“It just won’t be the same!” Some of us certainly thought this and had that seed of doubt sown when it was announced that Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom would be developed without Studio Ghibli. In many ways, we are right, and yet after over three dozen hours I still find myself loving and adoring this game as much, if not more than the original.
The trials of King Evan and his exile from Ding Dong Dell are part of a fascinating story with many twists and turns, but the thing that struck me was just how clever the real-world comparisons for the towns he visits are. We’ve already visited Goldpaw through the game’s previews and trailers, a town that is entirely run by dice rolls has the gaudiness of Las Vegas, while another town strikes startling comparisons with something far more attuned to today’s culture. It’s all tied together nicely by the overarching plot, but they’re fascinating in their own right.
If there was one thing that was going to be apparent by making the sequel, it was that the art style needed to emulate the charm and wonder that Studio Ghibli films create. This effort was not wasted and the game is utterly gorgeous to look at, from the way characters move in battle to more mundane moments. It runs at a mostly consistently frame rate too – we’ve reviewed on PC on this occasion, but have had plenty of time with the game on PS4 during development – adding to the wonderful presentation. Even the chibi 3D models used for the world map and kingdom building look appealing, though perhaps slightly out of place in comparison.
Those looking for regional accents in the voice acting to this wonderfully told story won’t be disappointed as the game is crawling with them. Most are distinguishable and very well acted, though there are times where the cast ham up the pronunciation ever so slightly. As for the music, it’s whimsical and generally of high quality, though some tracks are repeated far too often and I flat out detested the music for one dungeon, to the extent that I had to turn the sound off.
Gone is the Pokémon-esque monster hunting battle system that dominated the original Ni No Kuni, and in its place is a more conventional action RPG with dodging and placement being a bit more important. During battles, there is a gauge that fills as that character hits enemies, which upon reaching 100% enhances special skills. Each character can equip three weapons that cleverly encourages switching to get the best use out of them, and it’s a highly interactive experience as a result.
Accompanying the main cast are Higgledies, which can assist in general battles, and provide a vital role in certain boss battles as well. They have a wide variety of skills, such as shielding you from damage, healing, or boosting your attacks, though I found that one early pickup is so powerful that I didn’t feel the need to change up the team too much. That said, upgrading the Higgledies in your kingdom – more on that in a bit – did make them far more powerful.
As for the battles themselves, I really dug the combat when fighting enemies that were a slightly higher level than I was, but the true highlights were the boss battles. These enemies are usually a much higher level than Evan and his companions and require learning patterns and how to dodge them. There were a couple of moments where I did need to grind in order to level up, though these are few and far between.
One part that wasn’t very well explained in the battle system is the importance of the Tactic Tweaker. This is an option that has its own currency that can be spent on modifying strengths against certain elements, monster types, or debuff resistances, as well as giving characters permanent buffs to certain moves or increased rewards after battle. Most of these require you to make a conscious choice about which one to prioritise, though this can be changed on the fly with the points accumulated, encouraging tinkering with options.
The other battles that feature in Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom are the army skirmishes. Dashing around a battlefield with Evan surrounded by four units of your choice, these operate on a rock-paper-scissors system. The positioning of each unit can be changed by rotating them around to get the correct unit in front, and each unit has a specialised skill unique to that unit that costs some Military Strength to activate. Evan can also replenish lost troops by consuming this resource, and even construct defensive structures if you need to hold off an enemy attack.
These battles can get quite tense, but the only time I properly lost was down to taking on a particular battle with underpowered forces. You can indulge in some AI manipulation in places as they don’t replenish spent forces like Evan does, but it was quite cathartic to just run in holding one of Evan’s special skills that rallied the army’s strength, only to run away when the bar was getting low. There are actually a few moments in the story where this style of fighting is required.
Eventually, Evan can create his own kingdom. It’s populated by persons recruited by completing side quests and each one has their own bonus. With careful planning and timing, it’s possible to have a thriving kingdom in a short space of time, and it’s thankfully nowhere near as intimidating a prospect as it appears on the surface. In fact, for item gathering, it was a godsend at times!
What’s more, the kingdom built is fully interactive, meaning Evan can visit the shop to buy items, and this was only made possible by the king’s investment. There are also plenty of upgrade shops for magic, weapons, armour, and even Higgledies. Not every building has an interaction, but the townsfolk that populate it may even have further side quests for you to go on.
Side quests are plentiful and will most certainly take dozens of hours to complete them all. They can either be found in the game world and result in getting a new citizen for Evan’s kingdom or an item, or they come from a job agency that rewards completion with tokens that can be spent on tips for more citizens or items.
The quests come in many varieties, including the usual fetch quests, but also contain more fights either with an army or even a boss fight against a larger version of a regular enemy. I did find myself able to complete a vast quantity of quests by simply picking stuff up along they way as I adventured, but a good number required more effort on my part.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom may be vastly different, but it’s ruddy marvellous! Its many systems sure are intimidating at first, but things click into place very quickly, and there’s a lot to do in this gorgeous and well-crafted game. They say that it’s difficult to recapture the magic, but this is one more Level-5 game that has become essential. They may have moved on from Studio Ghibli’s tutelage, but the lessons learned have resulted in a phenomenally good JRPG.
Version Tested: PC