Review – Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Developed by Level 5 Games, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is the follow up to Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which was released several years ago. With the aid of Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a whimsical adventure that dealt with significant matters by whisking the main characters away to a magical fairytale land, as only Miyazaki can so effectively do.
Unfortunately for Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, Studio Ghibli was less involved in the creation of the series’ succeeding title. Level 5 Games attempted to recreate Miyazaki’s trademark style by following a similar story structure. While elements of the previous one existed, Level 5 fell short of the high bar that the original title set without the guidance of Miyazaki himself. On its own, Ni No Kuni: Revenant Kingdom is a great game and only fails to meet expectations when compared against its predecessor.
The game revolves around a young cat-eared and cat-tailed king by the name of Evan. His closest adviser, a strange man by the name of Roland, claims to have been whisked away from his home and pulled into a land of anthropomorphic races in a medieval fantasy realm filled with monsters, magic, and nature spirits closely resembling the wood spirits in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke.
But despite Evan being the plot’s central character, our game opens with Roland riding across a bridge in a limousine. When the camera moves to the interior of the vehicle, the emblem on the leather seats would suggest that Roland is the current President of the United States. As he looks out the window, a single missile zooms past the car and hits the city Roland was heading toward, destroying it, the limo, and Roland. When Roland awakens, he’s lying on the floor in an unfamiliar land as a younger version of himself.
Only moments later, Roland encounters the young King Evan who just learned of his father’s death. Unbeknownst to him, his father’s vizier, an evil (literal) rat named Mausinger, has just launched a coup against the royal family and the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. Roland puts himself between the traitorous guards and Evan in order to help him escape through the castle’s sewers.
Once free from the city, Evan and Roland set off to start anew elsewhere. After the fall of Ding Dong Dell, Evan finds himself a king without a kingdom to rule over. Naturally, Roland and Evan decide that the best course of action is to begin a settlement in the wilderness and build it up into a new realm called Evermore. The idealistic king sets out to build a kingdom that unites all neighboring kingdoms and realms, believing that it would be the end of all wars.
As you play through the game, you travel to various kingdoms where a mysterious figure is manipulating other kings who have been corrupted by their own power, turning them against their people and dividing nations. Following Evan leads players from nation to nation to form a union of nations by convincing each kingdom’s leader to sign a treaty. Before you can convince them to ally with Evermore, however, you must first solve their problems, as is par for the course among JRPGs.
But with each new nation comes an encounter with a mysterious man dawning the mask of a golden serpent, coiling itself around his garb. This mysterious figure is responsible for warping the minds of rulers and turning the mythical creatures known as kingmakers, that granted them their authority, against the kings and queens. To free their minds, and convince them to align themselves with Evermore, Evan and his growing party must defeat the Kingsmaker and show each ruler the error of their ways.
Combat is fast paced and filled with a wide range of powerful combinations. Players are able to swap between party members in real-time using the D-pad, each one with their own specialized abilities that create a valuable party composition. Parties are limited to a max of three characters, making it easy to manage in such an active combat system. For example, early on in the game, players would do well to use a party comprised of Roland, a fast and nimble soldier, Evan who acts best as ranged support, and Batu, a slow moving sky-pirate who utilizes heavy hammers and battle axes. Building a varied party is one of the most important pieces of building a successful team, but certainly not the only one.
Higgles are these magical nature spirits that follow you into each battle to offer additional support. As you focus on besting the enemy monsters, the higgles are busy spawning more of themselves across the battlefield until they’ve collected a large enough population to offer valuable aid. Once the higgles have prepared an attack, they’ll gather in a clump highlighted by a glowing circle that players can run to to summon their aid. Green higgles will heal any characters within the circle’s perimeter, while some others issue brutal magic attacks that can destroy enemy targets in a single hit. As the game progresses, players can cook up new higgles or level up their existing ones to gain even greater advantages.
One of the downfalls of so many JRPGs is the late-game repetition of gameplay mechanics. Enemy encounters become monotonous and cumbersome, even dreaded. But Ni NO Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom has two distinctly different modes of gameplay that introduce more variance and give players the regular chance to change the mood, preventing a long game from becoming stale.
