Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom features some big changes from the original, but the result is a deep RPG experience that will absorb your time, hour after delightful hour. Come inside to see why you need to pick it up this week.
After a handful of (heartbreaking) delays, Ni No Kuni 2 is finally launching on the PlayStation 4 and it won't take very long for you to realize that it's more than worth the wait. Within a very short period of time from starting up the game, it became apparent that I was in for a great time despite some of my initial fears.
Story and Setting
The game's story takes place hundreds of years (in the fantasy world at least) after the events of the first game; so there's not much connective thread between the tales. In fact, the events of the first game are mentioned at one point as being a legend in this time period.
The game starts with Roland, the President of a modern looking nation, as he's en route to some big meeting. Before he arrives, the city attacked by what appears to be a nuclear bomb. As Roland watches the destruction, he is magically transported to the world of Ni No Kuni, specifically the bed chambers of Prince Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum within Ding Dong Dell.
His father has died, and today is supposed to be Evan's coronation as the new king...but Roland has arrived right in the middle of a coup. With the castle in chaos, Roland jumps in to help Evan escape from those who would kill him. This involves sneaking around the castle, battling knights, and ends with an emotional punch to the gut. ALL of this happens within the opening of the game!
After escaping, Evan resolves to build a new kingdom where everyone is welcome and can live in harmony. He and Roland embark on a journey to build up the Kingdom of Evermore and convince leaders of other nations around the world to join your cause. Along the way, they meet new friends and learn about an ancient enemy seeking to reclaim his own kingdom.
It's a more straightforward fantasy story this time around than even in the first game, but it's still engaging enough to keep you playing through to see what happens next. At times, however, it can be a little too kiddish for its own good. While the story is meant to be enjoyable for people of all ages, especially with its Studio Ghibli inspired art design, it still manages to hit on some heavier themes. At times, however, things work out a little too neatly, pulling some of the tension out of certain story moments within the game.
Regardless, I really enjoyed the story. There's a lot going on, but its not overly convoluted (like too many JRPGs tend to get). From the new characters that pop up as you progress, to the colorful cast of supporting characters-and enemies-you'll encounter, there's never a dull moment in the story. Sure, there's a bit too much "convenience" in some of the plot elements, but there's no point where I was ever bored.
While the story is fun to play through and will keep pulling you along until the very end, it's the gameplay mechanics that will have you playing hour after to hour without realizing how much time has flown by. More than just featuring new stuff, Ni No Kuni 2 delivers such a fine layer of polish on all the mechanics as to be virtually seamless.
The game features a larger overworld where you'll traverse long distances (such as going between kingdoms). In the overworld map, your characters take on a chibi-style appearance as you walk around. Enemies will be scattered around the map, where you can avoid them, or engage them at will.
If you're trying to avoid combat, instead looking to gather the various items littered about (indicated by a sparkling glow) or treasure chests, make sure you give enemies a wide berth. If they spot you, they'll zip over to your location. As you increase your level and combat prowess however, lower-level enemies will run AWAY from you on the map.
Once you enter a town or other such locations (dungeon doesn't seem like the right description, but that's essentially the concept), you will return to the normal third-person view used in combat, to explore and interact with the world. It's an RPG, which means there's plenty to discover and find strewn throughout both the overworld and dungeon areas. Walking around and interacting with as many people as you can is key, but also reveals some fun story moments.
This setup isn't all that different from any other RPG out there (most feature a different overworld experience), but Revenant Kingdom is so refined and smooth, that it feels like a fresh experience.
Combat, Combat, Combat
The biggest actual changes in Revenant Kingdom come from the battles. The Pokemon style system from the previous game (which, admittedly, was the whole reason I picked up White Witch) is gone. Instead, we're left with a more traditional real-time combat system that incorporates the use of basic, strong, ranged, and "super" attacks. It's simple enough to get into, but features some real depth that makes it fun to master over time.
Instead of equipping only one weapon, you'll equip four to use in combat (three melee and one ranged). This ties into the Zing Gauge, which fills up during combat an each weapon. Weapons at 100% will deal out more damage in basic attacks, so it's important to rotate your weapons to fill them up equally (you can set this to happen automatically, manually, or a mix of both). Once full, you can also use it to unleash your skills. Most of the skills you'll acquire work like super attacks, though some offer health or various other team bonuses.
