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Ni No Kuni 2 Review

Ni No Kuni returns with a new storybook RPG. Our full review.

Review by Kat Bailey, .

Ni No Kuni 2 has a novel take on politics. In an era of bad faith politicians and screaming pundits, Ni No Kuni offers a story in which things can get done if you simply ask nicely. It takes a strikingly optimistic view on racism and global cooperation in an era of rising nationalism.

In essence it's a fairy tale (with a bit of a twist)—one where good kings and queens are willing to work together to build prosperous societies. It comes across as so sweet and naive that it's almost possible to overlook King Evan Pettiwhisker's subjects slaving away in a mine while he sips tea in his castle.

Ni No Kuni 2 is the follow-up to Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which mixed Pokemon-like creature collecting with Studio Ghibli's distinctive visuals. It more or less retains the look of the previous game, but changes almost everything else. It follows the aforementioned Evan Pettiwhisker in his quest to build a kingdom and unite the world, in which he's joined by Roland, a politician from our own universe.

Scenes from the class struggle in Evermore.

Additional party members join as the story goes on—sky pirates, a pink-haired engineer—but they're mostly incidental outside of the quests where they're introduced. This is Evan and Roland's story. I won't deny it's cute. The richly cel-shaded world of Ni No Kuni is by far its biggest strength, its storybook feel further enhanced by a mix of talking animals and over-the-top humans. It's meant to be a fun, lightweight RPG—a callback to the days of Dragon Quest, which itself is a heroic fairy tale of sorts, that combines elements from our own world. Combined with an excellent soundtrack, Ni No Kuni 2 largely manages to recapture the look and feel of the "good old days" of JRPGs on the PS2.

Kingdom Come

The lightness of Ni No Kuni 2's story carries into the combat, a hack-and-slash affair in which you play as one party member while everyone else is controlled by the CPU. In addition to their normal attacks, every character has a handful of special elemental skills, which are mapped to the face buttons, and these are essential for taking down enemies quickly. If you know what element an enemy is weak to, it's often possible to end battles with just a couple skill attacks.

Ni No Kuni 2 piles on a number of additional systems on top of the core combat to offer a bit more depth, but that's the basic gist of it. You may have seen the marketing for Ni No Kuni 2 playing up the role of the Higgledies—tiny elemental sprites that can launch a handful of strong area attacks, buff your attack and defense, and even power up your special skills. They're useful, but they rarely turn the tide of battle. It's possible to level them up, as well as to craft new ones, but the pool of new Higgledies feels strikingly small owing to the limited number of skills that can be attached to them. I stuck to leveling up my original set of four and did just fine for myself.

In general, your chances in battle are dependent on whether or not you have good gear. Indeed, equipment is so disproportionately important that the right sword makes it possible for a level 40 party to easily face down level 60 monsters. There's a system called the Tactics Tuner that lets you choose whether you want to do more damage to certain types of monsters, but its impact is hardly noticeable during actual combat (its more useful for choosing whether you'd prefer a higher equipment drop rate or XP gain). As with the Higgledies, you can practically ignore the Tactics Tuner and still do just fine for yourself.

One system that is impossible to ignore is the castle. Introduced around Chapter 4, it dominates Ni No Kuni 2's progression, crafting, and story. As with many mobile games, it ticks away automatically in the background, offering plenty of impetus to return often to gather up money, materials, and completed researched. It also offers access to high-quality armor and weapons, as well as opportunities for additional XP growth. Suffice it to say, you'll want to invest in your castle early and often.

The shops that you build are staffed up by completing sidequests and earning the loyalty of new characters, who subsequently move into Evermore and take on a variety of side jobs. Amusingly, those jobs can vary wildly in terms of a character's quality of life. One of the first things I did when I unlocked Evermore was stick Tani in the mines, where she remained for the rest of the game. Assigning characters boosts research time among other perks, and Tani was evidently best-suited for toiling miles beneath the earth. Sorry, Tani.

Ni No Kuni 2 is unfortunately padded out with a lot of mandatory fetch quests.

Evermore winds up being Ni No Kuni 2's main hub, with its development progress even gating portions of the main quest, and that's unfortunately where it falls down a bit. That's because you need to individually recruit roughly 50 characters to level up your castle enough to reach the endgame, and that's accomplished almost entirely through fetch quests. The cost of actually leveling up the castle is also quite steep, and just earning the materials needed to move on ends up tacking on an additional 5 to 10 hours to the final playtime.

