Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a game with undeniable charm that featured an art style that was especially breathtaking for its time. With a lot of the same staff back, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom looks to capitalize on what made the original so good in combination with the fact that JRPGs are sort of making a comeback with the recent success of titles like Persona 5 and NieR: Automata.
What Is It?
A sequel only by name, Ni no Kuni II takes place more than a century after the events of the original game with the esteemed kingdom of Ding Dong Dell essentially being the only commonality between the two titles.
The game begins with a clip of the president of an unnamed nation on a bridge heading to a city closely resembling a dense metropolitan area like New York City or San Francisco. Just as his limousine arrives at the city, it’s bombed.
Yep, things escalate quickly.
All of a sudden, the president finds himself in the corner of a castle. He makes his way to a room where he finds a blonde boy (with cute cat ears) dressed in royal garb, who we eventually find out is Prince Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the heir to the throne of Ding Dong Dell–well, at least he was the heir to the throne before you find out you were in the middle of a coup where the king gets overthrown and Evan was to be murdered.
Again, things escalate quickly.
While all this sounds heavy, the actual content of the story is lighthearted, which is expected of a Ni no Kuni game until you find out that other than its Studio Ghibli-inspired art style, the two games hardly share any similarities.
Why Should I Care?
While there are definitely some commonalities with its predecessor, to say that Ni no Kuni II is just like the original would almost be an insult. The most notable difference lies in its action-based battle system replacing the original game’s turn-based system. I’m normally not one to support such a drastic change in a series with open arms, but luckily this is an IP that has only spanned two games (not including the original that was on the DS), so it’s not like people should be totally married to one aspect of gameplay.
The combat system is a slightly simpler version of what you’ll find in the Tales series. Battles take place in an area with invisible walls–which you can run at in attempt to flee, and the majority of the action comes from you tapping on the square or triangle button. Your attacks are limited to your magic and your equipped weapons, which you can manually change at the press of a button, or you can put them on automatic mode to have the computer choose what it thinks is the best weapon for the situation.
The problem with the battle system is that while it’s definitely much more involved than its predecessor’s turn-based system, its intricacies hardly ever get featured because the game is just too easy. Even bosses fall pretty quickly, and it was mainly through cocky and stupid play that led to the rare instances where I did die. Throw in the fact that you can spam your use of healing items, and the game pretty much reaches a Final Fantasy XV level of auto-pilot. There aren’t any difficulty settings either, so if you’re looking for a challenge, that unfortunately doesn’t happen until the post-game.
Most frustrating about the lack of difficulty is that there’s a lot of quality ideas in the battle system, particularly with the Higgledy system. Higgledies are tiny creatures you’ll come across early in the game with magical properties, and picking and choosing the right higgledies for each situation really could’ve been an aspect to care about, but because you can kill just about anything in the game pretty easily without much help doesn’t say much about the legitimacy of having such a cool feature.
Strangely enough, Ni no Kuni II actually has a second battle system in the form of skirmishes that mostly take place on the game’s World Map. This form of gameplay resembles a cross between a real-time MOBA and Pikmin, as you really aren’t doing anything aside from positioning your units in the right place for success. I personally found these segments to be borderline useless and the worst part of the game, which made it increasingly frustrating that the game’s tutorial treats regular battles like a complex science when all you’re really doing is hacking, slashing, and healing when needed.
The two action features aside, it’s the kingdom building feature that makes Ni no Kuni II really shine. Events in the game force Evan to create his own kingdom with Roland by his side as a personal advisor, and it’ll be your job to recruit various NPCs you’ll meet in the game to live in and contribute to your kingdom. Not only will have you your castle to manage, but you’ll eventually manage weapon shops, the town square, war barracks, and just about every building that makes a kingdom strong. You’ll even be upgrading these buildings as you gain more support, and the developers added a pretty clever timed system to space out your upgrades–that way you aren’t doing to many things at once, and it also allows you to explore the world to seek out more people to bring to your kingdom.
The act of kingdom recruitment comes in the form of the game’s sidequest and jobs system made even more approachable by the fact that you can fast travel to almost any significant place. All the favors you do for people can lead to all kinds of rewards, but the coolest of which is recruiting them to your kingdom. There are over 100 people to recruit, so it’s easy to get lost in time trying to make your kingdom the best one around.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the people you can bring to your kingdom is the fact that all of them visually have a unique look to them. The artists at Level-5 all did a fantastic job with the character design, and it leaves much to be said about the fact that a bunch of the people you recruit end up being a whole lot more likable than some of the people you have in your main party–in fact, the majority of the people in your active party are pretty boring as far as the story goes.
Similar to the art direction of the many great RPGs Nihon Falcom has developed, Ni no Kuni II‘s high standard of visual quality definitely rears its head here, and Level-5 definitely should be commended on the game’s look, especially considering the fact that there aren’t even any fully animated anime cutscenes here. It’s not quite Dragon Ball FighterZ good, but it’s definitely up there.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
It takes some time to get there, but once you get the ins and outs of what Ni no Kuni II has to offer, it’ll be hard to get it off your mind. Not only does it feature a solid and fairly unique narrative, but the battles are fun (despite their ease) and the whole kingdom building thing really ended up being more addictive than anybody anticipated.
While this sequel has its clear improvements over the original, I was still more thoroughly impressed with Wrath of the White Witch. Even though the predecessor was more childish, I personally enjoyed the journey and its characters a whole lot more.
Still, there’s some fun to be had with Ni no Kuni II for more hours than the initial 30 you’ll take with the main story, and it’ll also be quite a while before the next big JRPG comes out, so you might as well build the best kingdom you can so you can live happily ever after.