The original Ni no Kuni was like catching lightning in a bottle. A phenomenal story, addictive Pokemon-like gameplay, and a sprawling world gorgeously animated alongside the famed Studio Ghibli created a beloved modern JRPG classic that fans have longed to return to for quite some time.
Interestingly enough, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom takes the Final Fantasy approach as a sequel. Instead of following up on Oliver and the crew that we came to adore, this sequel opts for a brand new cast in a wholly new storyline almost entirely unconnected to the first game. This has created a game that looks on the surface just like fans wanted, but what lies underneath is something radically different.
Ni no Kuni 2 Review: One World, Not Two
Ni no Kuni 2 kicks off with a totally bombastic introduction to the President of the United States who finds himself transported to a fantasy realm. It is here that the first of the game’s many controversial changes can be found. While the original focused on a story that was grounded both in the real world and this fantasy world, Ni no Kuni 2 opts to spend the entire game almost exclusively in the fantasy realm.
For someone like me whose favorite part of the first game was the deep symbolism that was rooted in the two worlds, this was quite disappointing. I found it even stranger given that the opening sequence of Ni no Kuni 2 left me dying to know what was going on in our world.
Despite the focus on the magical realm, Ni no Kuni 2 doesn’t shy away from surprising commentary on the current social climate. Racism, intolerance, political corruption, an oddly Donald Trump-like character, and other hot topics were not what I expected to find at all in this family-friendly JRPG.
The story revolves around the young King Evan who, with the help of the President of the United States, must restore his kingdom that was taken from him. It is an engrossing premise that is not executed very well. A fair portion of Ni no Kuni 2 is extremely linear, moving you from one story beat to another rapidly.
While not inherently unheard of in the JRPG realm, this coupled with some serious story and pacing issues create a very flawed experience. The pacing of the story is all over the place, feeling like a summarized version most of the time.
For example, early on, Evan and President Roland encounter a Sky Pirate gang who capture them. In the space of literally two minutes, the story shifts from them being captured, to them being released by a Sky Pirate girl, to her being immediately captured by monsters, to the two heroes suddenly being asked to go save her by the same enemies who just captured them a moment ago.
That same uneven pacing carries through the entirety of the story, right up until the end when everything finally comes together. Most every scene plays out with very brief dialogue before moving on, lacking voice acting and cinematic cutscenes majority of the time. Because of this, the cast feels underwhelming at best with only one person really given any character development at all.
Ni no Kuni 2 Review: More Charming Than Ever
What’s interesting, though, is that the lack of involvement from the famed Studio Ghibli isn’t missing at all in the aesthetic of the game. Ni no Kuni 2 retains and expands upon the gorgeous art that was featured in Wrath of the White Witch, presenting one of the most charming looking games I’ve ever played.
Ni no Kuni 2 feels like an interactive version of classic animated films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. All of the locations you’ll visit from the Chinese-themed casino city of Goldpaw to the technologically advanced, corporate-run country of Broadleaf feel varied in design.
Even the characters and creatures you will find are all visually appealing, especially the uniquely designed bosses. This is great because you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in combat.
The combat is perhaps the most controversial change, switching from a Pokemon-like turn-based system to hack-and-slash combat. Some may lament the lack of monsters to capture, but the real-time action combat feels fresh and exciting. Each character has a light and a heavy melee attack that can be strung together into simple combos.
In addition, each person has limited MP that can be used to fire their ranged weapon or can be saved for powerful skills and spells. Thankfully, you are able to play as any of the characters in the party so it is possible to find who you like best and stick with them.
For me, it was Roland. Running in and throwing down a few combos before dodging out of the way of incoming attacks, then finishing them off with my pistol never got old over the course of the 40 hours I spent with Ni no Kuni 2.
Ni no Kuni 2 Review: It’s Like Two Games in One
At the start of Ni no Kuni 2, there are several weird mechanics and features that are introduced to you. Some of these, like stealth and puzzle segments, are introduced only to never be used again in the game. On the other hand, while the monster collecting aspect is far more prominent, I never felt inclined to really use it in battle.
Instead of going out and collecting various monsters to fight with like in the first game, in Ni no Kuni 2 you collect various elemental spirits called Higgledies. These little guys are constantly with you in combat, available for optional attacks or healing. Due to their overall uselessness and the game’s pretty easy difficulty, these creepy looking creatures felt more gimmicky than anything else.
However, there is one feature that stuck with me and that was the kingdom building mechanic. Being that King Evan has lost his kingdom, there comes a point several hours in where you can start to build up your kingdom however you’d like. Unlike some of Ni no Kuni 2‘s gimmicky additions, the kingdom building is integrated well into its story, making it feel like a part of the package rather than a curious distraction.
In fact, the kingdom building is so fully fleshed out that it feels like you’re getting two completely different games in one. It plays out like a somewhat simplified city-building sim where you pick and choose which buildings to create, what new spells and abilities to research, and where to place the citizens of your kingdom.
There are well over 100 different citizens that you can recruit throughout the world by completing their associated side quests. Each person specializes in different fields like magic or farming, and it’s up to you where to best place them. If you want to focus on discovering new spells for combat, you can spend a secondary currency called Kingsguilders to do that. If you only want your people to farm and mine for more resources in order to craft new weapons and armor, you can do that, too.
The kingdom sim mode is very complex and rich, providing dozens of hours on its own. My completion time by the end of the game was around 40 hours, but at least 10 of that was spent building my kingdom alone. The only gripe I have with this mode is that it is mandatory in order to beat the game.
At one point right towards the end of the story, you are required to have your kingdom’s overall level be at a certain point. Despite having already spent a few hours engaged in building my kingdom, I was still nowhere near the necessary requirements.
For someone that isn’t as interested in this aspect of the game, I can only imagine how frustrating that can be. However, the way that it is integrated with the game has me excited to go back and keep building my kingdom all the way to the max. Going out, finding a new side quest, and fighting monsters to farm the materials to complete the side quest so I can have a new citizen help out with researching new skills is a beautiful cycle that is equally addictive and rewarding.
Ni no Kuni 2 Review: Conclusion
Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a game that is built on extremities. Its weaknesses are extremely flawed, but its strengths are profoundly great. The story and characters are woefully brought down by such uneven pacing, which is unfortunate given the relevant commentary that is sprinkled throughout.
Despite this, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling like a kid again while playing Ni no Kuni 2. The switch from turn-based to real-time action is a smart move, keeping gameplay consistently fresh and exciting. The addition of the kingdom building mode works totally in tandem with rest of the game, creating a wonderfully addictive cycle that will have me coming back for more.
A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review.