I'm personally the sort of person who prefers to play RPGs organically, taking on only the sidequests that interest me. I hate fetch quests and as a rule I avoid them unless they can be completed quickly. Ni No Kuni 2 basically makes these quests mandatory, and that's a large strike against it in my eyes. That's too bad because for the most part I really like Evermore. It feels connected to the heart and soul of Ni No Kuni 2, and it's always satisfying to return and find more research, more money, and more items for crafting. Just make sure you remember that you do the sidequests as they come in, or you're going to have a lot of catching up to do when you reach the end of the game.

The Rest of Ni No Kuni 2

Ni No Kuni 2 winds up settling into a comfortable cycle by Chapter 4 or so. You'll find a kingdom in distress, save its monarch, and start harvesting its citizens for Evermore. The dungeons are a simple mix of combat and traversal puzzles where you hit switches to line up platforms or light a set number of torches within a time limit. Each cycle ends with a large and visually impressive setpiece boss for you to defeat. Ni No Kuni 2 never really deviates from this cycle in the main part of the game, and while I some might call it relaxing, I found it a bit monotonous by the third kingdom or so.

The Leafbook is an Instagram-like album that offers a cute bit of texture to Ni No Kuni 2's world.

Unfortunately, the word that popped into my head a lot as I played was "padding." Ni No Kuni 2 takes around 35 hours to complete, but a lot of that is grinding sidequests and money to build up your kingdom. It's further filled out with what I would call "logistical quests"—missions where you have to collect an item needed to build a boat so you can get to your next destination. All of this padding makes Ni No Kuni 2 feel like a 15 hour RPG that was bloated up to a 35 hour one.

The budget feel of the padding is further accentuated by the strikingly ugly overworld, which represents a rather large step down from the original Ni No Kuni. Its simple look is billed as a stylistic choice, but it clashes harshly with the lovely cel-shading of the main game. The same goes for Ni No Kuni 2's strategy segment, which requires you to lead an "army" of four different unit types against waves of enemies. Like the normal combat, each unit has a special skill, with reinforcement availability being calculated off a finite Might stat. It looks complicated, even featuring its own weapons triangle, but what it boils down to is staying just far enough back for your archers to do their work while mixing in some special skills. It's tedious, and because it takes place on the overworld, it's also quite ugly.

The super deformed look of the overworld and strategy sequences clash heavily with the rest of the game.

When Ni No Kuni 2 works, it feels like a pleasant throwback to the best days of the PS2. It's very pretty, battles never take very long to complete, and it's fun to watch your tiny kingdom blossom into a full-blown nation state. But there's a lot that drags it down too. The combat is fast and painless, but also fairly shallow. The cel-shading is great, but too much of the action takes place on the simplistic overworld. Building a castle is fun, but it's hard to care about any of the characters outside of Evan and Roland, and progression leans too heavily on fetch quests.

Most frustrating of all is how it all ultimately plays out. There's a kernel of a legitimately great (and frankly very dark) story in Roland's past, but Ni No Kuni 2 seems afraid to follow through on what could have been a tremendous premise. It's too much of a fairy tale for its own good.

I said before that Ni No Kuni 2 is better than I expected, but that's mostly because I expected it to be bad. Instead, it's decent. But I'm not sure it rises to the bar set by recent big-budget RPGs, or even the bar set by its predecessor. In that respect, while I enjoyed Ni No Kuni 2 well enough, I have a hard time seeing it as much more than a second-tier RPG in a world where first-rate Japanese roleplaying games are more common than ever.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a sweet-tempered and attractive RPG with a strong castle-building mechanic, but it's dragged down by a jarringly ugly overworld, mandatory fetch quests, and a lot of padding. It's a pleasant throwback for fans of the genre, but it ultimately fails to meet the high bar set by other big-budget JRPGs.

3.5 /5

Ni No Kuni 2 Review Kat Bailey Ni No Kuni returns with a new storybook RPG. Our full review. 2018-03-23T15:08:00-04:00 3.5 5

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Comments 35

  • Avatar for michaelhawj21 #1 michaelhawj21 A month ago
    SMH on this score
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn A month ago
    So excited for this game. The first one blew me away cause it seemed to come out of nowhere and I was hooked on the art style and gameplay. This is going to be a fun weekend!
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn A month ago
    Deleted last month by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for davedalrymple11 #4 davedalrymple11 A month ago
    I don't mind these kinds of side-quests in principle. In Ys VIII, for example, the best parts of the game were when you were aimlessly exploring the island, looking for survivors.
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  • Avatar for AceOfCakez #5 AceOfCakez A month ago
    Nice review here.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #6 Kat.Bailey A month ago
    @davedalrymple11 I like being able to explore at my leisure. I wasn't a fan of it being mandatory.
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  • Avatar for YaMoBeThere #7 YaMoBeThere A month ago
    Good review Kat!

