A tale about friendship and camaraderie is always one to warm the heart.
It's fortunate, then, that Ni no Kuni 2 has friendship and camaraderie in droves. Following on from Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch that reached the West back in 2013, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom takes us on another magical journey through faraway lands with an unlikely group of heroes in tow. It’s a tale completely separate from the first, following a new protagonist — the young King Evan — on a quest to unite the countries of his world in a treaty of peace.
Ni no Kuni 2 is a traditional JRPG at its finest; a shining example of how a classic formula can be updated and brought into the modern age. Practically every moment spent with the game is delightful in a myriad of ways; from the gorgeous art design that brings each location to life to the fantastic localisation work that’s gone into the writing and dialogue, there’s so much to love. But let’s start with the game’s world.
A gorgeous world
While the first Ni no Kuni had anime veterans Studio Ghibli on its staff, producing the animated scenes for the game, the second has been created completely in-house at Level 5. That’s not to say that it’s lacking the same level of charm though. The animation might not quite have that signature Ghibli feel to it, but the world of Ni no Kuni 2 and the characters that inhabit it are no less well-realised and bursting full of life. Each main nation that you’ll visit throughout your time with the game is completely unique from the last, each with its own story to tell and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. The level of innovation and variation that’s gone into designing the locations is nothing short of extraordinary, and you’ll be ‘ooh’-ing and ‘aah’-ing in delight throughout the game as you feast your eyes on its incredible backdrops.
Take Goldpaw, for instance. One of the first main areas you’ll come across in the game, it’s an oriental-inspired city that bases its governance on gambling and luck. From the Japanese-style side streets, illuminated by lanterns and packed with merchants and locals, to the neon-lit casino, every corner of the town is bursting with character. It’s a place you’ll find yourself visiting time and time again throughout the game’s story, but you’ll never get bored of seeing it; it impressed me just as much the twelfth time travelling back there than it did the first time.
The variation in Ni no Kuni 2's locations reminded me of Kingdom Hearts, in fact — a series of interconnected lands, each with a completely unique design and persona. They may not have been based on known franchises, but they're just as charming and inviting.
A cast you can't help but love
Then there’s the characters, all of whom you can’t help but fall in love with as you play. Led by King Evan, a young boy who gained King status after his father died, you’re joined by an ever-growing party of faces you’ll meet as you travel to new lands. While Evan isn’t the most interesting character to ever exist in a video game, he’s entirely loveable, and his kind heart and unwavering good nature is enough to warm even the steeliest of souls. At his side from the beginning is Roland, a wise warrior with a strange past who ends up becoming Evan’s most trusted advisor. Every new character you meet brings their own set of skills, and their own dose of personality that altogether bring Ni no Kuni 2 to life with force.
Of course, there’s also Lofty, Evan’s small and spiky Kingsmaker. If you’ve played the first game, you’ll remember Drippy, the lantern-nosed fairy who accompanied protagonist Oliver on his adventure. Lofty is Ni no Kuni 2’s equivalent of Drippy, complete with Welsh accent and all. He’s not quite the lovable scamp that Drippy was, often falling into the background and only occasionally chirping up with an amusing catchphrase straight from the valleys, but in Drippy’s absence, we’ll take him. There couldn’t be a Ni no Kuni sequel without a tiny Welsh creature making us laugh, after all.
A (mostly) enjoyable combat system
In terms of gameplay, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is incredibly refined in all the areas that matter. As you’d expect from a JRPG, there’s a well-balanced mix of story, exploration, questing and combat, with almost every facet being enjoyable - if not perfect. Exploration is, of course, a joy, thanks to the gorgeous world that begs us to see as much of it as we possibly can. Between towns and cities, the world is explored via a map, with Evan and his comrades turning into chibi-style figures while travelling from one location to another. The map is populated with monsters, and getting close to them will trigger a battle, taking you back into normal view. The fights come thick and fast and can be rather tedious when you’ve a quest to get on with, but thankfully there’s a robust fast travel system as well as quicker ways to zip around the map as you progress further into the story.
While in a town or other location, combat happens instantly whenever you come across an enemy without the need to drag you into any separate ‘combat’ mode. It’s fast and fluid, and the absence of any unnecessary cutscenes makes combat a much more welcome diversion. The combat itself is pretty basic, with your party each having melee weapons supported by a ranged weapon and a few magic spells, but it’s fun and easy to get to grips with. Higgledies - small magical creatures - aid you in combat, attacking automatically and occasionally making special offensive or defensive moves available. They can be pretty hard to keep track of, especially in later, busier battles, but having a helping hand is always useful — and their attacks are pretty entertaining to watch (some turn into cannons, others create devastating explosions, for instance).
