Reviews

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Ah, for too long have I been dreaming of the day that I could return to Level-5’s world of Ni No Kuni with a brand new title. And while it was a very long wait, finally the day came in December 2015 where Ni No Kuni II was announced at PSX. Very few game announcements get me as excited as that one did!

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Eagerly I followed its development from then onward. At EGX 2017 Bandai Namco brought along a playable demo of the game. It was an event that I was working as staff, rather than as a reviewer, so I didn’t get a chance to play many games – in fact Ni No Kuni II was the only game I decided before the event that I had to play!

And play it I did. The gameplay was a little different from the first, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the “Semi-Voice Acting” at times (by which I mean the text based dialogue sometimes starting with a single voice acted word or expression). But upon getting the full version of the game on release, I realised its the same way that many JRPGs have done it – and suddenly that realisation made it feel more natural.

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I picked up the “King’s Edition” of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom; which is the “top end” collectors edition. It is glorious! The game comes in a standard box, but also with a lovely steel tin. There is a sample of the soundtrack on vinyl, which comes in a “pop-up sleeve” that is very novel. Next is a hefty art book filled with the beautiful imagry you expect from the wonderful world of Ni No Kuni and the Studio Ghibli background the series has. Finally the “centrepiece”, is a “music box” dome, which when wound up tinkles away the main theme of the game, while rotating between two dioramas that show some of the progression of the games story.

Eventually after nerdgasming over the contents of the King’s Edition for a good 30-45 minutes, I put the game disc into the PS4, and looked at the artbook in more detail while the day one patch downloaded. As soon as it finished I was into the game, and easily lost a good 4-5 hours in my first sitting. The story just seems to suck you in straight away, and keep you there.

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The story is light hearted, cute but filled with morals which you’d expect from Ni No Kuni and its Studio Ghibli art style. The main story is, as far as I’ve gotten in 30 hours of play time, gripping even though at times down right silly! As an example, very minor spoilers ahead, I spend all of Wednesday evening doing a quest chain to get a library card – for which I had to do several quests to gain “important items” which the 300+ year old librarian wanted so she could make a new lipstick…

In other games this might have put me off, but somehow Level-5 pulled it off in such a way that I chuckled at the ridiculousness of it all, but remained intensely gripped by the plot. Even now looking back on it, and reading what I’ve just written, it sounds down right silly but it fits in a way that works and adds to the innocence of the story.

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Something I’ve learnt in recent years is that I’m terrible at actually finishing games. They come out too frequently and before I’ve gotten half way through one, another comes and tempts me away. So to combat this, I’ve tried my best to avoid side quests and just stick to the main story so that I can finish things. But that all went out of the window with Ni No Kuni II’s side quest system and Kingdom Building feature.

Many of the side quests fall into the “Recruitment” category. A small quest chain will often lead to you inviting the quest giver to come and live in your new Kingdom. And once there you set them to work in one of the many buildings you can build. The whole Kingdom Building is basically much like many of those annoying pay to win phone games where you build cities or what not. Except that its not pay to win OR annoying. Somehow it gets the “addictive” part of the mobile pay to win game aspect, but without any of the bad parts.

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The only downside I’ve found about the Kingdom feature is that sometimes main quests are gated behind finishing certain parts of it. Once, early on, I had to wait 20-30 minutes (doing side quests) to earn enough currency to build the next facility I needed. Generally I’ve been ahead of the curve regarding my building of Evermore, so it was only that once that I’ve had to wait, but it did irk me somewhat. Funnily enough it was what then got me more interested in doing lots of sidequests, and “addicted” to building Evermore as much as possible.

Kingdom Building is a feature that almost seems like it should be an annoyance that you’re forced to do. But somehow Level-5 have been able to make it a core part of the game that really fits in a way that you want to progress. While perhaps, excessive, something that could have been cool is the inclusion of a small mobile game that allows you to grow Evermore when away from the main game.

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Level-5 have got the characters, character development and their general inclusion into the story very nearly spot on in Ni No Kuni II. I think of all the characters I’ve met thus far, it was only Zip Vector who I think they somehow dropped the ball on. Introduced as a “boss” who has gone mad with progression of their latest product at the expense of the health and wellbeing of his staff, Zip is immediately unlikeable – which is the whole point. However after his “redemption” in the story, I still don’t like him – something that hasn’t been the case with all the other leaders I’ve met so far! All other characters and their progression is spot on. All of the playable characters, and main NPCs, are adorable, loveable and believeable. I’ve tried to keep my team “balanced” around the different weapon types and combat types. Something that has kept my experience in combat fun and diverse.

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Ni No Kuni II’s combat system is very different from its predecessor. It went from an almost “Pokemon” style turn based combat system, to a much more action RPG (“Pikmin”) style combat system. Something I originally wasn’t 100% sure about when announced – as I’m a huge fan of turn based RPG combat. But its actually really fun, as the gameplay style changes depending how easy the fight is. With lower level enemies you can just wade in and mash buttons, while the harder boss fights require more tactical thinking, making use of all of your character’s abilities.

There were a few times where I think I’d not quite levelled highly enough to be in the zone where the story had taken me. But I soon realised that the game somewhat combats this by introducing new characters to the party at roughly those same times – new characters who just so happen to be a slightly higher level than those “red” enemies you were just fighting. This somewhat forces the player to change up their team, and pick that new character is their “main” character in combat (you only control one of the three characters in combat at a time).

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This is what led me to my current team of Bracken, Leander and Evan. They all use different melee weapon types, there is a mixture of magic and melee and they all feel different to play which is a lot of fun. (Also Bracken is the first character with a dedicated healing ability – which fits my love of healing in games perfectly!)

The games graphics are just what you’d expect from Ni No Kuni. That beautiful Studio Ghibli anime style, which looks stunning on PS4 Pro (and no doubt more so if you got the PC version at even higher graphic settings that it no doubt kicks out). The style naturally fits the theme of the game perfectly. While Final Fantasy might have much more “realistic” graphics, and Persona might have a more “serious” anime style of graphic, I wouldn’t swap Ni No Kuni’s graphic style for any other. The Studio Ghibli influence of the first game is still strong in the second itteration, and as it was one of the major selling points of the first title, it would’ve been silly to change it.

Lastly I must talk about the games music. Much like the graphics it just fits so perfectly. Generally in games I have little to no interest in “gallery” features that allow you to listen to the games music, but yet again somehow Level-5 have changed that for this game. The feature is built into the Kingdom Builder, where you build a “Symphonium” and collect “Song Pages” throughout your time in the game world, which each unlock more and more songs you can listen to. Suddenly I’ve been sidelined by a need to get them all!

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Overall I’m blown away by Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. I was quite possibly biased coming into it, after my love for the first game. And I had concerns (albeit a slightly strong word for it) about the new combat style and other changes. However I have struggled to find fault in just about anything so far. A slight irk at a characters redemption not having the effect it possibly should have, and a single instance of story being gated behind the construction of Evermore are very slight complaints to have for an otherwise near perfect game.

Naturally the game is very much a Studio Ghibli styled JRPG, if any of that description isn’t your cup of tea then I’d probably not recommend the game to you. However if you like a solid RPG, or have a love of Studio Ghibli – I can whole heartedly recommend Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.

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