Unlike its predecessor Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom doesn’t start off with a long-winded set up to an emotional story ahead, but rather throws the player straight into the action. Indeed there are many emotional scenes to come but being thrown straight into action was a little refreshing. The premise is simple and a tale that’s been told many times before. Young prince Evan is in line to take the throne when a coup is plotted to take his life and take control of the kingdom by the villain. As it is with just about every fairy tale the coup is foiled by a mysterious hero. It is from this point where the player will find themselves taking control of a number of players including young Evan, the mysterious hero Roland and Tani will be but a few courageous and comical characters that you’ll venture across Ding Dong Dell and the world of Ni no Kuni II.
Coming off the back of the first Ni no Kuni, the battle system was in fact the most complained about mechanic of the game. The micro-managing one had to do for their familiars and still be able to focus on real-time battle was a chore. This time everything’s laid out in one simple manner – hack, slash and roll. Real easy right? Well if you’re slapping yourself against the head right now because you think “Is that all?” then perhaps hold on a second. See, although that may be the basics there are spells and abilities that players can also access by holding down R2 and hitting either one of four of the allocated button slots to cast a spell or perform a special attack instantly. This of course uses mana but really beats having to access a menu like you do in turn-based battle systems. And this says a lot because I’m a HUGE fan of turn-based battle systems.
Each character also has their own weapon specialty in terms of spears, swords, hammers, axes and even bows and wands for ranged attacks. The best part about it all is that since you’ll be able to swap between the characters during battle you’ll have a wide array of abilities to chose from at the touch of a button. The fun doesn’t stop there. After around two or three hours in you’ll receive another mechanic in the game that allows you to tweak even more from your encounters. This is known as Tactic Tweaker. You’ll have to spend battle points unfortunately to tweak settings here but it really is worth it, since you’ll be tweeking and adjusting monster affinities that allows the player to inflict more damage on certain types of monsters. Or tweak your own resistance to different types of monsters and, my favourite, adjust the amount of spoils you’ll receive after battle.
Coming back to familiars from the first game, Ni no Kuni II grants players more monsters (or rather elemental spirit creatures) for their teams, but this time these are called higgledies. Unlike the familiars, however, higgledies don’t need to be micro-managed and also offer Evan and his team support through offense, defense and even healing, but only when requested and of course when they’re ready and powered up. It’s quite simple actually during battle. All you’ll have to do is run past them and hit the “X” button and they will proceed to dish out damage or provide a defensive barrier whilst you continue in battle. It’s practically like you have your own mini army alongside you in every battle. Which brings us to army skirmishes.
Skirmishes allows players to control armies in an army vs. army battle. Think RTS but without the cons. In this instance Evan is surrounded by differently equipped soldiers such as archers, swordsman, soldiers equipped with hammers or even soldiers equipped with guns. Although they’ll attack automatically when approached by enemies the player (Evan) will be able to assist in calling in reinforcements (there is a limit here) or by performing special attacks such as calling in an air strike. Evans army also possesses generals who in turn will be in the center of the soldiers groups and depending on which general you have in your army, they too will have different types of soldiers.
Managing a Kingdom
Further into the game players will begin to build and manage their own Kingdom. Think of this as a sim city emulator within the game. Players can collect money otherwise known as kingsguilders from their stores in their Kingdoms and then utilise the money by constructing new buildings and facilities. Some of these facilities include stores where you’ll be able to acquire weapons and armour from as well as facilities that focus on researching more on spells and higgledies. Of course building a Kingdom is no easy task and you’ll have to assign staff within these facilities and buildings to run them. However, make sure you assign the right citizens to the right jobs as each citizen will have four different categories to look into.
Each category of course makes them stronger or weaker in certain aspects so it’s up to you, the King, to determine who is best suited for each position. And of course finding and recruiting your citizens will be just as fun as there are in fact side quests for that as well. I found the Kingdom management to be quite weighted within the game at times and that’s actually not in a bad way. It was welcoming to have a more laid back play style in the middle of a JRPG and more often than not I found upgrading weapons and research methods helped develop Evan and his battle mates greatly during enemy encounters. I also discovered that this part of the game wasn’t just a side mechanic or added-on content, but rather played an important part in the game and actually forces the player to develop the kingdom before allowing you to move on with the story.
As much as I enjoyed the light story about building a Kingdom and uniting nations I honestly felt that Ni no Kuni II unfortunately falls short during many dialogue moments, so much so that it actually felt as if the developers didn’t care enough or rushed it through these scenes. Where a cheer would have been most welcome after an awe-inspiring speech, there was nothing but silence with a few citizens throwing their hands up in the air. On the other hand the crowd or towns people screamed with support for a lacklustre speech. Unfortunately there are many moments in the game like this and I feel it is where the game suffers a lot. Nevertheless the game is gorgeous in and out of its Chibi styled moments.
It looks like a Studio Ghibli production and sometimes sounds like one but alas it is not. This doesn’t take away from the incredible heart felt moments that the game does offer though and the character development is quite well placed. Each character including Evan grows in ways that make you believe that you’ve just been on a journey across the world learning from many different cultures and also taking pieces away from them into your own path of life to becoming a king. The music is also superb to listen to as it was with the first Ni no Kuni. However, this too can be out of place at times with some moments being completely dead (without a sound) and other moments where I felt as if it just does not fit there at all. Heartfelt moments where there should have been soft serene background music is instead replaced with a loud and vibrant soundtrack.
All-in-all Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an incredible adventure that takes us through a young mans journey across a worry-struck world. Although at times music and dialogue might seem out of place the remainder of the game is gorgeous to look at and superb to listen to. With an amazing upgrade to its battle system, a kingdom building mechanic and of course the adorable higgledies it was hard to put the controller down. I never actually found myself grinding much either making my way through the game at a rather speedy pace. This did change drastically in the last three chapters and is where I found the challenge I was looking for. For anyone looking to sink their teeth into a forty-hour JRPG – this is definitely the one for you.