Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PS4, PC
Review copy provided
The Kingdom of Evermore won’t be built in a day, but it will be built upon the blood, sweat and tears of its citizens. Whether they’re male, female, dogperson, grimalkin, merfolk, old, young or even just a child, there’s a job for everyone at Evermore, and it almost always involves toiling away in the mines. Everyone seems to think that King Evan is a benevolent leader, but his stance on child labour laws appears to be quite problematic.
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the sequel to 2010’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. If you’ve never played the original game before, don’t worry. Revenant Kingdom takes places hundreds of years in the future and has no relation to events of the first instalment. The new game follows two main characters, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum and Roland. Evan is the child king of Ding Dong Dell, which plays host to both the grimalkin and mousepeople. During Evan’s coronation ceremony, the mice seize the opportunity for power, attempting a coup d’etat to execute Evan, presumably because they don’t get a fancy name like “grimalkin”.
Fortunately, Roland appears to escort Evan to safety. Also, Roland is from another world that’s heavily implied to be our world. Also, he’s the President, and he’s totally proficient in swordplay and pistols, which makes him the most badass President since Michael Wilson from Metal Wolf Chaos. It’s a bold claim, sure, but Roland earns that distinction.
Anyway, Evan decides the best thing to do is to form his own Kingdom with blackjack and hookers, and sets off with Roland to accomplish that goal. Except without the blackjack and the hookers, obviously. Along the way, he makes friends who join him on his quest, creating a natural story of a ragtag group of plucky underdogs fighting to unite the world under a banner of peace.
It’s a wholesome, family friendly affair that’s reminiscent of the kind of narrative you’d find in a Studio Ghibli production, and the vibrant graphics help further that feeling. Each kingdom you visit is awash with colour and a unique visual identity, from the bright lights and glamour of Goldpaw to the mechanical monolith of Broadleaf. The musical accompaniment from Joe Hisaishi, the composer for some of Ghibli’s greatest hits, is also tremendous. Despite hearing the same battle theme for 40 hours, you don’t get tired of it.
Unfortunately, the “Ghibli treatment” doesn’t translate to the voice acting, which isn’t up to the same standards as other JRPG games. Dramatic moments seem to lack that real layer of emotion that helps to sell to moment, making cutscenes feel less like a multi-million dollar production and more like a Shakespeare rendition at the amateur dramatics club.
Perhaps that’s too harsh. It’s certainly serviceable, and doesn’t detract from the personality of the characters. All of your party members are decent enough that you can root for them, with Evan in particular being especially likeable. Despite being a child, Evan spends the entire game displaying a maturity and confidence more befitting an older, wiser character. His determination to bring peace to the world is infectious, both in-game and for the player. You want him to succeed.
In between the cutscenes and mediocre voice acting, Ni no Kuni II is split into three distinct modes. You’ll spend the majority of your time roaming the overworld, finding loot, encountering enemies and all the usual JRPG trappings. Combat occurs in real-time, but it’s simple enough for everyone to enjoy. You won’t be required to pull off some Devil May Cry-esque Table Hoppers or Millions Stabs, don’t worry.
Every character has light attacks, strong attacks and ranged attacks, along with up to 4 equippable skills that can be activated by holding R2 and pressing a face button. Each fight is a fast and frenetic affair, as you hack and slash your way through countless monsters. It sounds simplistic, and for the most part it is. Combat still does revolve around mashing the square and triangle buttons until the monsters stop moving, but there are some additional systems in play to keep things interesting.
Everyone is equipped with up to three melee weapons which gain power every time you smack a monster with it. Once you reach 100%, using one of your skills will produce a higher power version of that attack, so the object of each fight is to charge your weapons then cash them out for big damage. If that sounds like too much micromanagement, you can set the game to change your weapons automatically or semi-automatically, leaving you to focus on clobbering monsters.
Also accompanying you into battle are Higgledies and your Kingmaker, Lofty. The Higgledies are tiny elemental sprites that can also help you buff your special moves or can be used to be used to create additional attacks in battle, whilst Lofty looks like a badly drawn midget Lisa Simpson who can throw out HP, MP and Awakening buffs. Seriously, you’ll learn to love the little guy when you’re down to your last character and he chucks out a well timed health pick-up.
