Level-5 Inc have always had a special place in my heart – having been a new development studio fresh on their feet with the release of the PS2, releasing their first ever title ‘Dark Cloud’ – Fast forward 16 years and the studio have numerous successes and failures under their belt…
Ni No Kuni was, as many people will attest, a Studio Ghibli love letter to RPG fans, blending the monster collecting of popular RPGs such as Pokemon, Digimon and Shin Megami Tensei with the enthralling and surprisingly difficult action combat of RPGs such as the massively popular Tales franchise. In many ways it succeeded, and in some other ways it failed… It was, however, popular enough and enthralling enough to warrant a sequel, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom…
In many ways, Ni No Kuni 2 is a large improvement on the basis created by its precursor; saying this, however, this newest entry in the Ghibli fever dream introduces a few issues that I’ll detail later on in this review.
Ni No Kuni 2 follows the story of two protagonists – The first, Evan, is a resident of the fantasy world of Ni No Kuni, having inherited the throne to one of the first game’s most iconic and well developed settlements, Ding Dong Dell; his status as a King is, to say the least, a massive undertaking for a young child such as Evan, as he struggles not only with his title and responsibilities, but with his social skills as well – Beginning the game, Evan is gullible, shy and reserved, often confining himself to his chambers and relying on his servants and subjects more than he probably should.
When Ding Dong Dell is ravaged by a military coup, Evan is forced to flee his kingdom, losing control of Ding Dong Dell and the power tied to kings within the world of Ni No Kuni to a militaristic and corrupt dictator, Mausinger – He’s fortunately saved by a bizarre, otherworldly human donning a high-class business suit from the modern age, wielding a current-day handgun… Roland.
Having been in this world for less than 5 minutes, Roland has already killed one person… A wee bit darker than Ni No Kuni 1..!!
Roland’s story is interesting, to say the least – Originally the President of an unknown country in the ‘real world’, he is transported to Evan’s ‘fantasy world’ after he, and supposedly thousands of others, are brutally murdered by a nuclear missile that strikes his country’s capital city – This intro is, in my eyes, one of Ni No Kuni 2’s strong suits as it sets up important motivations and stark, contrasting imagery when compared to the whimsical and childish opening of the first game. It makes you know immediately that Ni No Kuni 2 is a very different game when compared to the first.
Building on from Evan and Roland’s escape from Ding Dong Dell, however, the game begins to run into some rather abhorrent pacing issues, especially with the third and fourth chapters of the game – Events seem to progress at a crawling pace for a good while, the entire Goldpaw arc, for instance, lasts for a good 5-to-6 hours by itself when you take your time to be invested in the story, and builds to a satisfying, but drawn out conclusion – It goes on longer than it needs to be, and slightly stagnates for a good while, especially when factoring in the multitude of sidequests that the game offers.
Mausinger is delightfully devilish, but critically underused in the early portions of the game.
Another issue that I have with the game’s story is, ironically, the way that Evan’s rise to power is handled to begin with – With Mausinger’s occupation of Ding Dong Dell, and his dominance over the military might of the city, it would make sense for him to launch assaults against Evan’s freshly settled kingdom of Evermore, especially given the plot significance of setting up a kingdom, and the powers tied to the thrones of the world… Yet Mausinger doesn’t do a single thing for over 12 hours in terms of game time. He appears at the beginning, and only pops back into the story after a good number of hours, making me question why all the other nations of the world are just seemingly placid to the fact that a new city, or rather, a new country is being formed on independent soil..
Segueing into gameplay, in terms of the ‘kingdom’ aspect, Ni No Kuni 2 features a lite city sim-esque gameplay mode where players are able to build various buildings, create resources, manage subjects and purchase new items, equipment and create new party members in the form of ‘Higgledies’ (More on these later…); the Kingdom of Evermore features a number of ‘plots’ that you can place buildings, each with their own levels and upgrade tiers, with production times to learn new technologies and items similar to that found in the Sid Meier’s Civilization series… Just extremely basic.
It feels less like I’m leaving my mark on the world, rather leaving someone else’s mark on the world.
Subjects and civilians each have a surprisingly deep amount of detail, from unique production skills, their preferred industry (Being either War (Weapon and Armour production), Ingenuity (Businesses and Shops), Spritecraft (Higgledy creation), and Conjury (Spellcrafting)), their experience in that field, and their IQ (A sort of indicator to their overall proficiency and effectiveness) – Assigning the right citizens to the right services or resources is essential in developing your kingdom further, and plays into the overall happiness and success of Evermore.
In terms of customisation, however, it ends at deciding where to place each building and citizen – No colour or theme changing, no renaming, no free-placing, and no true exploration – It’s a big disappointment as, being a Level-5 Inc fan, I would’ve almost expected Level-5 Inc to build upon the Georama system first introduced in Dark Cloud and last used in White Knight Chronicles 2 – I feel that, whilst this aspect of the gameplay is perfectly serviceable and fun in its own right, it could’ve been so much better.
