Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is shaping up to be a JRPG delight. Its small yet endearing cast of characters gel wonderfully, in a beautiful world that’s brimming with Studio Ghibli’s signature magic. It feels like an experience you’d expect from classic Final Fantasy, with wildly varied towns and inhabitants that. It’s like a playable anime in every sense of the word, with Level 5 one of the best in its class.
Pre-order Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom fromAmazon UK
Ni no Kuni 2 tells the story of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the young king of Ding Dong Dell, who wishes to create a land in which everyone can live happily ever after. Of course, this is easier said than done. If you didn’t play the previous title, don’t worry, this is a fresh tale so prior knowledge isn’t required.
After being dethroned and subject to mutiny, Evan teams up with the otherworldly Roland and Sky Pirate Tani to travel the world and start anew. Despite starting the demo after its opening, the game does a good job of creating a sense of empathy towards Evan and company as they strive to do what’s right.
My hands on with Ni No Kuni involved playing chapters three and four, both of which provided a solid glimpse at the experience Revenant Kingdom hopes to offer at launch next month. It follows the relatively archaic JRPG formula in its mixture of battles, exploration and cutscenes; but executes them with such finesse that it’s hard to fault.
Chapter three is a venture into the extravagant city of Goldpaw: an unusual mix of neon-lights, tight streets and traditional eastern architecture. It’s wonderful to explore, with plenty of NPCs to speak to; most are some form of furry animal. My job was to discover the reason that the town’s taxes were rising to extortionate levels; it had something to do with Pugnacious, the town’s ruler, who also happens to be a humanoid pug.
Evan and co had to travel to a nearby forest in search of evidence to bring our troublemaker to justice. Slaying monsters, communicating with townspeople and solving a deep-rooted problem for an engaging populus creates a wonderful sense of adventure, where I became eager to help those I connected with. Learning about the city of Goldpaw and its surrounding wilderness while battling evil monsters felt rewarding, complimented further by an utterly gorgeous visual style.
Ni no Kuni 2’s battle system is a notable departure from its predecessor. It abandons the ‘Familiar’ mechanic in favour of creatures known as Higgledies. These fluorescent beings follow Evan around in a fight, and provide area-of-effect buffs and special attacks that can devastate most enemies. In a nutshell, it’s now far more Tales than Pokemon.
They can also be customised with four variants of these buffs at any given time. The same goes for Evan and his friend’s skills, which can be a combination of physical, elemental and ranged attacks. Evan, Tani and Roland hold up to three weapons at any given time. Outfitted with special properties, you’ll need to cater your loadout to conquer tough enemies.
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Sadly, I didn’t have much time to customise them during my time with Ni no Kuni 2, but there is a decent amount of depth to the way that characters can be altered. You even get unlockable outfits – for which I’m a sucker – and you’re free to switch between all party members with the touch of a button.
While you’ll have to wait for a brief loading screen to reach the battlefield when exploring the overworld, dungeons see you walk seamlessly into encounters. JRPG random encounters are often a chore when you’re trying to progress through a quest, and Ni No Kuni 2 lets you skip them entirely. Only rare, higher-level enemies are likely to charge toward you looking for a fight.
While chapter three focused predominantly on showcasing Ni no Kuni 2’s combat and personalities, chapter four is all about Kingdom building. Evan is an amateur monarch, so with Roland the Advisor by his side, he sets out building a country where you must partake in a miniature RTS of sorts. While Evan sits on his throne you’re able to construct buildings, recruit citizens and research new technologies that could help the population thrive like never before.
Bringing new friends to the Kingdom of Evermore seems to represent a large chunk of Ni no Kuni 2’s sidequests. You’ll be told about a particularly talented individual, or stumble across lost souls in larger cities who lack a place of belonging. Obviously, the best thing to do is to move them across the world and put them to work! They all help your Kingdom expand, so the payoff is immediately satisfying.
Level-5 is no stranger to these mechanics, having worked on the brilliant Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle for the PS2, both of which involved building massive cities from nothing. It’s simple and easy to follow, with all tasks completed from only a few menus. Buildings appear instantly, and research can be conducted while you’re off raiding dungeons or progressing the story. Coffers are filled automatically, so you’ll seldom be stuck in a financial kerfuffle.
It’s clear Ni no Kuni 2 has been crafted with Kingdom management in mind, and it pays off for the most part. I just hope there’s enough depth here to last for what I assume is a fairly substantial JRPG. So far, I was left wanting more.
Skirmish Battle is another important aspect of managing your Kingdom. Not everyone gets along, so you’ll have to participate in a few large conflicts to keep things rolling. These are conducted through cutesy armies that you command across a battlefield. Troops come in different variants, and you’ll need to implement a rock-paper-scissors strategy to outsmart the enemy. It’s similar to execution to Fire Emblem, where troops bearing certain weapons must be used to your advantage.
It’s pretty simple, although I hope these moments aren’t a major part of the narrative as they aren’t nearly as fun as Ni no Kuni 2’s other components. There could be further nuanced depth here that I’m yet to see. So far, though, I’m still not sold on Skirmish Battle. However, this could all change if the full release has a few surprises up its sleeve.
I’ll be honest, I’m already a bit smitten with Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. My love for Studio Ghibli and traditional JRPGs have collided in a beautiful combination that has all the ingredients to be one of 2018’s finest adventures.
Its narrative and mechanical foundations feel strong enough to support an experience that could last for dozens of hours, although questionable blemishes such as Kingdom Battle and somewhat trivial battles may turn off more hardcore players.
Pre-order Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom fromAmazon UK
However, it seems Level 5 is hoping to deliver something that young, old and even inexperienced players can engage with, while there’s still depth here for those who want it.