Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review -- Long Live the King
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom sets the bar for the JRPG genre and takes it to a completely new level of game design.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Review copy provided by the publisher
When Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released in the west in 2013, I was truly blown away by the visuals and storytelling at a time when JRPGs weren’t typically released in the west at the rate they are today. Still, the game had its share of technical issues and the side-quests weren’t as optimized as they could have been. Regardless, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is held as one of my favorite games on the PlayStation 3.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom was announced in 2015 as a follow up to the series featuring a new cast of characters and a new story. However, fear lingered if this game could live up to the expectations set forth by its predecessor and whether a new cast could carry the series as well as Oliver and his friends did before. After playing Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom I can honestly say this game is nothing like Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Instead, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is in a league of its own and revolutionizing the JRPG genre in all regions with its brilliant storytelling, visuals, battle system, and gameplay.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom begins with a coup in the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. King Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum is about to lose his Kingmaker to the nasty Mausinger when a leader from another universe, Roland, appears in Ni no Kuni. Being only 12 years old, Evan doesn’t understand that the kingdom is being taken from him and almost gets himself killed before Roland saves him. During their escape, Evan makes a decision, against all odds he’ll become a king with the help of Roland.
Throughout their adventure, Evan and Roland meet a large cast of characters who each provide their guidance to Evan and his quest to create a peaceful world. As tough as a mission as it sounds, the story flows incredibly well from beginning to end with no low points or unclear direction. In this regard, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom tells a near perfect story with multiple antagonists and powerful character development across the entire party, but the spotlight is on Evan the entire time and he carries it well.
As the main character, Evan can be a bit naive and impulsive, but his determination and drive hold the respect of his subjects. Everyone looks up to him even though he is constantly learning new things from them. The fact that he is so open to new ways of thinking make him a true leader and everyone around him can see this. As the player, I found the relationship between Evan and his party easy to follow and entertaining to experience. I was never confused about the direction of the story or felt that any scenes were unnecessary or felt like filler. I was glued to the course of events that Evan and his party found themselves on and the multiple trials that they had to overcome on their way to bring peace to the entire world, but that mission is definitely easier said than done.
To accompany the amazing story, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has some of the most well-executed systems that I’ve ever played and there’s quite a few of them. First off, the battle system is completely different from what Ni no Kuni loyalists are used to, this time around we find a more action-centric system. In dungeons, enemies can be seen roaming around in groups and will initiate battle when the player is spotted or they touch. Additionally, enemies on the world map are represented by a single enemy who initiates a more traditional battle when spotted, but the same fighting system applies for both.
These battles are fast and, for lack of a better word, awesome. As any of the party members, players will find a full skill tree of magic and skills. There are two attacks, weak and strong, by combining the button presses, it’s possible to execute some interesting combos. Furthermore, each character has a ranged attack that will consume mp along with any skills used. However, MP is gained by landing attacks or by using items. Something that returning fans will be happy to hear is that your AI companions are not as useless in battle as they might remember. AI party members dodge, block, use skills and hold their own in battle even against some pretty powerful bosses. To be honest, I died more times in battle than my party members did.
I never felt the unwillingness to do battle in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom as I have in other JRPGs. This is due to the systems being so fluid and responsive. Everything feels fluid and responsive, from executing attacks to dodging and using skills, battles do not overstay their welcome, which is good because a lot of your time in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom will be spent fighting. Each character has their personal strengths, but I found that I gravitated towards using Evan and Roland who seem like more well-rounded characters, but using other characters in battle is only a directional button press away.
Although, to make battles more interesting Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom introduces the Higgledies. Now, Higgledies can’t really be compared to the familiars met and collected in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Not only do these creatures hold their own in battles, but they sure are cute. Higgledies are each unique and have their own skills that they will freely use in battle that include elemental based magic or healing spells. Additionally, they will group together and require the player to press the action button to perform their special attacks.
Throughout the game, the Higgledies grew on me and I became their biggest fan. I found myself going out of my way to collect them, level them up, and build my perfect Higgledie party. However, the game doesn’t force them upon the player or make it necessary for the player to collect them, in that aspect they more or less a side-quest that is intertwined with the game’s story and battle system. They are there, but it’s a system that is up to the player to dive as deep as they want, which would end up making battles easier, but it’s not necessary.
