Ni No Kuni 2 might have one of the most unexpected openings I've ever experienced. It came out of left field, completely upending my expectations of a sweet, light fairy tale. Even now I'm thinking to myself, "Wait a minute, did that really happen?" If you haven't already started Ni No Kuni 2, you might want to wait to preserve the surprise (maybe bookmark this piece for future reference). Otherwise, read on.
Still with us? Okay, this is how the initial cutscene goes. It's actually pretty dark for a storybook adventure with cartoon animals.
Anyway, the initial cutscene opens with a presidential motorcade. Inside we see a much older Roland, who appears to be the President of the United States (though his country is identified as the off-brand "Union"). We've known for some time now that Roland is the "president of a country in Ichi No Kuni." But this is the first time that he's been presented as, basically, the leader of the free world.
Suddenly, a nuclear missile roars overhead toward a skyline that's evocative of New York. It's clearly meant to be a mash-up of different cities, including San Francisco, but my mind went to New York because of the Brooklyn Bridge-like structure leading into the city center, which looks like Manhatten. And then... mushroom clouds.
I mean... what? Does Ni No Kuni 2 really open with nuclear holocaust? I was so taken aback by the opening moments that I had to watch them multiple times. At one point I commented in USG's Slack channel, "Holy crap, Ni No Kuni 2 totally opens with the nuclear destruction of New York City." I couldn't believe it.
The scene concludes with Roland lying in the flaming wreckage of his limo, alive but clearly injured as he beams out of the fire. Then a much younger Roland, still clad in a suit and toting a handgun, materializes in Ding Dong Dell. By the standards of the typical nuclear holocaust film, I'll grant that it's ultimately pretty tame. Sure, we see buildings shattered and cars flying around, but it's nowhere near the horror of, say, Judgement Day.
And yet, the specter of nuclear war still lingers at the edge of our collective consciousness. Nuclear attacks have been at the center of some of the most intense movies ever made: Terminator 2, The Day After, and Threads, to name just a few. It's meant to be the ultimate horror: the real-life apocalypse that could end civilization before we know it. With the exception of Call of Duty, few games have ever been willing to go there. To see it is in Ni No Kuni 2 is surprising to say the least. It's also a great hook.
And yet Ni No Kuni 2 almost immediately forgets that moment of horror. It quickly takes on a much more storybook vibe, which stands in stark contrast to alternate America's fiery destruction. Roland, for his part, seems to forget that he just witnessed the beginning of World War III. Is he aware that all of his friends and loved ones probably just perished in a nuclear holocaust? Is he aware that the country he was leading is, ya know, gone? Those were the questions that kept me pushing through Ni No Kuni 2's 35 hour story.
I know how it all ends now, but I still find myself lingering on the image of a not-quite-New York getting blasted into smithereens. Perhaps it's because one of my recurring nightmares involves being trapped in a nuclear holocaust myself. Or maybe it's because President Trump's saber-rattling with North Korea has reawakened fears of nuclear conflict in some quarters, however far-fetched they may be. It's a fear that has reappeared in the zeitgeist after being buried in the wake of the Cold War.
This isn't the first time Ni No Kuni has opened on a dark note. The original Ni No Kuni begins with Oliver's mother dying of heart problems after she saves him from drowning. Tragedy appears to be the catalyst for traveling between worlds, though there's no Drippy this time around to lead the way. Ni No Kuni 2 just turns it up to eleven.
Sadly, I don't have the cutscene on hand, so images will have to do. But I think they do more than enough to shock and surprise of what might be Ni No Kuni 2's most unexpected moment, don't you?
In any case, I'm curious for your thoughts. You can read my review of Ni No Kuni 2 here. You can also find guides that will help you get started in Ni No Kuni 2. It's out on PS4 and PC today.