Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom may very well be the next must-have Japanese RPG. Developed by Level-5, its beautiful adventure is one to lose yourself to, enhanced by kingdom building mechanics that weave their way through the heart of the game. It’s not entirely a perfect follow up, but the charm that resonates from nearly every facet left me absolutely smitten from beginning to end.
The story of Ni No Kuni 2 revolves around Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a young prince on the eve of his coronation. Little goes as planned, however, as a coup forces Evan to flee his home. Along with Roland, a statesman from another world, the two set out to reclaim Evan’s status as king and forge a new kingdom where all his subjects can live in peace.
Ni No Kuni 2 is a coming-of-age story that sees Evan grow from a self-doubting child to an assured ruler, seeking to unite a world against oppression and eventually a foe that threatens everyone. The journey taken is a pleasant one, aided by a wonderfully realized world. At the same time, it lacks the kind of emotional core that drove Oliver’s story in the first game. The absence leaves the game with a relatively simple tale, free of too many surprises, and furthermore weakened by limited character development from its supporting cast. And yet Ni No Kuni 2 is so incredibly well put together and presented the story’s simplicity isn’t damning.
For starters, the production values – top to bottom – are fantastic. Every location left me stopping in my tracks to absorb all the vibrant detail. It really felt like I was transported not only into a beautiful fairy tale world, one in which exploration couldn’t be a more joyous task, but straight into a Studio Ghibli film, as well. The animation studio’s influence is strongly felt. I couldn’t help but smile constantly at what I was absorbing, be it through sight or sound. My only complaint is that some interface elements, such as the dialog boxes that disappear far too quickly, are a bit small.
Evan’s quest to build his kingdom, named Evermore, isn’t just wrapped in a pretty cloth. Ni No Kuni 2’s story is backed up by interesting gameplay mechanics. You don’t simply watch Evermore develop through cutscenes and progression. Rather, you have an active hand in constructing it. Evermore will regularly produce a currency that can be spent in a kingdom management mode. This allows you to place facilities, upgrade their capabilities, and research technologies. For example, you may build a mining outpost to automatically generate precious metals. Certain stores provide crafting and enhancement services. Passive improvements to exploration and gathering can be obtained. And that’s only a small sample of the things to do there. The mode itself isn’t complex, but it is startlingly engaging. Better still, its tendrils reach into and reinforce other aspects of the game.
There is an abundance of side quests in Ni No Kuni 2, and they’re all worth pursuing for how they can meaningfully impact Evermore. Earned rewards go beyond the usual experience, gold, or occasional item. Many quests often end with new citizens joining the kingdom. Citizens can be assigned to facilities/buildings, making them an important resource to gather. An empty building does very little on its own, after all. And recruited citizens have their own characteristics, which may suit them more to specific jobs. The result of these combined systems meant I felt compelled to complete every quest rather than search them out for the sake of completion.
When you’re not expanding the borders of Evermore, you may be defending it. Skirmishes put you in command of a small army. Up to four units of troops can surround Evan in these battles. There’s not a whole lot to this mode, as it largely involves rotating the troops to position them in rock-paper-scissors-like confrontations and timing the use of abilities, but they serve as fun little diversions that don’t overstay their welcome.
Ni No Kuni 2 isn’t simulation game, of course. Most of your time is spent exploring a world map, running through dungeons and cities, and fighting monsters like any other traditional Japanese RPG. But fans of the first game will notice a substantially different combat system. Gone are the turn-based battles. Instead, the action is in real-time and brutally fast.
You’re only ever controlling a single character – though you can switch between party members at the press of a button – as you dodge, jump, block, slash, and shoot your way through mobs of foes. Every character has a light and heavy attack, in addition to four spells or abilities that can be further empowered when the currently equipped melee weapon’s gauge is full. It feels really good to be frantically dodging about the arenas, knocking foes down, and finishing them off with visually impressive skills. It’s very fluid, too. The framerate is locked to 60 FPS on consoles. And I always love it when enemies explode into showers of loot after they’re defeated. Every kill drops gold, resources, or equipment for you to scamper over and collect, offering a constant and satisfying feedback loop to victories. Level-5 has put a bit of ARPG in this JRPG.
If you did enjoy the Pokemon-like collecting system in Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, something has taken its place in the sequel. Strangely adorable creatures called higgledies can be found in dungeons or crafted back in Evermore. They almost remind me of the kodamas from Princess Mononoke, but they’re quite a bit more animated, diverse, and vocal. They’re also potent allies in the midst of combat. Several can be assigned to the party, and each has its own set of passive and active abilities.
As fun as all these mechanics are, and how great everything ties together with an always evolving Evermore, Ni No Kuni 2 is not a particularly difficult game. I carved my way through the majority of battles with nary a sweat. It was almost startling how quickly some bosses went down. I don’t mind an easy time in lengthy JRPGs, but gameplay-focused players who demand a challenge may not get that here. This is a game to wrap yourself in like a warm blanket, not necessarily something to conquer.
It may offer much of a challenge in terms of fights, but I greatly appreciate how it doesn’t also challenge your patience. There is a handy fast-travel system that can be used at any time. Numerous points, not just cities, can be warped to and from. This saves a lot of time, preventing obnoxious backtracking between quests. And speaking of quests, most of them are visible on the map. You don’t have to go looking for exclamation points above heads alone. The location of skirmish battles is likewise readily available information.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an undeniably beautiful adventure. It may lack strong character development, but the charm of its journey and world is nigh impossible to resist. Add in a theme that is woven expertly with the game’s mechanics and you’ve got a sequel I can’t recommend enough.
Full Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided for review.