    I really loved the first game and am glad this one isn't the total disaster I expected. Still, I'm with you on the fetch quests, there just isn't enough "game time" as an adult to be relegated to that sort of nonsense.

    This one looks like a pass for me.
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  • Avatar for matt-b #8 matt-b A month ago
    i had the first one on release and played through about 4/5ths of it but bailed when i needed to upgrade some monsters and to do that i needed some rare item drop and to get that i had to fight an enemy that had a low appearance rate.....so i'm glad to hear they changed up the combat at least!
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  • Avatar for jasonrutkoski55 #9 jasonrutkoski55 A month ago
    Sorry your review isn't stopping me from picking this up. You more then likely think it's ugly because you expected too much when clearly if you read the articles , for this game they have a new art team on this game .the game looks fine. so what if you got to do mandatory guest "mhw "does the same thing at times .So giving it a 3 out of 5? go back to ign and I'm sure they'll put more water in the game next time!!
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #10 Kat.Bailey A month ago
  • Avatar for SargeSmash #11 SargeSmash A month ago
    Well, that's disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. I didn't really cotton to the first game either, so I wasn't expecting much. At least it sounds like it's somewhat competent, but I'll definitely be waiting for a sale.
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  • Avatar for jago81 #12 jago81 A month ago
    It's funny. I am not criticizing the review, this is just my observation. This review's bad points (except the ugly overworld, which I don't see) are basically contradicted by every other review lol. It just shows the different personalities and re-emphasizes the need to play for yourself and not allow reviewers to sway your opinion. The padding remark is the exact opposite of the Kotaku review lol.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #13 Kuni-Nino A month ago
    Well, this sounds like a typical Level 5 game. Beautiful to look at, mediocre to play.

    Remember when people use to call Level 5 RPG Geniuses? Boy were they off.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #14 Flipsider99 A month ago
    I don't disagree the review, I'm not a fan of padding in games either.

    The inconsistency does bother me though. I realize you are different reviewers, but something like the latest Assassin's Creed gets a pass even though it is chock full of padding in many ways. Maybe not with "fetch quests" exactly, but you're certainly gonna be doing a lot of the same sort of tasks over and over again. If this is 3.5 stars, Assassin's Creed really ought to be as well.
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  • Avatar for jago81 #15 jago81 A month ago
    @Flipsider99 Persona 5! 40 hours of the game is retail job, spa going, movie watching padding. Seriously, 60% of the Persona series (at least 3 and up) are dozens of hours of padding. It's crazy how some games really do get a pass. I like P5 but it needed to be at least 20 hours shorter.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #16 Kat.Bailey A month ago
    @Flipsider99 The sidequests in AC Origins are better.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #17 Kat.Bailey A month ago
    @jago81 P5 could be shorter, but what you're describing is like... the heart of the game. Spending a night to go to the spa is not the same as having to tediously gather three of a thing to make a character join your kingdom.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #18 Flipsider99 A month ago
    @jago81 No, that doesn't work for Persona. When you call something "padding," what you're saying is that it's undercooked game content that is recycled in order to pad the game out. Persona's sim aspects are the opposite of that. They are well constructed and fit together neatly with the dungeon crawling portion of the game, which shows that a lot of thought and attention to detail was put into it. This is very different from Assassin's Creed where they cut and paste a lot of the same kinds of missions, some of which aren't all that fun in the first place.


    @Kat.Bailey Well, "better" is relative. Personally I find a healthy amount of bad repetition in AssCreed games. I realize that's subjective, and I know it must be annoying for you to have review scores nitpicked, especially when they are written by different people. I'm just saying that based on the logic of this review, a more critical outlook would be warranted on Assassin's Creed games, as these are commonly considered to be some of the biggest offenders when it comes to padding and repetitive quests.Edited last month by Flipsider99
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  • Avatar for jago81 #19 jago81 A month ago
    @Kat.Bailey But that's I guess what I was getting at. It's preference (and exactly why I said above that I am not criticizing the review). I liked P5 but I hated the "routine" parts of the game. It was boring. A lot of them were rinse/repeat objectives like serving food. In essence, that's "gathering 3 things" in a different form. BUT, I have to say, I'm fine with fetch quests. They never bothered me. I would rather fight and gather 3 things than go to the spa and do nothing any day. But, it's all about preference. This review's negatives are basically positives to me (again, except the overworld part as I don't think it's ugly in the least).
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #20 Gamer-Law A month ago
    Thanks, Kat. Your review provided useful insight for a game that has had me on the fence for some time. As YaMoBeThere noted, game time is an increasingly precious commodity these days and I would prefer not to waste it on mandatory fetch quests that add little (if anything) to the story’s development. Moreover, I am left with the inpression that combat in this game has gone the way of “button-mashy.” Not sure thst is what I am looking for right now.

