It’s been over seven years since Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn released for the Nintendo DS. Though it never made it outside of Japan, the enhanced PS3 remake, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, came to the US in 2013. Ni no Kuni was truly a magical union, utilizing the talents of Studio Ghibli and Level-5 to make a game. Now it’s 2018, and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has released. This sequel loses Studio Ghibli in the process, but still comes with it’s own set of enhancements. Does it manage to maintain the magic of the original?
It’s easy to get into Ni no Kuni II without the context of the first game. Though it takes place in the same world, the original was set centuries before this one. There are nods here and there that fans of the original can appreciate, but for the most part, Revenant Kingdom can stand alone. This is actually a good thing, because compared to the original, the sequel is much easier to approach. Fans that have played the first one may have some inside knowledge however, as it may make the story easier to predict. That said, there are still some twists to uncover in the plot.
The story of Ni no Kuni II centers around Even Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a half human, half grimalkin boy. His father, the king of Ding Dong Dell, dies before the start of the game and Evan is next in line to become king. Unfortunately, the kingdom is soon overthrown by Mausinger, a anthropomorphic mouse that once served Evan’s father. During the attack, Evan is intruded by Roland, who enters this fantasy world from our real world, where he is President of a nation. Under the circumstances, the two decide to work together to get to safety. Though they struggle, they manage to make it out alive, but not without a major loss for Evan. It is this loss that motivates him to try and become a strong king with noble aspirations.
Evan and Roland are soon traveling across the land, meeting new friends and discovering what the world has to offer. Evan eventually decides to start his own kingdom with Evermore, with the goal to have everyone live happily ever after. To attain this goal, he has to reach out to several kingdoms and gain their allegiance to join a union. Unfortunately, there is one man, Doloran, who chooses to take advantage of each kingdom, trying to gain the power of their Kingmaker. A Kingmaker is essentially the protector of each kingdom, a creature that formed a unity with the respective ruler. By collecting the Kingsbonds from each ruler, he hopes to achieve his own personal goals no matter the cost.
Not wanting to get into spoiler territory, we’ll change the subject. One of the biggest changes to Ni no Kuni II is the combat system. Gone are familiars and the Yo-kai Watch battle system of commanding small creatures. Instead, Ni no Kuni II opts for a real-time battle system with fluid controls and plenty of freedom. Though not familiars, the player will soon come across Higgledies. These small creatures bear a similar appearance to the Kodama seen in Princess Mononoke. Despite their small size, they provide a lot of support in battle. This can be with healing, magic attacks, or even buffs and debuffs to help give an advantage. What’s more is they’re pretty much completely optional, meaning players can rely on their own fighting if they choose.
Fighting is simple to learn, as it consists of a light attack, a heavy attack, and a ranged attack. On top of those, there are skills activated by holding down the right trigger and pressing a face button. Then there is added depth in the way each character will have four weapons. Up to three melee weapons, and a ranged weapon. The player can switch between each weapon on the fly, all while building up “zing” from performing attacks. When a weapon fully charges it’s zing, it powers up a skill attack, adding extra effects. Add in a useful dodge roll, and the combat has enough simplicity but also enough complexity to keep things interesting. The best thing is that players with skill can manage to fight much stronger enemies.
Fights can either be started by running into enemies on the overworld, or in a seamless transition during dungeon exploration. Battles can have nearly a dozen enemies, and there’s a pretty good enemy variety despite each enemy having varied versions of themselves. Players will be able to work with a party of three characters, able to switch between them at any time. The AI is good for the most part, but there are some exceptions. Once a character has the ability to heal, it’s a skill that the AI rarely uses. There are other moments where the AI won’t avoid certain attacks despite the clear signs. In most battles, this isn’t an issue, but it does make later fights more challenging.
Kingmakers make for a good portion of the bosses, as they each have a unique boss battle that has a different combat gimmick. One may have the player use platforms made of light to gain higher ground and attack from above. Another might give the player a turret that turns the battle into a sort of third-person shooter. It helps to give the combat a bit of variety and make each Kingmaker feel different in their own way. Some of these bosses can be a challenge, but every once in a while, an awakening orb will be thrown at you to give unlimited magic power. Players will want to make sure they use the awakening mode when they get it.
