by Mohsin Mohammad
NOTE: one lucky attendee on April 14th's Foolish for Ghibli+ will be going home with their own copy of Ni No Kuni II for PC!
Fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are a long suffering group. Members of any fandom struggle with the problem of material scarcity to some degree. There's always the wait for the next book, next season, next film. With wider properties like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Dungeons and Dragons you'll find some form of content scattered throughout the year and so the wait time between that feeling of reward is less. This obviously isn't the case for Studio Ghibli. With a very specific art and storytelling style the quality and type of film and worlds produced by Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki come but once in several years.
As with most fandoms that revolve around properly established world building, there is little we want more than further world expansion and the ability to explore that world ourselves. Typically video gaming bridges that gap and while it is often times difficult to translate the world of a different medium into the gaming landscape, it isn't impossible as we've seen with many Star Wars and Forgotten Realms games. For Studio Ghibli, we now have Ni No Kuni 2.
Editor's note: To be perfectly clear though, this game isn't ACTUALLY affiliated with Studio Ghibli. Instead, the game creators directly contacted some legends from the studio. Yoshiyuki Momose, former Ghibli animator, for example and the musical composer of most Ghibli movies, Joe Hisaishi, were recruited to work on Ni No Kuni 2. However, both were diligent collaborators and students of Miyazaki. So while Studio Ghibli wasn't officially affiliated, some of their legends were.
If the films of Miyazaki share one defining characteristic it is the feeling of ever expansive world building. No matter what movie you watch, there's this very present idea of a world being entered into and explored by the characters we follow and usually in an overall optimistic way. Ni No Kuni 2 provides you more than ample space for this. The game follows a fictional President of the United States, brought into a magical land just as a coup leaves its Prince destitute. Summoned directly into the throneroom as the castle is under siege, this once elderly President finds himself young again and in the presence of said prince. Not sure if he's dead or dreaming, this character essentially helps the prince escape the castle alive. Struggling at first to survive your quest eventually turns into creating a new nation state which seeks to bring the disparate lands and cities together and enshrine a national harmony.
Ni No Kuni 2 doesn't just imitate Ghibli stories, it also draws heavily from the general art aesthetic of the Ghibli worlds: robots draw from Castle in The Sky's robot, while forests and even a few party members are jam packed with Princess Mononoke references, not to mention the kodama-like characters that accompany you in every battle. Vibrant colours and bright pallets suffuse every inch of the world. It looks like almost nothing else on the market and the ability to explore, build and recruit from different cities and states showcases this art style expressing itself in nearly a dozen different ways.
Playing Ni No Kuni 2 reminded me of an experience I'd only ever enjoyed once before. In 2003 LucasArts and Bioware released Knights of the Old Republic. While previous Star Wars games had given us a taste of exploring the Galaxy, Star Wars fans had never had the freedom, depth and sheer quality that this game provided to feel like part of a galaxy far, far away. That is the magic of Ni No Kuni 2. Sherif swears it's Zelda meets Chrono Trigger in gameplay and pacing. It lets its players live in the artistic fever dreams of Miyazaki and is a must play for Ghibli fans.