If you've kept up your Zing gauge on all the weapons at your disposal, you can unleash a series of skills one after another to decimate your enemies. Couple that with blocks and dodges, there's a lot going on within the combat that makes each battle feel unique. Since you'll be doing a LOT of battling it's beneficial the combat isn’t monotonous in the slightest. Even when you're grinding for experience, or out on a mini-quest to bring people into your kingdom, it doesn't feel like grinding.
If you're feeling frisky, you can also delve deeper into the combat with the Tactic Tweaker. It's a change up on the leveling system (you won't assign skill points to individual characters as you would in most RPGs) that allows you to adjust how your party deals with things in battle. You can adjust settings to make your attacks against specific monster types stronger, change whether you earn more experience or loot from battles, adjust your team abilities, and their resistance to certain attacks.
Through battle, you earn points to make changes, and skills can be adjusted continually. You're not locked into settings once you choose them, so if you're stuck in a particularly hard battle/boss, you can adjust Tactic Tweaker to make your attacks more effective and your defenses stronger.
Then there's the Higgeldies! These Pikmin-esque creatures are elemental sprites scattered throughout the world can offer assistance both in and out of battle. You’re allowed up to four different Higgeldies in your party at a time and they can attack (your first introduces a canon on the battlefield that lobs explosives at enemies), or give buffs, like health, in the heat of battle.
None of these features is necessarily reinventing the wheel in terms of gameplay, and you can find similar systems in other games. However, the way they're all integrated and the fine level of polish Level-5 has put into them, makes it highly addictive. Everything works the way it should, making it easily accessible to everyone (many things can be automated) while giving more experienced RPG players a lot of depth to fiddle around with.
Keeping Your Kingdom
Evan's kingdom of Evermore isn't just something that happens in the periphery of the story. You'll take an active hand in guiding the development of the kingdom. As the city grows from your adventures, you have to decide where the people will go, and the tasks they will handle. This mode unlocks after Chapter 4 in the game (5-6 hours in depending on how much exploring you do along the way) and you'll be tasked with deciding which structures to build.
You have limited resources to start with, so you'll have to be strategic in your choices. Basic structures like farms, gardens, general shops, etc. flesh out your town, provides food, and gives you options for new gear. The other buildings, however, have more direct impact on the rest of the game. These will deal with research into magic, weapons, spirits, and more.
Pushing your research into these areas can give you better weapons/armor in battle, improve your magical prowess, etc. For me, this was my favorite part of the game, and where so much of my time got sucked up. It's not as robust as other city building mechanics, you can't choose where your buildings go, or how to layout your kingdom, but it is ridiculously deep; easy to get lost in.
As you develop your kingdom, you will also have to defend it. This is where the Skirmish Mode comes into play. These battles take place in the overworld and plays out like a Real-Time Strategy game. Evan will control up to four "armies" that encircle him. They can rotate around via your shoulder buttons, allowing you to move your stronger units where they'll be most effective. It operates off a simple rock, paper, scissors mechanic, where certain units are stronger/weaker than other unit types.
You'll use these armies to defend against enemy invaders, or to simply to rid the land of particular menances who could threaten the peace of the kingdom. The influence is very much from RTS games, and came as a surprise when it popped up.
The Sum of Its Parts
The best thing about Ni No Kuni 2. Just when you think you've seen all the new gameplay it has to offer, something new comes up to totally change the way you play the game; some new mechanic that will consume your time in all different ways. It's constantly surprising, keeping you on your toes and heavily engrossed in all that's happening. Even if you don't like a particular element of the game, you can mostly ignore it and enjoy the other stuff.
There's no one thing about Revenant Kingdom that makes it so amazing; rather there's a bunch of systems that are great on their own, but put together make for a unique experience that you'll want to keep coming back to. Refined is the word that kept coming to mind throughout my gameplay and it's exactly why each element of gameplay (no matter how different they seemed from one another) works so well within the one game.