Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review
Published on April 27, 2018
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Platforms: PS4, Windows (Played on Windows)
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Upon its release in 2011, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a Japanese animation fan’s dream come true. Studio Ghibli, famous for films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away had partnered up with Japanese game studio Level-5 to create a fantasy JRPG. With the launch of Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, Level-5 took a different route by deciding not to collaborate with the animation studio. Despite this, Ni no Kuni II is a delightful experience packed with fulfilling gameplay, excellent writing, and fantastic character design.
The game opens with Roland, the president of a country similar to a modern day United States. He is caught in a missile explosion while en route to a city via a motorcade. Rather than dying, he is transported to the fantasy Kingdom of Ding Dong Dell where he finds himself in the middle of a coup. Teaming up with the recently deposed child ruler Evan, the duo barely escapes the castle and sets out on a journey to create a new kingdom.
Creating a new kingdom from scratch isn’t easy; Evan and company will need to fight off enemies to fulfill their goal. The combat system is more fluid compared to the first game and allows for an enjoyable experience. In battles, the player can swap between any member of the party. When controlling a party member, you can cast spells, assault foes with light or heavy attacks, and avoid damage with dodges and blocks. With up to three party members and ten enemies in a single battle, things can get chaotic quickly. But the games does well to leave a sense of excitement as the action unfolds quickly. The environment where a battle takes place changes depending on how it is initiated. For example, battles in the overworld are fought on a vast open battlefield. On the other hand, battles within a certain location will be fought directly where the enemies are standing.
One weakness of the combat system stems from its boss fights. Often these fights devolve into a combination of mashing the attack button, spamming spells, and rolling out of the way of the boss’ slow attacks. Another problem for me was the lack of difficulty for the first five to six hours of the game. Some of the early battles were so easy that casting one AOE spell was enough to kill every enemy at once. After about the third chapter the game’s difficulty begins to ramp up to the point of enjoyment. The game’s balance is such that a skilled player can fight enemies that are many levels higher than them. In fact, during the late game and postgame, many of the enemies will undoubtedly out-level the player and present a real challenge. If the enemies become too difficult, the player can easily do some side quests to level up before resuming the main story.
After the few initial skirmishes, your band of friends will be rewarded with a chunk of land to call home. Building a kingdom from the ground up is hard work though! You will be tasked with building your new kingdom through a city management “mini-game.” Income is generated over time and can be increased by building new facilities and researching new technologies that increase the influence of your kingdom. For some players this may feel like a tacked on mobile game, but I found it a refreshing break from the regular quests and battles of the core gameplay. Additionally, improving your kingdom allow you to create stronger gear and research new spells.
Once your kingdom has been established, the game offers you the ability to rally your troops into “Skirmish Battles.” These battles differ from regular ones by functioning more like a real-time strategy game. Evan can command up to four different units that follow him and in rotate either a clockwise or counter-clockwise pattern around him. The three main unit types, sword, hammer, and spear, operate in a rock-paper-scissors fashion where each main unit type is strong against one type, but weak against another. The ultimate goal of these battles is to ensure that your units are positioned in a way such that they are always fighting in a favorable matchup. In addition to the three primary unit types, there are also specialized classes such as archers and shielded units. Each unit is also equipped with a special ability that can be used to change the tide of battle.
While skirmish battles are fun and add another way to enjoy the game, they ultimately fall short due to their repetitive nature. Although the game tries to add a large amount of variance through unit types and special abilities, you’ll most likely stick to one setup. The most optimal unit composition tends to be one of each of the primary unit types along with a fourth ranged unit of your choosing. Most battles have your army clump up with the enemy army followed by spamming different abilities. It also doesn’t help that skirmish battles lack good rewards and end up only being played for quest completion.
The real magic of Ni no Kuni II comes from its writing. While the opening of the game is slow, the game gradually ramps up into more than a run of the mill adventure. The main villain may seem bland and unoriginal but is eventually fleshed out enough to create a satisfying conclusion. Apart from the main story, side quests are relatively short and usually consist of quick fetch quests or monster fights. This may seem boring at first, but many quests have an interesting backstory and humorous interaction between the party and the NPCs. The game has 175 side quests in total, while not every quest is a hit concerning gameplay, the game does well in trying to make every quest have a unique and exciting premise.
Wonderfully woven into the stellar writing is a charismatic cast that accompanies Evan and Roland on their journey. Each character in the game has a unique personality that adds to the dynamic when interacting with other party members or people in the world. Lofty for example is Evan’s kingmaker, a spirit of sorts that protects Evan’s right to rule and always takes things with a hint of skepticism. His critical facial expressions even when not talking always adds a sense of interaction and energy that typical text dialogue cannot do alone.
From the first animated cutscenes to the gameplay itself, it is easy to see that Ni no Kuni II’s visuals are still heavily inspired by Studio Ghibli. Level-5 did a stellar job of replicating the visual style of the first game. Cutscenes are well animated, and good use of colors suit the gorgeous looking fantasy setting.
While the visuals were a strong suit, I found the music to be disappointing. In general, the music seemed to be out of sync with what the rest of the game was trying to accomplish. One area in particular had a massive disconnect between the theme and the environment. If the mismatch wasn’t the problem, many internal environments lacked music entirely, leaving the player to listen to ambient sounds and footsteps. Furthermore, aside from the excellent main theme, the game lacks any memorable or catchy tunes that define the music. What compounds this disappointment is that the music was composed by the legendary Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi who also wrote the first game’s award-winning soundtrack.
As for the PC version, Level-5 did a great job considering it’s their first PC game. The graphics settings and controls are all completely customizable. The game runs very consistently, and I never experienced any framerate issues during my playthrough. However, the mouse acceleration on the camera movement could be trouble to players as it cannot be disabled and became a nuisance very quickly. My solution was to turn the mouse acceleration to the lowest value, and to change the DPI to extremely high to compensate. Level-5 releases a patch on April 18th that makes the movement with mouse acceleration a lot better, but I would still prefer the option to disable it completely.
Ni no Kuni II fires on all cylinders to deliver a satisfying and unique JRPG experience. While it misses some of the targets that it aims for, Level-5 have outdone themselves and created something that is worthy of calling itself a sequel to the original. From its brilliant visuals to its exciting combat, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom will keep players coming back for dozens of hours.