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Hands On At Bandai Namco UK With “Ni no Kuni II”, “Soulcalibur VI”, “Little Witch Academia” & “New Gundam Breaker”

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This past Wednesday I was invited to represent Toonzone at a special evening hosted by Bandai Namco UK, allowing attendees to get hands on with the current builds of four major upcoming games.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

I’ve never really got into the RPG scene for one reason or another. However they hold such a large impact in the gaming world that it’s hard not to be aware of them by proxy. Such was the case with the original Ni no Kuni, a fantasy RPG developed with talent from the world famous Studio Ghibli.

For the purposes of this event we were specifically asked to play from a save starting at chapter 3, both to avoid some spoilers and to get right into some of the key parts of the game. This chapter opens with our protagonist leading a fledgling kingdom which you must provide with institutions and researchers to allow your kingdom to grow and aid your party in battle with innovations. A brief tutorial helps you go over this before you head out into the wider world on a quest. You journey across a map teeming with various fantastical pun named beasts which mostly attack in squads. You have the option to attack them head on or avoid them but if they catch sight of you they will briefly pursue your party. The party vs party encounters are relatively easy but more challenging are the likes of giant manticores, who will attack alone and use more challenging attack patterns.

Although I didn’t proceed far into the available quest, I did venture far enough on the map to encounter a city from earlier in the plot. This was a vast Chinese inspired locale, with seemingly never ending depth for me to explore.  Indeed that was what stood out to me in my time with Ni no Kuni II and my curmudgeon attitude to RPG games- the sheer amount of free range exploration available. The Ghibli motifs make this all the more endearing, producing a beautiful world that begs to be explored. I think I might just have to pick up the game now with temptation like that.

Soulcalibur VI

The tale of souls and swords, eternally retold. I’ve been an SC fan since Soulcailbur II, helped by it being one of the few fighting games I’m genuinely good at and I’ve had a lot of fun with the single player, local VS, online VS and character creation of past entries in the series. Though like many Soulcalibur V left a generally bad taste in my mouth.

The build I got to play had a limited number of characters available; Nightmare, Sophitia, Mitsurugi, Kilik, Xianghua and newcomer Groh. I initially tried a VS COM match playing as Nightmare as he and Siegfried are amongst my most used characters in the series. Muscle memory did not fail me and I found many of his attacks matched the controls and patterns of previous games. Even then this and the other two 3-out-of-5 matches I played were not cakewalks, with the COM players winning a fair share of rounds.

One new ability, which I’m unclear on the specific trigger for, sees both combatants slow down and allow a window for attack for whoever is the quickest on the draw. I suspect this is the kind of mechanic that will be more meaningful with further playtime.

One thing I was disappointed by was the graphics level. The Soul series has always had spacious arenas but here they didn’t feel as cutting edge to me. There’s an old saying that the current generation’s cutscene level is the next gen’s in-game level, so maybe I’ve just grown too familiar with the current gen to be wowed?

In general Soulcalibur VI is looking to be a return to better things for the series. Especially if they bring Taki back.

Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time

Based on the Trigger anime currently available to watch on Netflix we have an RPG/2D beat em up hybrid. I’ve been looking forward to getting some time with this ever since I interviewed the creators last October.

The game is set in a prestigious (if faded) magic school in England which trains girls to be witches. The central character is Akko, a well meaning but lazy student from Japan who is absolutely in love with magic. When Akko accidentally touches a magic clock hidden in the school, she and her friends become trapped in a time loop and must figure a way out.

When I interviewed the game’s producer, I asked about how the game would work for non-fans. It turns out it actually covers for this with a neat little gimmick where the first time you encounter major characters you’ll be asked if you want to ‘reminisce’ about them. Selecting Yes will play a brief slideshow of images from the show over which Akko introduces the character and her thoughts about them. I know some other licensed games have done similar (the Arkham games for instance allowing you to read dossiers on allies and foes) but this is a good way to get newbies up to speed and not something every licensed title necessarily does.

I played the game for roughly an hour and in that time it was primarily the RPG elements on display, with Akko having to navigate around the school and talk to other characters. One of the mechanics of this is eavesdropping, where if Akko walks near to a group of people chatting she can listen in to their conversation and gain new information (all while doing an amusingly smug “uh huh, uh huh!” animation). You’re also given a brief example of spell casting, which lets you interact with specific magical areas in the school and perform actions (in this tutorial, using magic to fix a hole in a bucket).

One annoying thing is that due to the time loop idea you have to play this initial segment three times. Once to go through the events of the day/start the plot, a second time to establish a time loop is happening and a third time for the characters themselves to realise it. The second and third time do speed up/have fun with the events but it does feel like a mild waste, especially as in the middle of this you get only a brief taste of combat.

The combat itself owes much to nostalgic titles like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. You proceed as a team of three and use magical attacks to face off against foes to progress, eventually encountering boss characters. This actually reminded me a lot of the original LWA movie that preceded the show. You’re encouraged to experiment with charging and chaining magic into different attacks and the promise that further characters will become playable later on.

New Gundam Breaker

Ah Gundam. The Japanese franchise so close to my heart that I briefly worked on the franchise for Bandai America back in 2005.

Gundam Breaker is a sibling project to the Gundam Build Fighters meta-franchise, with both eschewing the political and ideological conflicts the franchise started with to instead focus on the fun of building Gundam models and fighting with them in computer games.  I’d personally vouch for both those things (behold my 1/100 Gundam Barbatos Lupus Rex). The series has had a few releases in Asia already but New Gundam Breaker is the first time the series has seen a release in the West.

If you’ve played recent 3D Gundam games like Dynasty Warriors or Versus you’ll know roughly what to expect with the team battle action seen here, with tasks like purging fields of the enemy or uniting to take down gigantic Mobile Armours. However it’s the plastic model side (commonly referred to as Gunpla) that is the big difference here. You can create a customised Gundam by swapping parts to your liking and in the heat of battle swap out parts from other Gunpla you’ve defeated to repair your own. This is a necessary step as taking damage reduces Gunpla in game to the inner frame, the effective basic skeleton of nearly all modern Gunpla kits.

I played the available demo three times, partly because it took me three attempts for my team to win. Battles are fast and frantic and although fun this is where I noticed one of the problems with the game. Explosions from destroyed Gunpla slowed the game down for a few seconds and on one occasion enemy units simply froze in place, unable to be damaged. Hopefully this is something that gets corrected before the final release.

On the positive side, the arenas promise to be entertaining. As you’re fighting with plastic models rather than the giant robots of the actual canon the arenas include to-scale real world settings with the demo opting for an office/classroom to run around. It’s a lot of fun to pursue enemies around comparatively gigantic chairs and tables and under desks you can even find the boxes of Gunpla accurately recreated. It’s reminiscent of the 16-bit era Micro Machine games which saw you race around common locales at tiny size.

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