute critters aren’t nearly as prevalent in the world as Familiars were; you can only take four into battle at once, and although they may offer some nice buffs, a little extra AI controlled offense, or even some elemental firepower, they take a huge backseat in combat, as they’re very much a “set ‘em and forget ‘em” element that simplifies combat tremendously.

There are other changes to the combat besides the removal of Familiars, however. The real-time combat system where players control a single character (out of the three you can set to your party at a time), hacking away with that character’s weapon of choice or magic, does remain reminiscent of the first game. One extra little nuance, though, is that you can carry a projectile weapon into these mini-arenas to fire at enemies who get out of range, or switch between three different melee weapons on the fly. This allows you to carry weapons with different element abilities or buffs into battle in order to keep your strategies fluent, as you rotate them at a moment’s notice with a tap of one of the shoulder buttons. There’s also a charge system which you build through consecutive attacks. You can perform more powerful magic if your melee weapons have a one-hundred-percent charge, meaning swapping between weapons of different charges is another strategy to be mindful of. It may sound complicated here, but after only a battle or two, it became second nature to rotate Roland’s three swords, and helped keep the hack ‘n’ slash aspects of combat from becoming monotonous.

There are also a few changes to how Evan and company are represented in the world. When in dungeons or villages, you’ll see either Evan or your chosen party member (depending on the scenario) from a third-person behind-the-back view. When you go into the overworld when traveling between all these places, however, your party takes on a chibi-fied look, almost like little Pop! Vinyl figures of themselves moving around. When you come across enemies in dungeons, a circle surrounding the conflict will appear, and you’ll brawl right there; alternatively, when in the overworld, you’ll be transported to an impromptu arena to do combat. It’s a curious way of doing things, having these two distinctly different ways to represent your characters, and it kind of reminded me of The Legend of Zelda II: Adventure of Link in how that game’s camera and representation would change based on where you were. It was a bit jarring at first, but I realized later on why there is this distinction between how the characters are portrayed on a micro versus macro level.

And that leads to possibly the most intriguing gameplay element of Ni No Kuni II. In order for Evan to build his own kingdom—a major crux of the story laid out to us—the game introduces real-time strategy mechanics such as collecting resources, building your kingdom up, assigning villagers to different tasks, and even waging war against bandits, thieves, or even other nations. You can watch as your chibi-fied people mill about on the world stage as they work in lumber yards, research new magic, build armor and weapons, or just relax at your inn (after you build all these things, of course).

This element of Ni No Kuni II was both one of my most- and least-favorite elements to the game. When this weird RTS aspect was introduced, I loved working towards growing my population by doing the bevy of side quests that were introduced. Sometimes I’d have to bring someone an item, kill a monster, or just build my kingdom’s renown enough to have those people join my burgeoning population as I tried to become a world power on Ni No Kuni II’s stage. As Evan grew into the role of a king and I got more resources and followers, my kingdom grew along with it, opening up even more potential side activities. And the more I did for my kingdom, the more my subjects could in turn do for me in combat and travel.

Of course, trying to bring the world together leads to inevitable conflict, and it was here—especially as a way to introduce some of the game’s more important chapters or as a precursor to some major conflicts—that Evan would have to lead his armies against other armies. I could pick up to four different unit types and then have to meet a series of objectives to overcome the opposing armies, and it was at this point that this RTS experiment fell apart.

You see, combat in a typical RTS requires precision and knowing exactly what your units will do and when. In Ni No Kuni II, this element felt far too haphazard to be fun. Evan’s units would never attack at a consistent pace, and they would never leave the commander’s side on the field. I’d be stuck moving Evan around the world with these four mini-commanders basically attached to his hip like I was driving around in Mario Kart with a trio of green turtle shells around me, running into enemy forces and hoping they would hold out longer than the AI does—because if they don’t, Evan is awfully vulnerable all by his lonesome.

