Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom review – Tragic kingdom

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

Ni No Kuni II is a completely different direction from the first game, but most of the changes aren’t welcome ones.

Title: Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Version reviewed), PC
Release Date: March 23rd, 2018

The original Ni No Kuni admittedly sold itself on one idea: that it was basically a Studio Ghibli production turned into a video game. Studio Ghibli is a legendary Japanese animation studio responsible for such movies as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and many, many other beloved animated movies that are considered modern classics. The gameplay was a tad rough, but there was an undeniable charm to the characters and story along with the stellar animation from Studio Ghibli that made for a pretty compelling experience.

For the follow-up, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, not only is Studio Ghibli no longer involved, but aside from taking place in the same Kingdom of Ding Dong Dell and having someone from our world transported to this one, nearly every aspect of Ni No Kuni II is vastly different from its predecessor. It throws many different modes of play into the mix, completely changing the combat and other systems to the point where no one who was a fan of the original would find anything familiar. And for the most part, I don’t think it’s an improvement.

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

As I mentioned, one of the key selling points of the original game, Studio Ghibli’s involvement, is not a feature of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. Despite that, there is a clear attempt to make at least some aspects have that Studio Ghibli look. Characters and monsters specifically look like someone tried to emulate that trademark style, but fall just a bit short. They still look nice and animate fairly well, but it’s not just quite at that same level. Kingdoms all have a pretty distinct personality, like a gambling town the actually bases their religion on a roll of the dice, or one that is completely based on advanced technology.

The only real downgrade in graphical quality comes in the form of the field map. Normally this isn’t something even worth mentioning in most games, positively or negatively. But the field map in Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is so bad it’s an eyesore. Everything just looks like a bad PlayStation One game with awful colors. An old-school look can be charming, but this just looks like they had almost no budget to make the field map to begin with.

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

One more odd thing about the overall presentation of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the oddly sparse voice acting. Granted, I’ve been playing RPGs since the 8-bit days; I don’t need voice acting to enjoy an RPG. But it is pretty standard to have a fair amount of voice acting in JRPGs these days, especially during any cutscene.  Ni No Kuni II doesn’t have much compared to any modern JRPG, with only a few cutscenes throughout the course of the game having it. It just feels like a lesser experience compared to the first game, which had plenty and felt very cinematic.

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

The biggest and most drastic change is to the combat. In the first game, you didn’t do much fighting as your characters. You recruited monsters in a somewhat Pokemon-esque fashion and had them do the large majority of the fighting for you, as you commanded them to do attacks, spells etc. For Ni No Kuni II, you directly control your character of choice, and the action is much faster, more akin to something like the Tales of series. This isn’t necessarily a bad change per say, but if you enjoyed the previous game’s combat, this is downright jarring. In addition, you can’t give your other party members general tactics (i.e. focus on defense or healing or go all out) or command them to do something and their basic AI is suspect at best. Like many games that choose to use this type of combat, you spend as much time fighting the camera as you do enemies, and there were several times the camera just got stuck and I couldn’t even see what was going on.

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The other big aspect of combat is who follows your characters into battle; Higgledies and Lofty. Higgledies are weird little spirits who are never really explained all that well as to why they exist or what their purpose is, but the important thing is you can have up to four groups helping you in battle. They won’t do your work for you, but they can heal, block attacks, poison enemies, etc. There is a randomness to it that can make how useful you personally find them vary (basically you have to wait for a group of Higgledies to signal they are ready to do a thing, then you have to run over to them and tell them to do the thing), but in some moments it can absolutely be a lifesaver.

Lofty is the standard weird-looking sidekick thingy you see in a large majority of JRPGs. These can be very hit and miss. Personally, I just found him annoying as a character. In battle, he is somewhat useful, tossing out orbs that heal on occasion, but not doing much else without investing a lot of time and money (which I’ll get more into a little later). Ultimately the combat just feels like a dull hack and slash without much strategy to it.

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

However, fighting your usual RPG monsters is just one of several types of gameplay present in Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. “Skirmish Mode” is a sort of light RTS mode where you take several sets of troops into a battlefield with a Rock-paper-scissors mechanic. I will admit right up front that I’m not a huge fan of RTS games to begin with, so I just was glad I could muddle my way through the few required skirmishes without a ton of trouble. I really didn’t like that while you often had to take on tons of squads, you were limited to four. Additionally, any Skirmish battles that required me to escort someone/something were nearly impossible due to said someone/something constantly running out in front of me into danger.

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

The arguably most significant, and potentially most entertaining element to Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the “Kingdom Mode” where you build your own new kingdom from scratch. Much like the classic RPG series Suikoden, there are people all over this world looking to start a new life or have a fresh chance or just do something else with their life, and you can recruit them to your kingdom. Some can be generals for your Skirmish battles, but most are there to occupy the various facilities you build. These facilities can produce weapons, items, and equipment, but also give you various bonuses in battle. This is a genuinely fun mode and you can spend hours researching things, making and leveling up facilities and gathering residents.

Instead of focusing on one new thing and doing that well, it doesn’t keep anything that worked and gives us several modes that could’ve been great but all have major issues.

The problem with Kingdom Mode comes in how it can horribly hinder your gameplay progression. Everything in Kingdom mode is on a timer. Your Kingdom has its own currency that builds up over time. You can make your coffers bigger to hold more at once, but no matter what, it takes time to build up money. It also takes time to research something. This can be faster depending on the personnel you have researching, but it still takes time. And sure, you can do other things while stuff is being researched and your kingdom is gathering money, but sometimes you just want to advance the story.

I was literally on the last chapter, ready to make what I thought was the final push to the boss, then the game, which previously treated Kingdom Mode as a fun optional thing I can mess with as little or as much as I want, tells me I need to raise my weapon shop level. And to do that, I need to raise my Kingdom level. To do that, I suddenly need to spend hours not just raising money and waiting for research to be done, but also recruiting a ton of citizens just so I can finish that last little bit of the game. This is inexcusably bad not just in terms of pacing but also feels like desperate padding since without this the game would’ve taken maybe 30 hours to beat, which for an RPG is admittedly not long.

Namco Bandai
Namco Bandai /

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Change isn’t in itself a bad thing, especially when it comes to video game sequels. A lot of my favorite RPGs are sequels that change things up so drastically they bear little resemblance to the previous game. The potential was there for Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom to be a big improvement over its already solid predecessor, but instead of focusing on one new thing and doing that well, it doesn’t keep anything that worked and gives us several modes that could’ve been great but all have major issues. It’s not a bad game, but certainly not on par with the original and does little well enough to make it stand out in a pretty big sea of PS4 RPGs.

6. <em>Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom</em> throws out everything from the previous game with a stab at a lot of new stuff and ultimately doesn’t really pull it off well.. Level 5. . Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.