So far, most of the previews of Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom have been concerned with how the combat works, and how its Studio Ghibli aesthetic will knock you on your ass. I mean, seriously: four hours of playing through it, and I've beaten up so many adorable creatures I'm not sure I can ever enjoy a GIF of a dog wearing booties ever again.
I'm kidding, of course - I can always enjoy that. But it does say something about Ni no Kuni 2's wholesome world that even the low-level cannon fodder is so perfectly designed - including chubby hamsters with mohawks - that I feel bad about massacring them. Luckily I also got to try some of the game's other activities beyond exploring, fighting, skirmishing, and running around looking adorable in capes.
Ni no Kuni 2 is the story of a young king and his attempts to reclaim his throne and build a happy kingdom. So it's fitting that in Chapter 4, a management mode is introduced, because being a royal isn't just about sitting down and polishing your family jewels. It's a mini city management sim where you can build armories and training grounds for higgledy (the cute little elemental sprites that come to your aid in battle), then fill those buildings with skilled people. Think Fallout Shelter - but with less potential for dying of radiation sickness - and you won't be far off.
Away from the throne room, this mode opens up a bunch of new side quests, as you hunt down the best people to work in your kingdom. Of course, no one wants to sign up for free, so you'll end up in a spiral of monster-slaying, item-hunting quests. Your first recruitment target is Aunt Martha, higgledy expert and all-around good sort. To get her to join your cause, you'll need to get back her best pan scourer (apparently dishwashers haven't yet made it to Ding Dong Dell or its suburbs), which entails fighting a big monster. Doesn't it always?
I was also intrigued by the top-down puzzle mode in the minigame Cradle of Light. It involves a playing board of squares, some statues, and a story; I had to map out a route across board, via all the landmarks, following the order of the tale. I didn't have time to dig into it as much as I'd like, but it was fun to find a smart little mini-game amongst all the battling and royal duties. It's nice to know that even with a solid four hours of playtime, I was really just getting a whistle-stop tour of the Revenant Kingdom and all its secrets.
Basically, on top of looks and a story that are too pure and wholesome for this world Ni no Kuni 2 is packing some extra treats for the ride. It'll be released on PS4 and PC on March 23.