Lastly, Ni no Kuni II includes a tactics tweaker that can be used to alter different stats such as elemental resistances, damage boosts for certain enemy types and the rewards you receive after a battle. The tweaker features a number of sliders which can be used to determine how proficient you are against certain enemies. For instance, you can increase the damage you do against solid/liquid enemies, but never both. Conversely, you can only be resistant to either dark or light damage.
It’s especially useful when taking on bosses or tainted enemies, which are high powered versions of regular enemies that offer increased EXP and bounty rewards. If you know what enemy you’re fighting, you can alter the tactics tweaker to give you an edge in battle. Also, if you’re looking for equipment or materials to make new weapons and armour, you can alter the drop rates too. It adds that extra layer of strategy to a combat system that could have just become another brainless button masher.
Of course, you can only craft weapons at Evermore if you have the facilities to do so, which leads us to Ni no Kuni II’s main attraction: Kingdom Building. As King, it’s your job to recruit the citizens, construct the services you require and reap the benefits. When you’re first introduced to the mechanic, you’re only given access to an armoury, an outfitters, a spellworks and a “higglery”, which improves the Higgledies in combat.
As you progress through the game and explore fellow Kingdoms, you’ll unlock side-quests that’ll bring new citizens to Evermore. These citizens have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s up to you to make sure they’re placed somewhere that’s relevant to their talents. There’s no point having the skilled sorcerer working the farms, for example.
Even though most side quests fit into the generic boxes of “go here”, “fetch this” and “kill that”, the rewards you receive give you a sense of urgency to ensure they’re completed. Fetching a few materials for someone might seem boring, but it’s worth it when you can unlock a new tier of weapon crafting or when you can finally research a perk that increase party EXP.
As your Kingdom expands with new facilities and more people swearing fealty to Evan, the amount of money you generate increases. Ultimately, you’re spending money to unlock valuable items and research in the main game, whilst earning more money as a result. It’s the same kind of addictive loop you’d expect in a mobile farming game, except here it’s better because the expansion of Evermore means more than just the endless pursuit of bigger numbers.
It’s also where Ni no Kuni II gets a lot of its depth and longevity from, as the amount of research you can undertake is insane. After finishing the game in just under 40 hours, there was still so much left to unlock and Evermore wasn’t even at its highest level. If you’re chasing that 100%, you’ll be here for a while.
Recruiting citizens also ties into one of Ni no Kuni II’s most wonderful bits of world building. Very early on, you’re given access to Leafbook: the world’s social media platform that’s an amalgamation of Facebook and Instagram. Periodically, you’ll find updates that let you know how things are in other parts of the world, or give you reactions to events that occur in the story. You can easily just ignore it and it won’t take away from your experience, but for those who enjoy seeing a world fleshed out, it’s remarkably charming.
Finally, the third mode is a skirmish mode, which sees you take up to four units out into a larger scale battle. You have multiple unit types, and they act as a rock, paper, scissors counter to each other. Swords counter hammers, hammers counter spears and spears counter swords. Meanwhile ranged units operate on their own, doing decent damage but crumbling under any sustained pressure.
Your units circle around you by using L1 and R1, and it’s your job to ensure your troops are in the right place at the right time. The key to success in this mode is to include one of each type of unit (sword, hammer, spear and ranged) so that you’re equipped to face anything you come up against. Your units can also level up, and difficulty increases as the game progresses, but it’s largely a case of exploiting the RPS system to victory.
Because of this, and the fact that you’re only really required to play the mode about dozen or so times throughout the game, it makes the whole mode feel tacked on, and certainly not as well developed as it could have been. Unequivocally, it’s the weakest aspect of a game that offers some of the best RPG action on the market today.
Despite the skirmish mode misstep, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a brilliant JRPG that’ll entertain you from start the finish. Even though it might not be the most original in terms of story or gameplay, there’s an undeniable charm that exudes throughout the game that you can’t help but become addicted to. An absolute joy.
Will you be picking up Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom when it launches tomorrow? Sound off in the comments below.