My units could level up, but one of the other few problems with Ni No Kuni II in general is just that the game doesn’t do a very good job of letting you know exactly when this would happen. Sure, both your armies and your party on the micro level have numbers for attack, defense, magic, and so on. But the armies themselves don’t have any sort of indicator as to when they would level up (leading to some late-game grinding, let me tell you), and my party only had a vague XP bar next to their names, which would’ve been far better served with some actual numbers to let me know how many more wyverns or whatever I need to bash to hit the next level. In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance, but a little more clarity could’ve gone a long way here.

Ni No Kuni II may not have many direct links to its predecessor, but it is indeed an improvement in many ways. There is a ton of side content that feeds into the main story in a natural and engaging way, while the world, characters, music, and the journey the story takes you on are all beautiful. Combat has also seen some sharp improvements, both via addition and subtraction. The only thing holding it back were a few questionable decisions with those RTS elements, but thankfully those skirmishes are few and far between and they do not mar what is otherwise a stellar Japanese RPG.

Publisher: Bandai Namco • Developer: Level-5 • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.23.18

8.5

Ni No Kuni II is full of some tremendously creative decisions that make this unlike many other Japanese RPGs, as well as a clear step above an already good game in the original Ni No Kuni. However, some additions like the RTS elements left me scratching my head. Despite this, Ni No Kuni II tells a beautiful story that’s set in an even more beautiful world, and should be enjoyed by most JRPG fans.

The Good

Beautiful world, music, and story that all other JRPGs should aspire to.

The Bad

RTS-like combat scenarios to mimic large-scale nation-vs-nation battles that sounds great on paper but were poorly executed.

The Ugly

The obsession that developed over making sure each citizen of Evermore had their happily ever after.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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A not-so-Super Saiyan

I was never really big into anime, but like most every other guy back in my day, there was about a two-to-three year period where Dragon Ball Z was near the top of my list of must-see TV shows. Unlike some other obsessions in my life, my Dragon Ball Z love affair was short-lived,  mostly because there really hasn’t been anything new with the series since those days.

Even the DBZ videogames that have been released over the years simply rehashed the same story over and over again. It’s gotten to a point where it’s hard for me to get excited anymore because I know that nothing content-wise has changed. All we’ll see is maybe better graphics or some new gameplay mechanics as we take on Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu for the billionth time.

But Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z was supposed to be different. It was coming after last year’s release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, a film that Battle of Z was supposed to incorporate elements from, and the first new DBZ movie in years. Battle of Z also channels the look and gameplay of Dragon Ball: Zenkai Battle Royale, a DBZ arcade game, so this could surely breathe some freshness in the series for those who only play on consoles.

I’m afraid, however, that my high hopes didn’t pan out. As is normally the case, not enough has changed, and some of the new mechanics do more harm than good.

The new customization features are a perfect example. Not only can you change the color of your favorite DBZ characters’ outfits, but as you beat missions in the story mode, you earn points and special boost cards. These cards can increase your melee strength, HP, Ki blast power, speed, and more. The points can also be spent to also buy more cards if needed.

It starts off as an intriguing way to see whether you can truly make Goku “over 9,000” in terms of power level as you see the direct benefits of what a “+35 melee” card or the like, but by the time you get halfway through the Cell Saga, you’re trying to grind for new cards or points to buy better ones than what you’re given to overcome some really brutal battles.

The worst part about the card system, though, is that it’s random. You may want a melee boost, but you might only collect Speed and HP boosts. Plus, each character can only equip so many cards at a time, so you could have a flood of cards you don’t need as you slowly try to collect the point to buy the card you want or hope you get lucky. It’s an interesting take on leveling up characters and implementing new RPG-like elements into a fighter, but the randomness becomes a grind that gives little to no reward.

Besides this abominable leveling system, the game also fails to deliver enough content revolving around Battle of Gods. The first new movie in over a decade for DBZ gets a single mission in the game. With 60 missions in the single-player mode overall, that’s a pathetically small offering, especially when you make players grind through multiple missions based around the same handful of storylines we’ve been playing through for decades now. At the very least, beating it does unlock Goku’s Saiyan God form as well as two new characters from the movie, Whis and Beerus. But it’s not enough.

