Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (Playstation 4 Review)
We are told we can be anything from a very young age, but rarely are we ever told we can only be one thing. As children we are allowed the delusion that one day we might become an astronaut, but when it comes to Evan he has only ever been told he can be one thing – a King. Be it through choice, or happenstance, we all confront our future one day. In Ni No Kuni 2, the future is now and Evan is forced to take on a mantle he wasn’t prepared for and we are strapping ourselves in for the ride.
After Mausinger successfully assassinates Evan’s father, Evan finds himself face to face with a stranger from another world, Roland. As the two worlds try to understand their place in this now shared universe, they realise that they need to work together in order to survive. While the pair’s relationship begins to blossom, they stand on the edge of a new world and promise to unite the old under its banner. From there we are treated to an eclectic cast that assembles a group of pirates, technological wizards, and otherworldly spirits in order to help Evan fill the boots of his father. Between chapters we meet an unknown being that confronts Evan while he sleeps. At its heart, Ni No Kuni 2 is definitely a coming of age story, but it’s also a story of sacrifice that asks players to buy in to this magical world and overcome the boundaries and beliefs that separate us all. For one moment, no matter how short, we all have to put our differences aside and face down our snake hooded oppressors and their giant glowing horned beasts – or something like that. It’s a punctual and engrossing story that asks you to play on for another hour even when you should really be doing the housework, which is more than can be said for rather samey and extensive side quests.
Even when you hit a dip in the story, you’ll often find yourself knee deep in all the extra mechanics of Ni No Kuni 2, like the Kingdom Building. After Chapter 4, Ni No Kuni 2 really finds its stride. With a new kingdom flourishing under Evan’s supervision, you’ll earn the chance to build your own city. As you continue through the story, missions will open up and offer you the chance to impress the citizens of another kingdom to join you, so long as you can fulfil their request. As hours drop, you’ll be hard pressed in pulling yourself away from the addictive nature of the initial steps of creating a new utopia on the coast. Unfortunately this addiction will eventually wane as the kingdom building can become a little tedious and lack the freeform creation as seen in Level 5’s previous title Dark Cloud. For every building you create there’s also an issue of finding the correct person to fill it to enable you to research whatever skills are attached to their occupation. Thanks to this very specific set of rules, I failed to master some key skills until it was too late and upon completion I had no need to research several levels of weaponry or skirmish boosts. I’d seen it all, done it all, and to be quite honest I had grown very tired of it all too. When it comes to Kingdom building there are some parallels with construction. It all starts with a big explosion, an expulsion of the old as it crumbles to the ground. After that, you lay the foundations of the new. You break ground and, if you’re lucky, you scrawl something meaningful on the first freshly poured puddle of concrete. From there on out there is a slow wind up and nothing more. By the time you can see the skeletal structure of what’s to come, you just want it all to be done and call it home.
Thankfully Ni No Kuni 2 is far more than just a SimCity clone, in fact kingdom building is only a faction of a far greater sum. The core combat is a complete 180 on what had come before. Players are now able to freely move about combat and attack as and when they like, similarly to that of the Tales series. With 3 main characters you are able to switch behind at will, there are also a whole set of tiny helpers called Higgeldies and Loft, Evan’s Kingmaker. With so many aids and some impressively sturdy AI, battles were rarely ever a challenge, even when you were face to face with Ni No Kuni 2’s super powerful Tainted Monsters staring you down. Although the lack of challenge had very little impact on the moment to moment gameplay. With a wealth of team synergies at your disposal and the natural escalation of gear, there is never a need to participate in the tedious grind associated with so many JRPGs.
The real hook to Ni No Kuni 2 is the instantly recognisable art style. Although Studio Ghibli may have stepped away, there is no denying that their spirit isn’t alive and well. From character to cutscene, there is a whimsical energy in every detail. Unfortunately, the near cinematic detail isn’t preserved throughout. When exploring the overworld of Ni No Kuni 2, the detailed models and expansive cities are sacrificed in lieu of a chibi style that doesn’t quite match the excellence of the other areas. A whole load of unique detail is lost when a character is boiled down to a bobble headed model, especially when it had a dramatic impact on the frame rate. It wouldn’t be quite as bad if this only played a small part of Ni No Kuni 2, but a great deal of exploring and the entire Skirmish mode depends on this style. To be quite frank, it diminishes the otherwise tight and well-crafted experience Level-5 have strived to create.
When I first started Ni No Kuni 2, I couldn’t wait to talk about everything I’d seen, and I thought I’d seen a lot. As the bigger picture started to come in to focus, some things just didn’t add up. I wasn’t hating my time with it, but with each and every kingdom following in the footsteps of Evan, I started to wish it would end. Some characters, no matter how they looked, were often relegated to the sidelines because they felt so interchangeable. I stopped actively switch between characters in combat because there was no need. There was a whole chunk of game to toy with, but I just wanted to push on. When I finished the story, I reluctantly went back for the sake of trophies, not because I didn’t want to let go of the kingdom I created – in fact I cared so little that I left the game running in the background to amass gold with as little engagement with the game as possible. I’ll still look back fondly on the first 30 hours of Ni No Kuni 2, which is by no means a feat to turn your nose up at, but the next 40 didn’t quite match the excitement earlier chapters provided.