Journey to a land that could have been pulled straight from one of Hayao Miyazaki’s fairy tales in Level-5’s action-RPG sequel, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. Despite Studio Ghibli’s noticeable absence from the development of Ni no Kuni II, Studio Ghibli’s character designer Yoshiyuki Momose and longtime music composer Joe Hisaishi reprise their roles in this wondrous and imaginative sequel. Return with us to the Other World as an all-new protagonist, King Evan, and help guide his Revenant Kingdom into the future.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment, Level-5
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows PC
Initial Release: March 23, 2018
MSRP: $19.99 (PlayStation 4)
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom takes you on an adventure through the land of the Other World, a world parallel to but separate from our own, hundreds of years after the events of the first Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. While still taking place in the same world as the first game, the story isn’t directly connected to the events of Ni No Kuni and can be enjoyed with no prior knowledge of the series.
Initially, you’ll take control of Roland, the President of a major power in our own modern world. You bare witness to a catastrophic nuclear attack, only to wake up and find yourself in the Other World. You awaken in a strange castle, years younger than you previously were, standing in front of a half-Grimalkin [anthropomorphic feline], half-human child: King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum.
Arriving in the middle of a coup, you befriend the young king and help him escape the kingdom and the usurpers plotting to kill him. From this point forward, the reigns of the story change hands and you’ll take control of King Evan himself, who vows to find a new kingdom where everyone can live in peace.
Evan’s first order of business is to make a bond with a Kingmaker; magnificent, powerful, and magical beings who grant would-be kings the right to rule over a nation. Having his own nation’s Kingmaker stolen from him, he needs to find a new one, and a new land upon which to build his kingdom. Quickly after setting out, Evan’s determination and selflessness shine through. As Evan, you’ll gain more allies as he travels, make your bond with a new Kingmaker, and then turn your sights on establishing a new era of world peace.
Ni No Kuni II is a remarkably political story of a young boy’s coming of age, where he has to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to take down the big baddie and save the world. The game adds its own style of fairytale atmosphere to keep things fresh. Despite being mostly lighthearted, it touches on serious subjects that Evan, as a king, will undoubtedly have to deal with.
Wanting to unify the entire world under his new, globalist banner turns out to not be as easy a task as the young king would have hoped (Who knew!?). The realization that many people have many different beliefs, and want to solve problems in their own way, is a heavy lesson for the fledgling king. Trying to heal wounds between races of people who have been at war for centuries is as disparaging as it is unlikely.
The king will encounter lands whose customs and laws that are as alien to him as breathing water, highlighting the implicit obstacles presented by the notion of achieving world peace by way of global unification. These deeper political and philosophical missives give the story a more realistic weight, one much deeper than your average stop-the-bad-guy, everyone-lives-happily-ever-after cliche.
The depth of the story–clearly inspired and influenced by Studio Ghibli initial series involvement–makes young Evan all the more relatable. While keeping the storybook-like narrative, these are undoubtedly real world problems and make it easier for the player to stay immersed.
The rest of the cast is likable, but never get to hold much of the spotlight. Their focus lasts no more than a brief five- to ten-minute explanation of who they are, where they came from, etc. Their backstories serve only to conflate their personal quests with joining your own, permanently.
There are cut scenes where the interaction between characters is kept true to who the characters were initially presented as, and that leads to more believable interactions between your party members. Characters don’t just blindly follow Evan, and all have their own way of supporting him true to their own character. There was nonetheless a lot of lost-opportunity for character development, unfortunately, and the brevity of the supporting casts’ roles hindered the narrative and the bonds the king shared with those around him.
If the narrative invokes a Miyazakian fable, then the stellar art direction makes it doubly so. While Studio Ghibli didn’t have a hand in the development of Revenant Kingdom, the style and direction of the art are still heavily influenced by the studios’ works. Bringing life to an anime aesthetic in-game, it almost feels like you are playing through a Studio Ghibli movie.
Revenant Kingdom takes full advantage of its cell shaded graphics, and a bright and vibrant color palette sets the tone for the world and your adventure within alike. Bright and beautiful landscapes reflect the personalities of the cast and help keep a skip in your step as you explore the game’s carefully crafted landscape.
Each new area is unique and interesting, holding its own charm, character, and mystique. The level design unfolds in such a way that the areas pull you in, making you want to explore them further, and in turn, this exploration is rewarded with a plethora of grand locales and hidden treats: Forests where the trees are as tall as mountains; mountain ranges that are more skeletal-remains than they are rock; vast deserts and oceans largely untouched by civilization; the ancient remains of a country sized flying vehicle in a fantasy world with just a single airship, etc.
There are also hidden nooks and crannies that open up into side quests, optional bosses, dungeons, and hidden npcs; and the list goes on. Rarely is a dead end just-that. Even if it’s only a random material on the ground or a hidden cache in a carefully crafted backdrop, exploration is always rewarded. The game design itself begs you, as if to say, “Come and see this gorgeous world we have made for you.”
You’ll interact with each of these environments in different ways, using spells that Evan learns through either the course of the story or through research in your kingdom. These spells allow you to reach previously unreachable areas and converse with animals, plants, and lost spirits for a multitude of side quests and optional content that can lead you astray from the main story for hours on end.
Researching these spells is a part of Ni no Kuni II‘s kingdom-building mechanic. You’ll gather resources in order to build up your kingdom with different facilities, and each facility adds new mechanics or provides a helpful boost to certain areas of gameplay. The Spellworks allows you to craft spells from materials that aid you in combat, or non-combat focused spells that aid you in getting around the map.