War! What is it good for? World domination of course!!
Moving neatly from the kingdom section of the gameplay to another big aspect of the game, Ni No Kuni 2 features another large part of being a King – WAR.
Skirmishes act as large-scale conflicts where Evermore’s military might is pitted against other rival factions, civilisations or bandit camps, playing like a mix between Xenoblade Chronicle’s automatic battles and something like an extremely watered down strategy game, like “Baby’s First Fire Emblem” – Troops are divided into pools of soldiers that orbit around Evan, and can be rotated to face off against enemy units and structures, each with a type of weapon; Light units are strong against Heavy units, Heavy units are strong against Ranged units, and Ranged units are strong against Light units, mimicking the Weapon Triangle featured in the aforementioned Fire Emblem titles – Skirmishes are won once one side’s Military Might is reduced to a flat zero. These larger battles are engaging and actually a surprising amount of fun, despite being very, very shallow in terms of complexity – They help to break up the flow of the standard gameplay of Ni No Kuni 2.
Higgledies provide you with some… Unique rewards for helping them.
Finally, the actual meat of the gameplay, the combat – Gone are the familiars of the first game, to the dissatisfaction of many, instead being replaced by the Higgledies, small elemental sprites that can conjur up unique effects and weapons that either damage opponents, buff or debuff combatants, or heal the party, with some Higgledies being far, far stronger than others (For instance, Dark Higgledies are stupidly overpowered with their Gravity skill) – Evan, Roland and their merry motley crew of adventurers control much like in the first game, or for better comparison, a Tales title; you have a range of skills, melee attacks and a ranged attack that consumes ammo or resources, and are able to power up to a Super-Saiyan-esque form where you gain boosted stats and access to stronger skills with reduced cooldown.
There is one unique mechanic tied to combat, however – The Zing system works as a sort of stagger meter from something like Final Fantasy XIII, where the more you attack an enemy, the more your Zing builds up on your currently active weapon (Out of the three you can have equipped at one time); when reaching 100%, skills get temporarily boosted, stats get increased and overall combat becomes a breeze… if it isn’t already easy enough.
Upgradable affinity modifiers, elemental modifiers and more all play into your combat tactics, but are quickly forgotten outside of preparing for an extremely strong boss fight.
This leads me into my main concern with Ni No Kuni 2 – The difficulty of the game is far, far too easy. Overall, in 14 hours of gameplay, I’ve only ever let Evan faint once; a big issue when compared to the somewhat extreme difficulty of the original title, where if one party member fainted, it was game over. I think that an expanded or heightened difficulty update or DLC mode would certainly make Ni No Kuni 2 far more enjoyable for not just fans of the original, but for newcomers as well.
Graphics, Audio and World Design
Overall, the visuals of Ni No Kuni 2 build upon the Studio Ghibli flair of the original and ramps it up to 11 – Particle effects and light sources glow with a realistic warmth or cold, attacks feel weighty and impactful, and overall the game’s animations and visual design are all on-point and high quality – This is especially prevalent when exploring the dense and extremely detailed cities throughout the game, with many secrets and civilians in each realm, making them feel lived in and alive; something many RPGs fail to do.
The visual effects and character designs in Ni No Kuni 2 make the most out of the vibrant cel-shaded Studio Ghibli art style.
The sound design, in terms of sound effects are all extremely punchy, vibrant and clear, and sound appropriate and often enhance aspects of the game such as combat and building; the OST, however, is more hit-and-miss – Cloudcoil Canyon’s theme, Goldpaw’s theme and the standard battle theme can wear on you after a long-enough exposure, with Cloudcoil’s surprisingly dramatic tone for such an early area in the game being jarring and somewhat inappropriate in tone.
Overall, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an extremely enjoyable JRPG, building off of the basis of the first game, but losing quite a bit of what make Ni No Kuni special as a franchise – The removal of familiars in place of Higgledies feels somewhat hollow, and leaves a hole in the title that, no matter what gameplay additions are made, cannot be filled.
May Evermore last forever more…
A lot of this game is hit and miss, and leaves me with a similar feeling to Xenoblade Chronicles 2; Ni No Kuni 2 is a fantastically crafted JRPG… But just not a fantastically executed one. There is so much that I like with Ni No Kuni 2, but so much more that I feel could’ve been better if the title was its own property, or had been in development just a little bit longer.
All things considered, I am having a lot of fun with Ni No Kuni 2 – Its world is colourful, bustling and interesting, its characters engaging and exciting, and the stories of each country hook onto you and drag you in for just a few more hours. I don’t know how the game will conclude at this point, but I dearly do hope that it doesn’t abandon the darker roots of its opening, and explore more of Evan’s struggles.
I give Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom an 8/10
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