If you have spent the past decade wishing there was more Suikoden in your life, then oh boy do I have some news for you: Ni no Kuni 2 is as close as we've gotten since 2006, thanks to an elegant kingdom-building system that's a lot of fun to use.
Screenshot: My kingdom in Ni no Kuni II (Jason Schreier)
I finished the second Ni no Kuni this past weekend, and I'll reserve most of my thoughts for the Kotaku review, which should be up next week. (If you have no patience, the short version is: It's great.) Today, though, I want to tell you about what it's like to build your own kingdom.
In Ni no Kuni 2, you play as a boy-king named Evan who is ousted from his kingdom, Ding Dong Dell, in a violent coup. Eventually, Evan decides to start a brand new kingdom, with the ambitious goal of bringing peace to the world by uniting all of its nations.
To build and improve this kingdom, which you'll get a few hours into the game, you'll access a whole town management system that's very reminiscent of Suikoden. You'll go around the world, doing side quests for strangers and helping them out with their mundane problems. When you do help these strangers find their lost brooms or identify specific types of mushrooms, you'll be able to recruit them to come and join your kingdom.
When you're back home, you'll be able to manage your kingdom's citizens, buildings and research. Each of your citizens has a different specialty, ranging from wizardry to mining, and to put them to work, you'll have to construct different types of buildings. The farm will let you harvest eggs and meat, the armourer will let you research and develop new gear, the explorers' guild will let you improve various exploration skills, and so on. You can decide who to assign to each of these buildings. The better someone is at that particular skill, the better they will perform. An improvement that normally takes 60 minutes of real time to finish might take 45 minutes if you have an all-star in charge.
The lifeblood of this system is kingsguilder, a special currency that you can only use in your kingdom. Constructing new buildings costs kingsguilder, as does researching new spells, skills and gear. Your citizens will automatically generate kingsguilder for you over time, but it's all very limited. You won't be able to expand every building or research every skill. You'll have to make tough choices. Do you want to focus on making sure your party has the best weapons? Do you want to prioritise ship travel? Are you only concerned with Higgledies, the Pikmin-like little sprites who can enhance your prowess in battle?
You may be worrying that this sounds a lot like a mobile game, the type of system that would charge you for extra money to make everything take less time. I asked Bandai Namco about this concern, and the publisher's response was clear: "There will be no microtransactions in the game."
Here's what the kindom-building system looks like in action:
Although it doesn't have the depth of, say, SimCity (mostly because there are no hindrances or obstacles in your way), this system is far more fun and interesting than I expected it to be. What would otherwise be menial side quests feel far more rewarding when you know they're going to lead to you improving your kingdom. And the loop of going out on recruiting sprees, then coming back to manage your buildings and research new improvements for your party, remained fun for me throughout the 30 hours I spent with Ni no Kuni 2. It isn't quite Suikoden, but it's close enough to count.