There are facilities to gather resources for you, others for crafting weapons and armor, while still more that affect certain dungeon mechanics. Some affect how much exp or money you obtain from battle, and a few affect the battle mini game (more on this in a second).
All of this is almost entirely optional, and you can put as much or as little time into building your kingdom as you see fit. This includes participating in side quests which allow you to recruit more citizens for your kingdom (whose specialties you’ll need to unlock certain research trees and to hunt down rare materials for your next upgrade). The more time you do put in, however, the more the game’s world opens up to you.
The army-battling mini game is by-and-large our least favorite part of the game. These have you taking a small army, consisting of four units of soldiers, and running across sections of the world map, defending your kingdom or engaging in the occasional skirmish or escort mission. It’s mechanically a rock, paper, scissors battle.
These four units are basically attached to a hula hoop centered on Evan. As they circle around the king, you’re tasked with pointing them at the right enemy based on their type/weakness. You can heal your units or use special abilities like dropping bombs or throwing poison, which diminishes your Military Might gauge. This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the drastic jump in difficulty from early-game to late-game. The difference in level requirement could jump 6 or 10 levels at once, which requires you to grind these early battles repeatedly. Such a harsh, disruptive pause to the usually flowing gameplay only magnifies the problem.
You can ignore most of Ni No Kuni II‘s optional mechanics, but we can’t imagine why you would want to. Most of them are fairly entertaining and provide substantial benefit for their completion. Beyond the kingdom building and map-skirmishes, there is also the Tactics Tweaker, and “higgledies”, each of which add more depth to combat.
The Tactics Tweaker is an item in your menu that gives you the ability to adjust aspects of the game such as how much experience you earn, item drop rates, or how effective your attacks are against certain enemy types (which can be a boon in the optional fights against “tainted” enemies).
Higgledies are tiny elemental creatures you can recruit along your journey. Up to one hundred different higgledies can be recruited, each with their own abilities. You can bring four higgledies with you into combat to serve as little helpers, throwing you healing orbs from time to time or activating other abilities, such as conjuring forth cannons to deal damage or casting helpful buff spells.
Get enough of the same element of these little guys together and they can give huge boosts to your elemental spells, transforming them into huge AOE attacks. Taking advantage of these optional features can give you the edge you may need to overcome any battles you may have trouble with.
Unlike its predecessor, which featured turn-based combat, the combat in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is entirely real-time. You will be able to see enemies on the field, and making contact with them will transition you into combat. Occasionally, it feels impossible to get away from an enemy chasing you down, so not all battles are avoidable.
The game improves upon Ni no Kuni‘s JRPG combat style, with battle transitions seamlessly taking place right where you were previously standing. We’re huge proponents for games minimizing needless, time-consuming transitions; less waiting and more playing.
Combat is fun and fast, making grinding for experience and materials less of a chore. Light and heavy attacks, blocking, dodge rolling, weapon skills, and spells are the majority of your options in battle. Be sure to take advantage of elemental weaknesses. Knowing when to dodge and block attacks, and using the aforementioned higgledies, are all key to victory.
If you return to an earlier area, or are just grossly over leveled from having too much fun with the combat system, enemies will no longer chase you or try to initiate combat. This makes backtracking for side-quests or upping completion infinitely easier. It also promotes exploration of the world, allowing you to appreciate the world’s noteworthy artistic direction or explore the far reaches of dungeons without having to deal with the tedium of random battles (especially low level ones that would be a waste of your time and not very rewarding).
Those of us who seek out challenges will have plenty to do with the game’s Tainted Monsters. Infected with darkness, these Tainted Monsters litter the landscape and dungeons. Higher level and more powerful than their normal counterparts, these enemies will provide challenges for you from the beginning, to the very end, of your adventure.
They are stationary, and will not chase you. They’re also clearly marked by the dark aura that surrounds them, and you will be prompted to decide if you want to fight the monster. The game displays the monsters level before you make a decision, and the default setting is set to “No”, just in case you hit the button too fast. Completing battles against tainted monsters will earn you special equipment, items, and loads of EXP.
The soundtrack for Revenant Kingdom is par for the course in terms of JRPG soundtracks, which are notorious for their generic ambient tracks (tough there are, obviously, many exceptions). The music is forgettable, and you may feel like you’ve heard this all before.
Occasionally, the sound direction seems a little off, such as when it builds the tempo unexpectedly, which raises tensions, but the anticipated event never occurs. Several times we were lead to anticipate a boss battle that never came. It almost feels as if the soundtrack were made without knowledge of its place in the game. The atmosphere the soundtrack produces often just doesn’t fit the situation at hand, and its disruptive to an otherwise epic adventure.
Ni no Kuni II doesn’t break any molds, but it does go a long way to introduce newcomers to the genre in a painless, tedium-free way. Most cutscenes are voice acted, and removal of time wasting, unnecessary transitions goes a long way to keeping the player immersed. The general game mechanics are easy enough to understand, and the game guides you with the seamless integration of their tutorials into the main story of the game.
Ni no Kuni II does a lot of things right. It takes a conscious effort to improve upon an age old formula. The game feels fresh and fast, and it gives you what you need without holding your hand for too long. With its fantastic visuals, and with a little added depth behind its whimsically adventurous narrative, it breathes life into an often repetitious genre. Themes never becoming too serious and don’t stray too far from age old tropes, but Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom manages to present itself with a distinct and memorable style.