Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom Review – Satisfying, gorgeous RPG goodness

Platforms:
PS4PC
Released:
March 23, 2018
Publisher:
Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer:
Level-5

Review

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom feels like I’ve been sucked into a gorgeous Studio Ghibli inspired universe full of quirky characters, with a solid combination of tried-and-true gameplay concepts that sometimes don’t resonate, but other times soar into exciting and addictive territory. The story and characters might be a little too optimistic for my liking and the combat can be a bit simplistic, but this is still a satisfying and content-packed RPG that makes smart changes to the foundations laid down by the original title back in 2013, mostly for the better.

Evan, a young King who has yet to have his coronation since the recent death of his father, is overthrown by an evil rat in the opening moments of the game, with mysterious traveller Roland aiding him to escape Ding Dong Dell and set out into the world to create a kingdom of his own. While the setup is familiar, the pathos of the young boy who has lost everything hits well enough, mirroring the first Ni no Kuni and its personal themes of loss. The game also features a character, Roland, who is somehow transported to this fantasy world from the “real world”, again a nod to the original.

That’s where the story beat comparisons end however, as what follows is a relatively optimistic tale of a motley crew who band together to unite the entire world, where every nation is friends with one another and there is no need for war. Evan’s attitude is admirable if not a little naïve, but luckily everybody you encounter throughout the adventure happens to share the same vision for world peace. It’s convenient and unrealistic, but it keeps progression going at a methodical pace as you expand your kingdom and explore more of the world.

Characters are engaging enough and do become more engaging as you get to know them, but they are relatively two dimensional with their dialogue. Roland in particular is pretty quick to offer up his assistance to stay and help Evan, even though we learn that he does have a family of his own back in his own world. If I was sucked into a different universe I’d probably react a little bit more hesitantly or concerned, but he remains pretty chipper… given the story isn’t really about him anyway. Other side characters verge on being RPG caricatures but at least they’re likeable enough.

Where the previous game focused on a relatively hands-off combat experience where you would catch Pokémon-like familiars to do your bidding for you,  Revenant Kingdom has a more up close and personal feel to its battles, adopting more of an action RPG style that combines hack ‘n’ slash attacks, spells that trigger through your use of multiple weapons and the implementation of little weird beings called Higgledies who can provide buffs, healing or attack damage on enemies when you’re in a pinch.

It all comes together to make for a smooth experience that feels quick and punchy as you take down monsters. While it begins simple, the game quickly adds more and more layers to its action, and it won’t take long for you to be combining everything in your arsenal to be as effective as possible. Each character also has the ability to equip and rotate up to three weapons on the fly, meaning they charge up over time to unleash abilities and allow for some quick manoeuvring when you’re in a pinch – although you can have this set to be done for you automatically if you don’t want your focus to be on tactics as much.

“…makes for a customizable combat experience that flows together pretty well…”

Dig a little deeper however and you’ll find a lot to modify and tweak to get the most out of combat. Every single element can be adjusted within the Tactic Tweaker to fit your own personal strengths and weaknesses, and it allows you to be even more adaptable when coming up against certain enemies. You can’t have it all though, so decisions must be made on an adjustable scale that matches your play-style.

Want to increase your dodge speed, or would you prefer enhanced magic? Are slime-based enemy types giving you grief, or is it animalistic foes like wolves that you could benefit from an assist? Would you rather reduce the impact of poisonous effects or water damage? This, along with your constantly changing equipment and the switching around of Higgledies makes for a customizable experience that flows together pretty well – that being said, you can ignore most of this if you want and still enjoy the game, so I do wonder how important these options are in the grand scheme of things. Combat never felt challenging enough that I felt like I had to go in and make these adjustments, which kept things moving forward promptly but didn’t test me like other RPG combat systems have in the past.

Level-5 have also done a brilliant job of being creative and interesting when it comes to their dungeon design. While the world map doesn’t have a lot to it, when you’re in a specific dungeon, there are labyrinthine-like paths with hidden treasures worth seeking out, and clever ways in which you have to traverse each area. From climbing winding tree branches in a forest to propelling yourself on water slides to the depths below, they’re entertaining and do a good job of breaking the monotony seen exploring the world map. Some of the larger scale boss fights also change up your expectations when it comes to gameplay, with cool moments I won’t spoil here – but they’re all the more interesting for it.

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom doesn’t just rest on its RPG laurels though. While it does have a main storyline, a world map to explore with some grinding, dungeons and other standard fare, it also has an enjoyable ongoing mission to expand Evan’s kingdom, Evermore. Initially you’ll just add facilities to it to help it grow and generate some income and resources, but as it grows in size and variety its range of functions becomes clearer, making it an integral part of the experience.

The majority of the side quests you do will result in a new citizen joining your kingdom, giving you very good reason to complete as many of them as possible. Once they’re assigned to a facility, they can gather resources or assist in research that can enhance your abilities overall. Not only this, but Evermore provides a persistent home base that can be travelled to at any time, where you can upgrade your weapons and gear, create new Higgledies, cook new recipes for buffs, collect materials for quests or even gather some new side quests from your citizens. Evermore doesn’t feel tacked on or like an afterthought – it feels vital to your progression and totally worth investing your time in.

Less successful is the new Skirmish mode, which has Evan forming troops to fight intruders or tackle additional Skirmish quests out in the world. Walking through an area surrounded by different groups that can have their position rotated to make the most out of a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style mechanic took control away from me and felt like I didn’t have much say over the outcome. I was either strong enough to complete it, or I wasn’t. It makes sense that there would be some sort of defence element to your kingdom, but the solution given isn’t one that inspired me to do it more than I absolutely had to for story progression – and even then it still felt like a chore.

While it may not have the Studio Ghibli branding that made Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a must play for fans of the popular Japanese animation team, Revenant Kingdom still includes key members from that team, including Ghibli animator and character designer Yoshiyuki Momose, and composer Joe Hisaish who did the soundtrack for the original along with the majority of Miyazaki’s films. The spirit of the animation studio is absolutely carried across here, with several characters and creatures looking like they’ve been pulled directly out of universes like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro in the best way possible.

Environments are colourful and interesting, particularly locations such as Goldpaw, a casino themed town that is built around the idea that its entire judiciary system is decided based on a roll of the dice. This town is a joy to explore, with luminescent neon lighting bouncing off of traditional Japanese architecture, unique characters littering the streets and cute alleyways containing hidden secrets. In direct contrast, Hydropolis is an aquatic country with strict rules around affection, with a literal giant watchful eye overseeing its citizens, and a bright, light aesthetic that feels like it’s been modelled on a small town in Greece.

The soundtrack of Revenant Kingdom definitely still pops, with memorable tunes that have been stuck in my head for days. Audio is strong overall, even the voice acting. It’s a shame then that there isn’t more of it. Most dialogue is something that you will be reading on screen, with the odd line or grunt from each character signalling it’s their turn to talk. The lack of cut-scenes takes some of the emotion out of some of the writing – and the writing is serviceable, so it really drags down the experience overall, given so much care has been taken in crafting the rest of the production.

The Bottom Line

While all of the new gameplay features don’t mesh together perfectly and the lack of voice acting can make for a dry story at times, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom still captivated me throughout with its snappy combat system and addictive kingdom management mechanics. The Ghibli fan in me loves the visual style so much that each town was a genuine pleasure to explore and while the changes from Wrath of the White Witch felt abrupt at first, I grew to become quite fond of them. While many adult RPGs truly revel in the darkness and mature themes, there’s something pure about Revenant Kingdom’s combination of genuinely fun gameplay and unwavering optimism that made me feel like a kid again.