As Evan and his allies build Evermore up from a small flatlands settlement into a thriving kingdom, players can build up Evermore in what is best described as a kingdom management simulator. Whenever players return to Evermore, they can enter a top-down camera view to survey the kingdom and the citizens within it. Players will build and staff various centers such as the armory, blacksmith, bazaar, and hunting lodges in order to obtain new resources or craft higher level weapons. Each citizen invited to join Evermore has an inherent ability that makes them best suited for one facility over another. Mabel, the kind old woman who first introduces you to the higgles can be invited to Evermore in exchange for researching more powerful higgles for later use. As Mabel is best suited to the higgles, it takes her and similar citizens less time to discover more powerful ones or reduce the cost of creating more.
Once an area is populated, Evan can stroll around his kingdom, interacting with various citizens who will gift him with rare resources or open up a side quest line. Wandering through market places or armories gives players the chance to purchase rare resources, upgrade weapons, and revel in the success of their growing kingdom. Each facility can be upgraded by spending Kingsguilders, a currency specific to Evermore and earned automatically as time passes. Over time, the kingdom itself can be upgraded, expanding the total territory, introducing new and more advanced facilities that can be constructed for larger benefits. While it sounds tedious and a bit monotonous in writing, I felt most rewarded by my in-game accomplishments when I could experience the growth of Evermore first hand and I accidentally elongated my total play-time by investing far too long in maximizing each stat in town.
Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone and the kingdom best benefits when the king gets out of the way. When it’s time to leave Evermore but players still need a break from solving everyone else’s problems, they can go against rebel military leaders in battlefield skirmishes.
From a high-angled camera, players will act as Evan as he commands the forces of his allies. In clusters of four, small armies will surround Evan, protecting him as they charge forward against rebellious armies seeking to destroy the peace of Evermore. Each army is commanded by a different ally whose soldiers have a specific class with designated strengths and weaknesses.
In a rock, paper, scissors manner, sword wielding knights have advantage over heavy battle hammer wielding soldiers. Hammer wielders have advantages over mages, and mages have advantage over knights with swords. There are a number of less common classes that fall between these classes to maintain a wide variety, but for the most part they fall within the same circle, taking on the strengths and weaknesses of their most similar classes. Using R1 and L1, players can rotate the armies around Evan to chose who will be at the front of the charge as they go head-to-head against opposing militaries.
Like any other feature in the game, these armies can be upgraded by building and staffing the barracks, players can research upgrades for each of their armies, or learn more valuable battle tactics. While it falls outside the expectations of the JRPG genre, the simplified RTS mini-game is a pleasant surprise and break from what we’d expect from a game that otherwise falls neatly into expectations.
The game’s greatest downfall is one that I did not anticipate at all. The original game had a combat system that was deeply flawed and would often leave players running in circles and avoiding combat with enemies until the character auto-recovered. Thankfully, all of these issues have been addressed, but now on the flipside, the game is just too easy. While it’s easy to chalk it up to being a “kids’ game,” the Ni No Kuni series is designed for kids with themes that are meant for more mature audiences, not unlike the work of Studio Ghibli. The previous game dealt with the loss of family member and the five stages of grief, something that would otherwise be missed by young audiences, making it a game genuinely for all ages.
Unfortunately, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is simply too easy to be enjoyed to its fullest potential by adult gamers. I spent a great deal of time leveling up my kingdom and bettering the equipment that would be available to me, ultimately contributing to the issue, but battles ended before they really began. In many areas, I would find myself in a battlefield, use a single combo, and then I would be right back to the world map. I spent more time watching the game load out of a battle than I spent in combat itself. As someone who enjoys difficult games, I found myself playing through the game on auto-pilot, mindlessly executing the same moves that would allow me to progress through the story as fast as possible. Despite enjoying my time with the game, I highly doubt that I will return to Evermore unless the developers are able to release an update that introduces a difficulty setting and a real challenge.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a fantastic experience that I believe anyone can find enjoyment in. Whether your gaming pleasure stems from a love of JRPGs, anime, nostalgia, clever design, music, or just a good tale, there’s something to be found for everyone. But a word of caution for those who want an adrenaline filled game: wait to play this one until the slow release season, because it definitely won’t scratch that itch.
Studio Ghibli inspired animation is notably different than it’s predecessor, but not at the cost of it’s charm.
A wide array of characters keeps battles fresh with each new party member, but lack of difficulty can dull the game at times.
An original score to rival that of Miyazaki’s best.
With a range of mini-games that impact the main story, there are plenty of beneficial tools to earn that will keep you exploring the engaging kingdom of Evermore.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Reviewed on PS4.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is available now on Playstation 4 and PC.