    While I hope others enjoy the game, I have said for some time that I was more excited for the release of Alliance Alive on 3DS than I was for this game. Your review confirmed that is the right prioritization for me.
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  • Avatar for StarGod #21 StarGod A month ago
    "Jarringly ugly over world...a lot of padding..."

    Anyone who claims anything about this game is "jarring ugly" does not have a credible opinion of any art.

    Every other review that I've read has stated that the game did not feel padded at all. Fetch quests are "padding" in the same way that combat and exploring is "padding".

    Apparently the reviewer just doesn't like RPGs or art. I wonder what their review of Studio Gibli films would be?

    "Annoying characters, horrific art—I rate Spirited Away 2/5"

    "Jarringly ugly backgrounds and terrible music makes Princess Mononoke a 3/5"

    -USGamer's Ni No Kuni II reviewer

    They should probably find another line of work.Edited last month by StarGod
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  • Avatar for docexe #22 docexe A month ago
    You know, in some ways is heartening to know that the era of gamers jumping to trash a review (and the reviewer) for deigning to... *gasp* give it a lower score and some negative criticism is still not a thing to the pass. Even funnier when you consider many of those same people also tend to do that without even having played the game first. Whatever.

    Regarding the game itself, the part with the mandatory fetch quests and padding sounds remarkably similar to the prior Ni no Kuni which also suffered from the same issues. I still enjoyed it (for its art and fairy tale vibes) in spite of that and not being particularly impressed by the combat. If the combat in this one is better, then count me in.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #23 Kat.Bailey A month ago
    @StarGod The overwod really is ugly in comparison to the rest of the game. Sorry.
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  • Avatar for AstroDemon #24 AstroDemon A month ago
    Thanks Kat for the good review. I've always been interested in the beautiful animation art in these games, but there wasn't a lot to hook me in the last game, and I'll probably pass on this one as well for now at least. There are tons of other great games I still need to finish before this one goes on the pile, like Divinity Original Sin 2, and Deadfire is coming relatively soon as well (even though it got pushed a month).
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  • Avatar for hamfighter #25 hamfighter A month ago
    It's especially eye rolling to see Kat of all people catch flak for supposedly not understanding an epic JRPG that those people haven't played. There are very few active reviewers writing for significant current sites who have anything close to the long history of experience and love for this particular subgenre than Ms. Bailey (I can't believe Active Time Babble began LAST DECADE), so I tend to give her opinions on this particular game/topic a bit more weight than most.

    Annnnd... after just preordering the game last night, it's kinda disheartening to hear about the padding in particular (which does sound legitimately like what I will feel to be unnecessary filler). On the one hand, the action oriented combat sounds pretty fun to me despite seeing some comments that it eventually gets a little simplistic, and it seems like there are some good ideas in there... but it sounds like a good chunk of the time is still filler, much of the story is still overly saccharine, and hot damn there are a lot of other good games that I could devote my time to playing.

    I kinda wish more developers were willing to take the risk of releasing a considerably shorter RPG instead of padding out the hour count with tedium. I'd be super excited about a ~20-25 hour NnK2 with stronger focus, but now I'm worrying that I'll lose interest in favor of the bounty of other stuff I also want to play. Heck, just this and next week brings Detective Pikachu (TBH, more excited about that release this week!), Alliance Alive, AND a new Atelier game (on Switch, no less - making it a bit easier for me to commit). And I'm far from done with Monster Hunter World, and perpetually have a healthy backlog (currently poking around with: FF XIII-2, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Mario & Luigi 3DS remake).

    Anyway, thanks for the insightful review, Kat.Edited last month by hamfighter
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  • Avatar for YourMomsBestFriend #26 YourMomsBestFriend A month ago
    "... harvesting its citizens... " ? LMAO

    That's an interesting way to phrase recruitment, I suppose.

    I won't be playing this game but I have a serious question for the reviewer (or any knowledgeable commenters): It's my understanding that the first game had the direct involvement of Studio Ghibli in its creation/realization, but this sequel does not (?). Or, that former Ghibli personnel are involved, but not in any "official" capacity in relation to SG (?).