On top of the main combat, there are also skirmishes. These are real-time strategy battles where players can take up to four groups of units into a war. Each group will surround Evan and can be rotated around him to use the right unit for the right situation. There is a Fire Emblem style weapon triangle here, as swords beat axes, axes beat spears, and spears beat swords. There are also ranged units using bows, staves, or pistols. These battles are fun for a bit, but later on become a bit more of a chore, though it’s nice to see another combat feature. Units could be recruited as players find more people to join the kingdom of Evermore.
Speaking of Evermore, Ni no Kuni II has a large focus on building this kingdom. As players start their kingdom, they’ll gain currency to create predetermined buildings. Buildings can either be used to gather resources, or they can be used to research upgrades for the player. To do this, personnel must be assigned to the building. The more citizens assigned, the more research can be done, and the faster it gets done too. It works like a lot of city building games for tablets and phones, and makes for a very addicting feature. One thing that must be said about kingdom building: do it. Players that ignore Evermore will regret it later when the story blocks them from progressing due to not having a a building at a certain level. Certain upgrades can only be done by leveling up the kingdom as a whole, which takes a lot of work.
It might feel a little restrictive to halt progress with the kingdom building, but it’s a better experience to build it as you play. Combat can improve, more experience can be gained, and lots of sidequests will be available. It’s worth taking the time to do it during this roughly 40 hour adventure. Other sidequests include errands, which usually involve collecting items and redeeming them for tokens, which can then be redeemed for items, or better yet, new citizens to join your kingdom.
One particular sidequest involves the “Dreamer’s Doors”, which introduces a rogue-like dungeon experience. Dreamer’s Doors have multiple floors and randomized layouts, using a danger meter to increase the threat level. As the danger meter gets higher, enemies will get stronger and sometimes this can make it impossible to continue. Luckily, there are dream orbs that can be used to lower the threat level, though in the beginning of the game, they are a lot harder to come across. A certain building in your kingdom can help with this immensely, though at first, it would feel like the random aspect is broken. Mainly when coming across chests that require a certain amount of orbs, only to find that there aren’t enough orbs on the floor to even open it.
The presentation of the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The music is just as fantastic as ever, as Joe Hisaishi returns from the first game to score the game. Character designs from Yoshiyuki Momose are also just as wonderful as other Studio Ghibli designs. This goes well with the great cel-shaded visuals that are used for the majority of the game. Environments look gorgeous as well, giving some truly awe-inspiring locales. While all these aspects are great, there are still other factors that bog down the experience a bit.
Without Studio Ghibli’s involvement, there are no longer any anime cutscenes. This means the game uses either the in-game engine or static storybook images. For some reason, there are also less scenes that are fully voiced, losing some charm from the characters. Then there’s the decision to make the overworld models into chibi versions, feeling like a downgrade. The previous game kept the same proportioned models on the overworld and it looked perfectly fine. It’s also worth mentioning that there are moments where the frame rate drops, usually when loading areas of the map.
The last thing isn’t so much an issue with the presentation, but more or less a pacing issue. Luckily it’s at the very end of the game, but the final boss battle goes on a bit too long. Granted, it’s probably much easier if players grind out to a higher level, but it drags on a little. The rest of the game is paced rather well, as the story moves at a good speed. Each of the nine chapters can be beaten rather quickly if players don’t get sidetracked, though they shouldn’t rush it. Ni no Kuni II tells an uplifting story that feels just like a fairytale, so it’s perfectly fine to take it one step at a time.
While the presentation takes a slight hit, the improved combat easily makes up for it. In a lot of ways, Ni no Kuni II is much better than its predecessor. With a fun story and interesting characters, this is a fantasy experience that can truly be admired. Evan’s tale to become a benevolent king is somewhat inspiring, especially in these political times. It will be interesting to see if Bandai Namco decides to continue with this franchise beyond the extra downloadable story content. Either way, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a magical adventure worthy of a king.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10