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Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: March 23, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 23, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom features an all-new cast of charming characters, an emotional storyline, and innovative gameplay design that will delight and challenge players.

Buy Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a colorful and charming JRPG built around Studio Ghibli designs, but its similarities to the original Ni no Kuni are mostly aesthetic. Ni no Kuni II has more in common with the old Konami RPG franchise Suikoden or Bandai-Namco's Tales franchise than with the original NNK. While that might be disappointing to some fans, the upside is that NNK2 is a significantly better game than the original.

Beyond some minor cameos, NNK2's story has little to do with the original game. Players follow the story of two characters. Roland is a politician from the real world who is thrust into a fantasy world in the wake of a horrifying disaster. In this new world, he's in a younger body and arrives in the bedroom of a child-king named Evan. Roland's appearance saves Evan from a terrible end at the hands of a coup by an evil chancellor. Together, Evan and Roland must set out to save the world and make it a better place.

NNK2 is pure JRPG comfort food. It doesn't break new ground, but it has a few amusing deviations. The gameis charming because the story is accessible to kids but has enough meat and darkness for an adult gamer to enjoy. The characters are likeable and cute, and they have fun interactions with one another. Those looking for serious melodrama may be disappointed, but even the most jaded and cynical of gamers will crack a few smiles at the many jokes and optimistic outcomes.

The battle system might be considered "simplified" when compared to the first game, but it's almost universally an improvement. The combat in the original NNK was a confused mishmash of dozens of different systems revolving around a bizarre monster collection minigame. In comparison, NNK2 has a straightforward action-RPG combat system where you control one of your three active party members and move them around the battlefield to attack and use magical spells in true JRPG standard. You can swap between party members at will and change weapons on the fly. Different weapons have different attributes, and knowing when and where to swap is critical to success.

The monster-raising element isn't completely gone, but it's largely sidelined. You have friendly sidekick characters called Higgledies who aid you in battle, and while they're important, they're not particularly controllable. The cute characters run around the battlefield doing whatever they want. When they group up, the player can stand near them to perform special actions, such as cast a healing spell, throw a powerful fireball, or take control of a cannon. They're a cute addition, but they don't have much of an impact.

The key to NNK2's success is that it's fun. The combat is rather standard for action-RPG games, but I was deeply engaged in swapping weapons, changing characters, and interacting with the Higgledies. The fast-paced combat system is well designed and doesn't overstay its welcome or get in the way. The game excels at remaining engaging without being punishing; if anything, it could stand to be a little tougher. There are some potentially challenging fights, but there's nowhere near as frustrating as the combat in the original NNK.

There are also RTS "skirmish" battles where Evan leads his troops into combat. In these fights, players control Evan and his troops as they engage in what amounts to rock-paper-scissors-style combat where swords beat hammers, hammers beats spears, and spears beat swords. Certain characters have special moves that they can use to turn the tide of combat. Unfortunately, similar to Suikoden, these RTS battles are cooler in theory than in execution. There's little strategy or effort to it: You run into battle, use some special attacks, and win.

One of the highlights was building up the kingdom. A few chapters into the game, you get the ability to develop your kingdom. You're pretty restricted in what you can do, so this isn't a freeform city-building game. You can effectively choose which buildings are built, who works in the building, and identify their development priorities, but somehow, this is incredibly addictive. Buildings can develop new magic spells or equipment, gather resources to build more buildings, create special items, and various other things. Evan can recruit characters from around the world to live in his kingdom, and figuring out which character works best with which buildings is a surprisingly enjoyable diversion that helps you grow attached to the characters. You have to do side-quests to grow your kingdom, but that extra motivation makes the side-quests fun.

NNK2 is extremely well-paced. The game doesn't meander for long, and there's almost always something new to do. The side-quests, minigames, collectibles, and various other things pad out the game quite well, but it never feels excessive. A lot of JRPGs have problems with focus and can get buried under their own systems. NNK2 does an excellent job of feeling like its systems contribute to the whole instead of feeling weighed down by them. It'll probably take about 40-50 hours to complete the game, but they're solid hours of fun.

Ni no Kuni 2 features the original game's strengths without suffering from any of its weaknesses. The worst that can be said about it is that it's sometimes too simple or too cute for its own good. There are a few tedious side-quests that are not too annoying, but the game's lampshading of the mechanics makes them feel worse. Few things made a weak gameplay segment less fun than the developers pointing out they also knew it was weak. Some of the humor falls a little flat, and a few of the characters are annoying, but by and large, it's a huge improvement over the original.

The real star of the show is the presentation. The original NNK was praised for its visuals, and NNK2 is an improvement in every way. A lot of games say that they look animated, but NNK2 is comparable to perhaps Dragon Ball FighterZ in looking like an animated cartoon rather than a video game. It's bright and colorful, and character designer Yoshiyuki Momose's wonderful art makes the game feel like a Studio Ghibli movie. The voice acting and soundtrack are also wonderful. Few games are as genuinely delightful and charming as this one, and a big part of that is due to the presentation.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom isn't a conventional sequel. It has mostly superficial similarities to the first game, but it's one of the most genuinely enjoyable and fun JRPGs to come out in a long time. A charming story, delightful cast of characters, exciting gameplay and amazing presentation combine to make a game that is a boatload of fun to play. Its only real flaw is sometimes getting too bogged down in its own systems, and the story could be meatier. JRPG fans of all ages should find a lot to love here, and it's a must-have for anyone who loves the genre.

Score: 9.0/10

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