Another system in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom finds the players initiating skirmish battles. Sprinkled throughout the lands are flags set up that will allow the player to enter a more strategical war sim. In this mode, groups of subjects that surround Evan as they march forth to meet with enemy groups and fight to defend the surrounding land. However, fighting in this mode is a bit different from the aforementioned common battle mode discussed above. Skirmish battles take on a more rock-paper-scissors system where players will surround themselves with up to four groups of attackers, builders, magic users, archers, and others to fight against enemy troops.
In retrospect, this strategic system is a bit basic and the enemy AI isn’t the smartest in the world if you lead them to a cliff and let your archers take them out, but it doesn’t limit the fun of going from camp to camp and using your available resources to win in battle. Some skills require the player to use their reserve pool in order to paralyze the enemy for a few seconds or launch an air raid attack on them. However, aside from a few skirmishes that are connected to the story, this battle system is left completely optional. Players don’t need to go about putting time into their army if they don’t want to, but Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom finds ways to make it more tantalizing with the promise of rewards and growth.
Now, these skirmishes wouldn’t be necessary without a Kingdom to defend, which brings us to the Kingdom of Evermore, which is oddly similar to systems found in Dark Cloud, an older Level-5. As the player, you are able to build structures throughout your kingdom and put real time into researching skills, equipment, and items. However, that is only a basic explanation of a small portion of what you can do while in this mode. Managing your kingdom allows the player to acquire and items they want by creating the appropriate structures. Farms will wield vegetables, Caves will produce ore, Fish markets will provide, well, fish, and so on. Each structure can be upgraded and manned by a team of town’s people.
With that said, each town’s person has a unique job title which makes them better at certain jobs and could even help with wielding additional items if they’re in the proper structure. Throughout the game, players able to upgrade each structure including to kingdom itself to extend further into the land and open up to new travels as well as make room for additional structures. The reward in all this is watching Evermore grow from a small humble town to a huge kingdom. Through the eyes of Evan, we are creating a new world for people and shaping it with our own hands. What’s more important like the other systems found in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, is that this sim-like feature is not in your face or demanding that you put all your time into it. Once introduced, it’s up to the player to learn and develop at their own discretion.
When it comes to side-quests, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has plenty, but even here we see an uncanny approach to optional missions that aren’t common in JRPGs. In towns, NPCs will have an icon on their hands to indicate that they have a side-quest. These optional missions range from monster hunting, item collecting, winning a skirmish battle, or simply tracking down a character. As basic as this may seem, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom finds a way to make most if not all of these interactions feel important to the narrative. For example, there was a monster hunting quest offered which revealed more about Roland’s past and what motivates him to be strong. Had I not been accepting quests, I would have never known that about this mysterious character.
Even the NPCs find a way to be memorable because a lot of them will join your town after the quest is complete. This means that throughout the game they will pop up from time to time and remind you of your interactions. They each become a part of the story and have their own unique personalities that will shape the growth of Evermore. Even though side-quests are optional, I think that ultimately I wouldn’t have felt as close to the characters if I hadn’t taken them on. When it comes to side-quests in other games they can end up feeling repetitive after the fourth fetch quest, but Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom weaves the story and character development into the quests to make them feel natural to the adventure.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has a huge world to discover throughout its world map and many dungeons. What’s important to notice is that there aren’t any boundaries pushed in the game’s world design. Instead, they are improved upon, by rewarding players who wish to explore each corner of the map with secret areas and treasures. Also, dungeons are more or less unique and never feel repetitive. When it comes to dungeons I found that Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has a handful of large dungeons to explore that the player will return to multiple times over of the course of the game, but also smaller more self-contained dungeons that simply have an optional boss or treasure waiting for them.
To accompany all this exploration, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has an amazing soundtrack that even mixes musical cues from Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch into its sound. I fell in love with the soundtrack in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom and couldn’t have asked for a better soundtrack to my adventure.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is by far the best JRPG that I’ve played in years from a third party publisher and proves that the genre has so much more to offer in this new generation console space. The game’s anime visuals paired with its compelling story of overcoming some of the most devastating of situations made it easier to understand that Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has rejuvenated the JRPG genre yet again in the west, much like its predecessor.
By setting the bar higher with its meaningful side-quests and multiple systems executed perfectly, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is paving the way for future JRPG titles to build upon. I loved every moment of Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom and could easily recommend it as an entry point to the genre for newcomers as well as longtime fans of the genre. Developer Level-5 has truly outdone themselves with this one and I would just like to say to them, thank you for the adventure.