And for once, your comrades in battle are actually pretty useful. All too often in games your teammates will look like they’re attacking, when really they’ve hardly made a dent, leaving the heavy lifting to you. In Ni no Kuni 2, for the most part, your chosen party members are extremely useful at dishing out attacks, although they’re not always the best at defending themselves - so be prepared to have a lot of healing and reviving items on hand.
The only new mechanic to get your head around in combat is the weapon system. Each character has three melee weapons equipped, each displaying in your HUD with a percentage at the side of them. That percentage represents the weapon's "Zing" level, and the idea is to always use a weapon that's closest to 100%. You can change weapons manually, or let the game take care of it for you. It's an interesting idea, but felt more of a hindrance than anything — it means that some of the time, you'll be using a weapon that's lower level than your best. I appreciate that Level 5 tried to give a fairly standard combat mechanic its own flair, but it ends up feeling pretty pointless.
The enemies that you’ll find yourself up against are very nicely designed, and, for the first half of the game at least, they’re varied enough to stay interesting. However, there’s a limited amount of variety, and while you’d expect new and distant lands to have new and exciting foes to face against, you’ll mostly find the same old enemy types you’ve already fought multiple times before. The bosses on the other hand, though, are all incredibly well-designed, formidable and ferocious in their own unique ways.
New game elements
As much as I enjoyed my time with Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, it isn’t all perfect. The game introduces a series of new gameplay mechanics and systems that didn’t exist in the first game. Firstly, there’s a worldbuilding element, in which we must help Evan develop and expand Evermore, his newly-formed kingdom; and secondly, there are Skirmishes, a separate combat mode that introduces RTS elements. Along with a number of dungeons to explore, plentiful sidequests and Higgledies to collect on top of the standard gameplay, there’s a lot going on. And while most of it is pretty well implemented, some elements feel a little unnecessary.
I'll start with the good: I love the worldbuilding aspect of Ni no Kuni 2. For me, it’s one of the highlights of the game, although it does take a bit of time to get to grips with everything that’s required. Growing your kingdom is tied heavily to sidequests, with the majority of optional missions rewarding you with new citizens for your town. Growing your town is also key to strengthening your party, as you’ll create weapon and armour shops where you can level up equipment, as well as a spellcaster who can teach you new spells and level up your existing ones. You’ll need to expand your town to a certain level in order to progress through the story, but much of it is optional — although very much worth putting time into if you want to get the most out of the game.
The Skirmish battles on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Controlling small army squads, your goal is to defeat the enemy, but with limited control other than the direction your armies are travelling and a few special attacks, they can be frustrating to complete. I often felt outnumbered by the enemy even when fighting a battle that supposedly matched my level, and as such, I’ve avoided completing Skirmishes wherever possible. There’s only a handful that are necessary to complete the story, and so largely feel like a mechanic that’s been shoehorned in just to give the game an “extra feature”. It’s a shame, because that time and energy could have been better spent elsewhere.
It's not all roses...
Ni no Kuni 2 seems to have a small issue with pacing, too. I didn’t exactly rush through the game, spending a fair bit of time completing sidequests and building up Evermore, but I soon found myself out-levelled by most of the enemies in the main story. By the time I got to chapter six, enemies were regularly at least 10 levels above me, and while they were still defeatable, it obviously made the game a fair bit harder than intended. I fast-travelled where possible early on in the game, but this meant I missed out on a lot of field battles - and it seems that these are pretty essential unless you want to reach a point where you’ll need to farm for experience in order to progress with the story.
It’s also disappointing that, considering how much wonderful personality each of the characters has, the game isn’t fully voiced. Select cut scenes are voiced, but the majority of the game is text-only, with characters making a few choice noises or phrases here and there. Hearing the same few words of dialogue spoken again and again gets pretty tiresome; even Lofty’s amusing “Crrrrrrrrikey!” loses its charm when you’re hearing it for the umpteenth time.
...But we love it all the same
But still, despite these few niggles, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a wholesome, delightful adventure that any fan of traditional JRPGs would be wise to jump into. Its gorgeous worlds and lovable characters make for an enjoyable and engaging experience from start to finish, and its story, while not the most original or expansive, will undoubtedly warm your heart and leave you wanting more. Whether it’s quite as good as the first, I’m not quite sure, but Ni no Kuni 2 has left a lasting impression on me that will keep me going back long after I've finished the main story.