Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Review
Resonance. Heart. Love.
These three words were found in almost every review of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch when on launched on the PlayStation 3 in 2013. From the earliest moments of Oliver’s journey, right through to its enthralling conclusion, Ni No Kuni showed how big of a heart the team at Level-5 had as well as the love for the art they were creating, it had characters and a story that resonated with the player, and of course it was an excellent playing experience as well. Ni No Kuni was an unfortunate victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, failing to notch up the commercial success to match its glowing critical acclaim, and so you could have knocked me over with a feather when at PlayStation Experience 2015 it was revealed that we would soon be getting a successor to one of the PS3s crowning jewels. While it would be a long two-plus years before Revenant Kingdom released, the time has finally arrived, but can Level-5 deliver the same powerful experience… this time without Studio Ghibli to back them up?
Though the circumstances differ between both titles, there are some commonalities between the plot lines of both Wrath of the White Witch and now Revenant Kingdom. Both adventures are spurred by a deep sense of loss, but where in the case of the original, the loss of a loved one broke hearts, in Revenant Kingdom, your adventure begins with the loss of your own Kingdom. The young King Evan is stirred by the strange and mysterious arrival of Roland, a former president of an alternate universe who is somehow transported to Evan’s Kingdom of Ding Dong Dell, following an attack on his own city. Unfortunately for both Evan and Roland, they’ve emerged to find themselves in the middle of a coup, one that ultimately sees Evan fleeing the city as his rule is overthrown.
Revenant Kingdom’s story is broader reaching, and a little less personal than the original game, and whilst this is no fault of Level-5, it does mean that the plight carries less weight than its predecessor. As Evan’s journey progresses, and his new Kingdom begins to come together, you’ll encounter a diverse, endearing and certainly quirky cast of companions, allies and obstacles, all with their own take on how this world should be run. Some of these folk will interfere with your goal to unite the world, others are quick to lend their assistance, while some may need some convincing. The full spectrum of personalities are on display in Ni No Kuni, and with each race/kingdom having its own priorities, it’s fantastic to see the negotiations take place as the world shifts in response.
Of course, Revenant Kingdom is a JRPG and as such, you’ve got several dozen hours of playtime ahead of you, and as such it will take more than just a heartwarming narrative to hook you in; this is where the sequel truly stands apart from its older sibling. As opposed to Wrath of the White Witch’s turn-based, Pokemon inspired approach, Revenant Kingdom is more of an action-RPG that seems to draw heavily upon another popular Nintendo IP – Pikmin. Familiars are done away with here in favour of Higgledies, a small, Pikmin-like species that depending on which variety you have at your disposal can contribute to your playing experience in very different ways. There’s an exhaustive number of Higgledies available and each brings a different edge to combat, whether that is in offence, defence or courtesy of healing and buffs. With four different species of Higgledy in your party at any time, the onus is on you to match the right types together to develop a cohesive team that can offset the needs of you as you engage in combat. The Higgledies will work independently of Evan and his party and so while you’re hacking and slashing away at your targets, the Higgledies will be coordinating themselves so that they can unleash an enormous strike at your command. Not all of your combat needs to be up close and personal either, while much of your time will be spent in melee combat, players who prefer some distance between themselves and the nearby threat can strafe around and then mash away at the R1 button to fire ranged attacks at their target.
As the player you can also switch between Evan and his two other allies at any time through combat, likewise you can switch between your three melee weapons which can sometimes allow for you to chain some seriously large combos together and utilize your Skill Palette and Zing moves (you’ll have up to four of them, each accessed via the R2 button) to deal some extraordinary punches. Versatility is key here and each of the core combat systems play so well together that you’ll feel like a proficient fighter in no time.
The original Ni No Kuni stuck pretty tightly to its core gameplay mechanic, but in Revenant Kingdom, there are a pair of different systems to try out as an aside to the main combat experience. The first of those are Skirmishes; these top-down, very tactically inspired scenarios set you one objective and you must commit your limited pool of resources to ensuring your success. Your avatar in these encounters can be supported by four other units and their forces, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (it works like the Fire Emblem weapon triangle), so rolling through these different forces becomes as important as a carefully placed bombing run.
The other new system in Ni No Kuni II is the Kingdom mechanic. In order for Evan to bring peace to the world, he’s going to need to have his own affairs in order. As more citizens migrate to Evan’s new city of Evermore, opportunities to expand and grow Evermore emerge. The importance of managing Evermore will become apparent quite quickly; while some establishments serve only to produce trading components for you, others such as the Outfitters, Weaponry, Spellworks or Higglery afford you the opportunities to research and equip new weapons and armour, or new Higgledies to assist you in combat. The payoff to the core combat system is incredible should you opt to invest time in developing Evermore. Workers within Evermore will help you to raise Kingsguilders which can be reinvested into the city for its ongoing development and future expansion.
It’s hard to talk about a Ni No Kuni game and not address the visual style. Though Studio Ghibli only assisted in the development of the original game, their influence is present all throughout the world of Revenant Kingdom. Though few will ever achieve the artistic brilliance of a Ghibli animation, Level-5 have done an exceptional job of harnessing Ghibli’s unique style and continuing their legacy in this sequel. The product of this artistry is incredibly diverse and wonderfully realised cityscapes, lush forests, an overworld that has something impressive to look at no matter which direction you head in, and a striking cast of characters. Those same characters have been brought to life courtesy of some excellent voice work (although I must say I feel there is less of it in this entry than before), and some excellent writing. The musical score exists in a wonderful space that means it touches on and references some iconic tunes from the first entry but complements those with a new score that is more befitting of Evan’s adventure.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a powerful experience that has kept me on the hook for well over 60hours and will continue to do so as I chase down each side-quest, look to tackle every Dreamer Maze and expand Evermore’s influence even further. Ni No Kuni II has a charm that few games possess and with it, rarely ceases to put a smile upon your face. With so much doom and gloom in the world, a world that is then reflected in the games we play, it’s so uplifting to see a game that resonates so much with the player because of the heart it has and the love that the developers had for their work.