    Can anyone clarify this ?
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  • Avatar for jago81 #27 jago81 A month ago
    Lol, it is kind of funny to see all the defenders here. Like I said, the review was fine. I don't know if I agree with it yet. Her negatives were not that negative for me. It's her opinion. But she certainly doesn't need you all to come running to her defense with all this weird "Ooooohhhh Kaaaaatttttt, your review was so pretty and special!" lol. She put her opinion online. She's knows full well what happens after that. It's internet nature.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #28 Arvis-Jaggamar A month ago
    @jago81 As someone who still views this review with a skeptical eye (for now), people defend Kat because she's been everpresent in the RPG/JRPG community for over a decade. We've all listened to her podcasts and read her writing for so long, she feels almost like a friend. So of course people are going to respond to her critics. Wouldn't you stick up for someone you had friendly feelings towards?

    That being said, I have noticed that Kat has been oddly determined to be negative toward this game since its reveal years ago. But I'm that way toward Persona, so... *shrug*. Taste is a funny thing.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #29 Gamer-Law A month ago
    @hamfighter - Well said! Many of us have expressed a similar desire to see developers return to the 25-35 hour RPG model that was pretty standard in the industry not long ago. In fact, The Last Story on Wii remains one of my favorite JRPGs and I believe I completed that in around 30-35 hours. If every RPG clocked in at 100+ hours, I would be enjoying far fewer each year.

    Gaming time is an increasingly precious commodity and I appreciate it when reviewers like Kat give us a heads-up on games that are heavy on filler.

    Enjoy FE Path of Radiance! To this day, it remains one of my favorite titles in the franchise.
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  • Avatar for andreizhuk #30 andreizhuk A month ago
    >ugly overworld

    Go home review, you are drunk!
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #31 PlatypusPlatoon A month ago
    This is the main criticism I've had with Level 5 RPGs (save for Dragon Quest 8, which I love): absolutely stunning to look at, but usually on the shallow side. It reminds me of the first Level 5 game I played, Dark Cloud 2, way back in the early 2000's on PS2. Beautiful game, charming characters, lovely enemy design, memorable soundtrack, fun weapon crafting. The main problem? It took what should've been a 30-hour RPG, and stretched it to over 70 hours - and the combat wasn't nearly deep enough to compensate for being stretched so thin.

    I feel like every RPG from this studio has followed more or less the same formula, for better or for worse. At least you know what you're getting from them; but it always feels like there's such missed potential, to fill out these astounding-looking games with more complex systems, and less fetch quest padding.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #32 Vonlenska A month ago
    (Ya'll have seen the overworld, right? It's uses a jarringly different visual style than the rest of the game. While I wouldn't call it "ugly," I would call it "bland," which probably means the same thing here. I seem to remember earlier screenshots where it had more of a claymation look, but maybe I'm crazy or this style just looks better in regions with less texture detail. It looks like what Level 5 went with mostly looks like this, which eh. Totally fair to call attention to what a stark and not-flattering visual contrast it is with the rest of the game's art direction.)

    /EG11/resize/600x-1/quality/80/format/jpgEdited 2 times. Last edited last month by Vonlenska
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  • Avatar for FTLMantis #33 FTLMantis A month ago
    I knew there was going to be trouble in the comments on this review people on the reddit games review thread were complaining about it. It sucks that it immediately degenerates into attacks on the reviewer, and that some people felt the need to make new accounts to make their attacks, but I guess that's just how this community works.

    As for the game, I think I'm likely to pass. I might be the only person who never really liked this type of animation, so since the rest of the game didn't get glowing reviews I think it doesn't make sense to pick it up. Too bad.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #34 NiceGuyNeon A month ago
    So I think I'm still interested in this game to an extent. Like, I have Nier Automata, Pillars of Eternity and other more pressing RPGs to play first. But I think at some point in the future I can see myself playing this when the price is lower and I'm in the mood for a candy-coated kid's game.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #35 chaoticBeat A month ago
    This game is part of my Self. Your critical comments about this game are actually an attack not just on my character but on my soul. Why do you do this?
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #36 jeffcorry A month ago
    “Second Tier” RPG...
    Sigh...
    The game has a lot of polish. I think I understand what is meant by this comment, but looking at the game as my son plays...it hardly seems ‘lesser’ class. What are the 1st Tier JRPGS? Final Fantasy XV the quest of the unfinished?
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