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Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PlayStation 4) artwork

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PlayStation 4) review

"Level 5 forges a path to the future by looking to the past."

When Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released in 2013, it gave players a glimpse of a satisfying future wherein Level 5 would take its accessible monster raising gameplay and build it into the insanely popular Yo-Kai Watch series. Rather than continue building in the direction its predecessor followed, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom instead looks to the developer's past. The new adventure seems to have been directly inspired by the likes of Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy, and although the result feels almost completely different, the change is arguably the best move the series could have made.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom opens as Roland, the president of a fictional country in our world, witnesses a nuclear explosion that wipes out a city heís driving to visit. As he presumably lays dying in the aftermath of that event, he finds himself being transported to the city of Ding Dong Dell (from the first game). There, a young king named Evan is being threatened by a coup. Roland decides to help Evan escape from the city, and the two set off on a journey to establish a new kingdom founded on the principles of peace and cooperation.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PlayStation 4) image

The first Ni no Kuni featured a personal story about dealing with grief, but the sequel spins a more politically minded tale exploring the struggle to find common ground with neighboring countries. At its heart, itís an anti-war narrative that seeks to impart a lesson about the value of cooperation between people with differing ideals. It largely succeeds in this endeavor, thanks to Evan's willingness to work on advice he receives from Roland. The latter character has already born witness to the horrors of war, and he wants to help the young king realize his dreams of a better world.

The story is brought to life with Studio Ghibli-inspired visuals and music, despite the famed animation studio not actually working on the sequel in any official capacity. Unfortunately, the presentation seems to have taken a bit of a dip. The game is not fully voiced, and many cutscenes feature the party just standing around as text boxes advance the narrative. Itís a treat when the game decides to use a proper cinematic cutscene, but theyíre so few and far between that it also is a bit jarring when they do appear.

The biggest departure for the sequel is its combat, which ditches the first game's familiar raising system and its turn-based battles. Instead of taking the familiar approach fans might have expected, Ni no Kuni II relies on action-RPG systems that feel far more similar to what we saw in titles such as Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy. Players have access to light, heavy and ranged attacks that can be chained into simple combos, alongside four skills that range from special multi-hit combos to magic spells. Itís a simplistic setup, but it works and should prove a welcome change for those who found the first gameís combat either too complex or not sufficiently engaging.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PlayStation 4) image

Familiars are gone, but Ni no Kuni II has a similar system in place thanks to the inclusion of the "Higgledies." Up to four of these little creatures, which can either be found in the environment or created, are able to join Evan and friends in battle. They attack enemies on their own, buff the party or debuff enemies. When enough of the same Higgledy join together, Evan can run over to a circle they generate and activate their special move, which is usually either a more effective attack or a healing circle. The Higgledies are nowhere near as complex as the familiars from the first game and can largely be ignored by players who donít want to get into the nitty gritty of finding and raising them.

When players arenít killing monsters, theyíll spend much of their time exploring caves, forests and the major cities of the world. The former are usually pretty straightforward affairs, as they offer little besides a combat encounter or two. The cities and major areas, however, are a real delight. The architectural designs are some of the best seen in JRPGs as of late. Itís unfortunate, then, that there are so few of these grand locations (especially compared to the number included in the first title). The game does its best with what it has, though. Players will grow intimately familiar with each city as Evan scours their streets looking for citizens willing to join his new kingdom.

If Ni no Kuni II were just a simple action-RPG, it would be an inferior sequel. Its narrative simply doesnít have as much meat on its bones. Thankfully, Revenant Kingdom is aptly named. It features a fully fleshed out kingdom building sim thatís easily the star attraction. Early on in the story, Evan and Roland establish the kingdom of Evermore and get to work building it toward something grand. Progression starts off slowly, but as Evan recruits more citizens to his kingdom, the process speeds up considerably. Sooner than later, players can generate plenty of money to not only build more facilities, but also to research everything from better weapons and armor to increased experience gains during battle.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PlayStation 4) image

Ni no Kuni IIís kingdom building aspect is so fulfilling because itís able to effortlessly tie itself to every other aspect of the game. Every main story quest gives Evan some new power to explore more of the the world, which in turn allows him to take on more side quests that in turn allow him to recruit new quest givers to his kingdom. The side quest screen helpfully tells the players which quests will yield citizens, as well as the special ability they bring with them. That's genuinely useful information, as sometimes the player will want to prioritize gaining specific citizens first so they can get to work researching better ways to improve the kingdom, the party or even the army.

Speaking of armies, Revenant Kingdom also decided to throw a simple RTS mode in for good measure. On the world map, Evan engages in small battles called skirmishes that see the young king lead up to four small armies into battle against other armies. This mode could be most closely compared to Pikmin, but itís even simpler than Nintendoís already simplistic RTS. Each army has a unit type thatís effective against other types, and Evan can rotate them around himself as he marches against adversarial units. Most battles only require Evan to wipe out the opposing army, but others have him protecting a point or escorting a moving target through an area.

The skirmishes would make for a fun little distraction, but the game sometimes requires the player to engage in these battles to advance the story. Thus, you'll want to participate in random skirmishes whenever they appear, just so the mandatory battles are manageable. Personally, I think all of the skirmishes should have been optional. As things stand, they're an unnecessary bottleneck to players like myself, who are either bad at or have no interest in this style of play. Itís still rare enough, however, that it never quite becomes a bother.

In a lot of ways, Ni no Kuni II is a throwback game. It has the visuals and narrative chops of a modern AAA game, but its systems are deeply rooted in classics going as far back as ActRaiser. Level 5 has clearly not lost its ability to make a game that can be many things at once while not missing a beat, and that's despite the team not producing a proper genre mashup since 2005ís Rogue Galaxy. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Ni no Kuni II, however, is that itís so different from the first game. If this means Level 5 can turn Ni no Kuni into a Final Fantasy-like franchise where each successive entry builds upon the past while introducing new experimental ideas, then Ni no Kuni and Level 5 may have a very bright future ahead of them.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (April 16, 2018)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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