The easiest way to describe the world of Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom to the uninitiated is what would happen if The Chronicles of Narnia were adapted by Oscar winning Japanese animation studio – Studio Ghibli.
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Platforms Available: PS4, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: March 23, 2018 (Worldwide)
This review is based on a review code provided by Bandai Namco
Ni no Kuni II wastes no time throwing players straight into the action, opening with a literal bang that transports players from New York to the fairy tale kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. No sooner are players introduced to main protagonist Evan, a naive young prince who is moments away from his coronation, then the kingdom is plunged into a bloody coup d’état presided over by the shady royal advisor Mausinger.
Escaping the castle with the help of the mysterious Roland, Evan vows to reclaim his throne and start a new kingdom, “where everyone can live happily ever after.” (first Ding Dong Dell – then the world)
Evan soon amasses a band of follows to his megalomaniacal cause, including a rag tag band of sky pirates and the delightful (and, I’m pleased to say) very welsh ‘Kingmaker’ named Lofty (who is equal parts Mr Drippy and Calcifer) and eventually establishes the new Kingdom of Evermore.
It’s at this point that the game opens up, and Ni no Kuni II’s myriad of systems and play styles begin to gel together into something very special indeed.
From the initial trailers it would be easy to assume that Ni no Kuni II was a typical JRPG. Though it does feature many staples of the genre like frequent overworld fights against bands of roving monsters, grand set pieces, some fantastic puzzles, and plenty of old fashioned dungeon crawling it dispenses with the turn based stat building and monster wrangling of the original, replacing it with a real time system that feels far more modern and immediate.
Combat feels similar to something from the Tales of series, with players able to string together combos with light and heavy blows mixed with ranged attacks and special abilities.
Players are also helped in fights by adorable little sprites called Higgledies; these Kodama-inspired cuties fight alongside their human comrades, creating shields, healing party members and unleashing powerful (and often comical) attacks of their own.
Once Evermore is founded players get access to the game’s town-building side game that allows players to conduct research in different facilities to develop better weapons, armour and spells as well as improve their Higgledees.
As well as building up their kingdom, players can also take the overworld in skirmishes, where a chibi Evan struts across the battlefield commanding platoons of troops, swinging them into opposing troops, and unleashing devastating specials in moments that feel similar to Town Factory’s cult classic Little King’s Story.
Though it appears quaint and whimsical on the surface, Ni no Kuni II, like the Studio Ghibli films it takes inspiration from, is replete with environmentalist undertones and is not afraid to explore deeper themes – exploring what it means to lead, how power can corrupt (and since this is a JRPG), the power of friendship. Though it can be a little cheesy at times, the narrative remains thoroughly engrossing, entertaining and ultimately heart-warming throughout featuring a cast of diverse, and brilliantly drawn characters that feel far more distinct than the usual archetypes seen in most other JRPGs.
Like its predecessor, Ni no Kuni II’s visuals are lush, vibrant and at times, jaw dropping. This is another strong case for style being far more important than raw pixel pushing realism – using technological wizardry to make a living breathing cartoon world that is incredibly easy to get lost in. With detailed landscapes, a huge world map, and a whole host of beautifully designed characters, full of little nods and winks to Studio Ghibli classics.
The eye melting visuals are accompanied by another enchanting score by Ghibli’s own Joe Hisashi which mixes new arrangements, accompanied by remixes of grander themes from the first game.
A sweeping and poignant epic, Ni no Kuni II is the kind of game that will steal weeks of your life – the main campaign takes at least 40 hours, and then there’s a wealth of side quests and other asides that add even more value to the package.
In short, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a masterpiece that JRPG fans will not want to miss.