If you’ve not yet played 2013’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, then go do it now. Seriously, I’ll wait. By combining the epic talent of Studio Ghibli with the RPG know-how of Level-5, Ni No Kuni quickly and easily became one of the greatest PS3 games of all time. It’s not necessary to play it before starting the sequel, but you’ll be glad you did, especially if you’re an RPG fan.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, the long-awaited follow-up, has some enormous shoes to fill. The game already won “Best RPG” titles from Game Critics Awards and Gamescom, but like any sequel, it will inevitably be compared to its predecessor, for better or worse. Over the past three months, I’ve spent just over 45 hours with Ni No Kuni II. Although I haven’t yet completed the main story (I’m easily distracted by sidequests), I’m here to give you my impressions of the game.
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Microsoft Windows
Ni No Kuni II takes place several hundred years after the events of the first game. The story opens with Roland, the President of the United States, watching helplessly as missiles rain down on a nearby city. He is then magically transported to Ding Dong Dell, which fans will remember from the first game. After helping Ding Dong Dell’s boy king Evan escape from a murderous coup, Roland assists Evan in building a kingdom where everyone can live happily ever after.
In the first game, players follow a boy named Oliver on a quest to find his mother. It’s a simple, but powerful and utterly relatable goal, and I was completely obsessed with helping him see it through.
Perhaps it’s my cynicism showing, but I’ve not been able to jump aboard the Evan bandwagon in the same way. Yes, the aim of uniting all the nations of the world in peace is admirable, but in the game, it comes across as hopelessly naive. There are no real bad guys in Ni No Kuni II, just a few grumps. And if you’re sincere enough (plus complete about a half-million fetch quests), everyone turns out the best of friends in the end.
You might be saying, “Um, yeah. This is a kids’ game. Of course, the story is going to be all sunshine and unicorns.” But the first game was not. Not by a long shot. Nor are Studio Ghibli films, which are family friendly but deal with some mega heavy topics. Stories for kids need not reduce themselves to simple-mindedness, and much of the time, Ni No Kuni II is way over that line.
Whereas the main story is a bit too childish to keep me all that engaged, several of the sidequests sucker-punched me right in the feels. Heartbreak, abandonment, loss, death–more than once they left me with my jaw on my lap and my heart ripped in two (though a bit oddly, the happy tone of the game never skips a beat while these mini tragedies play out in front of you). What I would have given to have this level of depth in the main story.
Unlike the first Ni No Kuni (where you start with a mere tree branch for a wand), the combat in this game makes you feel extremely accomplished right from the get-go. The controls do exactly what they’re supposed to do–which is to let you forget about them entirely and simply play. It’s easy to map your favorite spells to certain buttons, and everything feels fluid and intuitive. But in the effort to buoy the player up with success, things almost move along too easily. I very rarely encounter a real challenge, and that’s only when I purposefully approach a monster that’s of a much higher level than my party.
Like its predecessor, the main parts of Ni No Kuni II have players guiding chibi characters across a vast world map, exploring and fighting monsters. These are the most fun parts of the game. But this installment also adds several new dimensions to the gameplay experience.
Build Your Own Kingdom
One of the biggest parts of the game is building Evermore, Evan’s happily-ever-after kingdom. Players must start small, and as they acquire more citizens and earn more kingsguilders, they can upgrade and expand. This process is fun at times, but I feel like the whole operation needs near-constant attention. Also, players can’t build wherever and whatever they like; they can only fill a pre-populated template. It’s paint-by-numbers kingdom building, which is only really interesting up to a certain point.
In these events, chibi Evan leads a chibi army against various enemy forces. It’s part-Risk, part-real time strategy game. Victories earn you more and better troops with which you can take on increasingly stronger foes.
I’m just going to be honest…skirmishes can die in a fire. They’re both time-consuming and frustrating affairs. I have avoided all of them unless they’re part of the main quest–and then, my armies are usually so under-leveled from avoiding them that I have no hope of progressing until I go back and complete what I skipped.
Depending on the types of games you like, you might really enjoy skirmishes. But for me, I would give my left kidney to make them optional.
These odd little creatures take the place of familiars from the first game. You can find higgledies on your journeys (which you then must bribe to join you) or you can cook up new ones in Evermore. Up to four of the little buggers can accompany you into battle, and by taking into consideration their various strengths, skills, and weakness, you can build a team that suits you best.
The higgledies are super cute and have hilarious names (like Topturvey the Testy and Frumious the Flammable). I also enjoy their antics as they follow me around. But other than that, I don’t really do much with them. I’ve leveled them up a few times when it was convenient, but I definitely haven’t made it a thing. In battle, I rarely bother to round them up and trigger their special attacks.
So far, my ignore-the-higgledies approach is actually working out just fine. Maybe that’s a comment on the game’s overall low difficulty. Or maybe that’s the higgledies’ true strength–you can put as much or as little time into them as you want (take a hint, skirmishes).
Graphics & Sound
Although Studio Ghibli is not officially involved here like they were in the first Ni No Kuni, several Ghibli artists did work on the sequel. You can absolutely tell. This is a gorgeous game, and attention to detail is everywhere. Each environment feels unique and colorful and lived in. And as for the characters? They’ve got that signature Ghibli charm. In fact, several of the monsters are just so gosh-darn cute that I feel really bad beating them to a pulp.
In the soundtrack department, the legendary Joe Hisaishi returns. That’s really all you need to know.
I really, really like this game. It’s a lot of positive fun in a world that has too little, and I absolutely respect Level-5 for the chances they took here. While I can’t say I enjoy them all, playing it safe and keeping with the status quo is not the answer if this series wants to continue to shine. If only Ni No Kuni II could’ve grown up just a tiny bit, it might’ve been a near perfect game.
UPDATE: On 6/22/18, a patch was released that adds additional difficulty levels to the game.