Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a big deal when it was released on PS3. Level 5 and anime veterans Studio Ghibli worked together to create a very well received JRPG and now we have the sequel. There are quite a few changes from the first game but that’s not necessarily unusual for the genre, what matters most is if those changes are for the better, or at least just as fun in a different way.
Studio Ghibli aren’t directly involved this time but the influence on the visuals is still plain to see. There are no longer familiars to collect, a la Pokemon, and the combat system has seen a complete rework. Not to mention all the gameplay elements that have been added on top. Come into Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom hoping for the same game again and you will be disappointed, but I don’t believe you should be.
After an initial stint as Roland, a president from our world (or at least somewhere similar) who is transported to the fantasy world of Ni no Kuni II, the story follows Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a young boy who is about to officially be crowned King of Ding Dong Dell after his father’s death. Before the ceremony however a coup takes place and Roland, still a little lost as to where he is, helps Evan escape to safety. With Evan’s kingdom lost he decides to build a new one where everyone can live happily ever after. Yes, it’s a little too twee at times but it moves along at a brisk enough pace and there is variety to the main locations you visit in both visual style and culture that even my cynical mind was able to endure.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the characters however. They’re well designed and all have a variety of (mostly) British accents but none of the main cast are particularly interesting. They have their characteristics and quirks but never really develop beyond that meaning that by the end of the game I hadn’t found any of them to be offensively bad but I didn’t care about any of them either. It’s not game ruining as you meet a lot of NPC characters and they are just as well designed and have their own personalities, so although it is quantity over quality it does alleviate the problem somewhat.
The lack of voice acting might not help. Unlike the first game’s animated anime cutscenes, what few cutscenes there are here are made using the game engine, with 3D character models. It looks great still but some may find the lack of traditional animation to be a disappointment. These cutscenes are voice acted and mostly very well, but they are few and far between, often starting a scene in this fashion only to fade out and turn into a text based conversation instead. It can be a little jarring but you do get used it as it happens throughout.
Still, for the 50-ish hour game time you won’t be watching cutscenes the whole time so how does it play? Ni no Kuni II is actually very traditional in it’s moment to moment gameplay. There are towns to explore to accept side quests and buy items and equipment, there is a world map to roam as a little chibi version of Evan with enemies wandering around. There are dungeons to complete to progress the story, side dungeons in caves and forests littered around the world and as you progress you’ll unlock vehicles to get around the world faster and give you access to new areas. If you like old school JRPGs then all these things should be ticking boxes.
There are a few gameplay elements that differentiate it from other games. The combat this time is in real time with no menu based actions at all. You have light, heavy and ranged attacks, a block and dodge roll, and you can run around freely within the allotted battle zone. You can use specials with a combination of and a face button which uses MP, which you regain through physical attacks, and these specials can be charged to a more powerful state by raising a weapons ‘Zing’ to 100% before unleashing it, again through physical attacks. It’s a system which is fast paced and encourages the use of specials. You also collect ‘Higgles’ in the world, little creatures that automatically help you in battle and can be called upon to unleash specials, such as healing spells or summoning a giant cannon. I personally prefer it to the half real-time, half menu based system of the last game. I will say that it is quite easy however, if you avoid attacking anything too high level then you’ll get through the story without too much trouble, with only end game optional quests requiring grinding out levels.
The other major gameplay element that is introduced quite a few hours into the game is kingdom building. Evan’s kingdom starts with a castle and little else and over the course of the game you’ll expand and build new structures with the help of your subjects. In the tutorial you’ll build armour, magic and weapon shops to upgrade and research equipment to help you in battle, but before long you’ll have access to far more interesting buildings that will do things like increase the amount of experience you earn in battle or improve movement speed on the world map. To build, improve and research you need money but this money doesn’t come from the gold you earn out in the field, you get KG which is generated by your country. The bigger and better your kingdom the more money it generates.
This plays almost like a free-to-play game on your phone. Money is generated in real-time as you play the game (unlike Fable 2 it doesn’t continue generating funds whilst the game is off) and there is a cap on how much can be generated before it will stop, so you have to visit your kingdom to bank it. Same with materials, your subjects can generate raw materials for crafting or quests and you can only store so many before you need to collect them. Buildings take time to build and research takes time to complete. Despite its similarities with F2P titles it doesn’t feel cheap however as there’s always the game to be getting on with. The limit on how much gold and materials that could be stored did irritate me (though they can be upgraded) but you just have to consider fast travelling back every now and then to make sure you can continue collecting stuff.
Subjects don’t just appear however, you need to convince people that you’re a king worth following. This is where the majority of the side quests come in. Always well marked on the map, as you visit new areas you’ll be able to poach their best and brightest. Unfortunately the majority of the side quests are simple fetch quests, requiring a certain amount of an item, for you to kill so many of a certain enemy or one tougher enemy. Some of the scenarios are interesting but the quests themselves are not and there are a lot of them. You’ll want to do them as you need all the subjects you can get to expand your kingdom and complete research but there were times when I just had to move on with the main story or I’d have got bored.
One more type of gameplay that pops up every now and then is a simplified real-time strategy mode. Here you roam the world map but have no direct control over the fighting. Up to four units can surround Evan and as they come into contact with the enemy they will automatically attack. Player input comes from pairing the right unit against the right enemy. There is a rock, paper, scissors system where different weapon types are strong against certain others and so, with and , you can rotate the units around you so that you’re leading with the most suitable unit. You can also spend ‘Might’ to use specials, heal units and claim structures but I have to say the lack of direct control and feedback meant I didn’t particularly enjoy this mode.
Each element has positives and negatives, but the presentation is great throughout. The character and world design is very strong and the visuals are bright, colourful and smooth. The music is of a high quality although it sometimes felt a little out of place, with the second area in the game having a theme that wouldn’t have been out of place in the final dungeon. In general I can’t knock the presentation too hard, the strong design makes it look more expensive than it probably was, with the shortage of cutscenes and some copy and paste minor dungeons maybe being more representative of the actual budget.
Despite some obvious negatives Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a delight to play. The combat is maybe too easy but is quick, responsive and negates the need for grinding. The kingdom building has some issues but you will become obsessed with it, finding research that will benefit you out in the field and locating and pleasing new recruits. I’m not a fan of the RTS-style battles but at least it’s something else to do if you fancy a break from the story and fetch quests. The style and atmosphere are strong enough to pull you through those moments that do drag a little and you’ll find yourself tens of hours in before you know it.
If you enjoy traditional JRPGs then this will satisfy you more than any other game in recent memory. If you’re a fan of the first title then go in with an open mind, and an open heart, and you’ll surely enjoy this one too.
+ Combat is fast paced and fun
+ Kingdom building will be an obsession
- Characters aren't developed
- RTS-style battles are a little too simple