Not everything is a disaster, though. From a gameplay perspective, Battle of Z does a fine job of representing its arcade brethren—and the anime itself—on consoles with over a dozen huge arenas and battles that usually are massive in scope. You can also take up to three AI allies into every battle, even if they’re clones of the player character. This leads to some epic re-creations, since the Z Fighters (Goku and his friends) can take on the entire Ginyu Force in one mission. It also opens up some interesting “What If?”-style missions in the single-player mode, like having a bunch of Super Saiyans taking on all four forms of Frieza at the same time. The friendly AI could use some work, and the camera can go a bit wonky when the action gets particularly hectic, but otherwise, the combat’s definitely not the weakest part of this fighter.

When you boil everything down, this still isn’t the Dragon Ball Z game fans want. The single-player mode offers almost nothing we haven’t seen before, and it can’t even be bothered to give us any cutscenes from the anime to tie all the missions—or at least the Sagas—together. A few interesting co-op and team-battle modes on top of the story can make for some online havoc, but it’s still not enough to warrant a Battle of Z purchase by anyone but the most obsessive of DBZ fans.

Developer: Artdink • Publisher: Namco Bandai • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 01.28.14
6.0
Battle of Z had a lot of potential, but like so many DBZ games before it, it fails to capture the opportunity. The unnecessary amount of grinding required to progress through a story we’ve seen a dozen times before overshadows the decent combat.
The Good First DBZ game outside Japan with Goku’s God form, Beerus, and Whis.
The Bad Horrendous camera; customization system makes grinding more bothersome than normal.
The Ugly Remembering why I stopped caring about Dragon Ball Z in the first place.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was a retail copy provided by Namco Bandai for the Xbox 360. .

Brothers to the End

After attending the US Theatrical Premiere of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, I walked out of the theater more pleased after watching a movie than I had felt in a long time.

When a mysterious prisoner breaks out of prison in Central City using alchemy, it’s up to the Elric brothers to track him down! But this prisoner holds many more secrets than just his electric and ice based alchemy abilities. As the Elric brothers chase him down to Table City in the southwestern country of Creta, Alphonse rescues a young girl being hunted by the escaped prisoner and in the process accidentally pulls Ed and himself into a grassroots rebellion where a small valley of downtrodden people are trying to rise up against the two countries surrounding them and holding them back from retaking what they believe to be their holy land and birthright! But just how far will they go for freedom when a Philosopher’s Stone enters into the mix?

From the moment the movie starts to its final climactic battle, you can’t help but be sucked back into the wonderful and intriguing world of Fullmetal Alchemist as you root once again for the Elric brothers in this brand new original adventure. Keeping true for the most part to the tone of the original series in terms of humor striking a fine balance with the action and drama of the series’ more serious moments, this movie is a microcosm of the greatness of this franchise.

Now, clearly the movie is more geared towards the hardcore fans of the franchise, but what I think made it even greater is that even as a casual fan I was able to enjoy the development of the new characters the movie introduced while still giving me a beginning, middle, and end that left me entirely satisfied when all was said and done. And because you can go into the theater with a very loose knowledge of the Elric brothers and the world they live in and still come out smiling I think is a major testament to the quality of film this is.

The only thing that might make some people a bit uneasy is the killing in the film. Not to say there wasn’t drama like that in the cartoon series, but the wholesale slaughter and unnecessarily gruesome and graphic deaths of some characters may rub fans new and old alike the wrong way if not prepared for it as it happens a lot over the course of the one hour 50 minute running time of the movie.

Still, with amazing animation from BONES studio as always, the return of all the original voices from the cartoon series, and a plot worthy of a summer blockbuster, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is a must-see for casual and hardcore fans of the anime alike and hopefully you live near one of the 100 or so theaters that plans to carry it during its limited release.

SCORE: 8.5