2010’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a JRPG triumph for esteemed developer Level 5, which brought the classical formula into the modern era with lovingly crafted care. With the help of Studio Ghibli, they pieced together a masterful adventure filled with joy, heartbreak and positively tidy Welsh accents. Revenant Kingdom is a welcome return to this wonderful little world, where another whimsical journey awaits. We’re just hoping its many parts come together to form a meaningful whole – as right now, there are a few too many cooks in the kitchen.
Pre-order Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom from Amazon UK
Ni no Kuni 2 focuses on the story of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the young king of Ding Dong Dell who has the task of creating a land where everyone can live happily ever after. Of course, this is easier said than done. After finding himself dethroned and subject to mutiny, Evan teams up with Roland and Tani to travel the world and put things right. It’s a well-executed setup with a cast I’ve already grown to love; I’m excited to see how they’ll develop in the full experience.
I had the opportunity to sample four chunks of Revenant Kingdom, with each part showcasing a range of different modes, environments and mechanics. While I came away with a smile on my face, there were sections that felt oddly alien inside a JRPG with charm and exploration at its heart. The biggest culprit in this regard is Kingdom Battle, a relatively simple RTS mode that feels like a game of rock-paper-scissors.
Controlling a miniature version of Evan, I’m surrounded by a group of soldiers. A push of a shoulder button rotates them as we move forward, with particular troops proving effective in certain situations. It follows a similar structure to Fire Emblem, for example – but, sadly, it lacks the depth required to be compelling. I imagine the aim of Kingdom Battle is to show King Evan slowly regaining his realm, but it isn’t the most fun to play. Hopefully, this is but a small blemish in an otherwise gorgeous adventure.
I’m happy to report that the rest of my time with Ni no Kuni 2 was hugely enjoyable, with the battle system a significant departure from the previous title, although no less fun and engaging. Your party is made up of Evan, Roland, Tani and strange elemental creatures known as Higgledies. They run alongside you screeching excitedly, offering you offensive and defensive buffs depending on the situation.
One particular battle had me facing Longfang, a humongous dragon capable of hurling giant meteors across the field. Just before impact the Higgledies would form a circle into which I could sprint, where I could smash a button and shield myself from the inferno. This provides an intriguing dynamic to combat that makes it impossible to spam attacks to succeed. You need to think on your feet to stay alive, equipping specific Higgledies to fit each new encounter.
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How extensive this mechanic will be is a mystery, but it seems they’ll replace the familiar system from Wrath of the White Witch, which saw you recruiting monsters from the world to fight alongside you. I’m concerned it might lack the required depth, so hopefully Level 5 have a few welcome surprises waiting in the wings. Beyond this, battles are fast, frantic and surprisingly challenging in their difficulty.
I also noticed characters wearing new outfits in the sections I played spread throughout Ni no Kuni 2, filling me with hope that a customisation system of some sort will be present. I love nothing more than kitting out my party with new equipment, especially when it has both an practical and aesthetic difference. Evan must be a king with style!
Evan and friends have a multitude of unique skills to deploy that can be charged throughout each fight and unleashed with visual bravado. They also move smoothly, animated beautifully as they rush behind enemies and away from obstacles. Creatures wander the over-world and dungeons openly, letting you instigate combat whenever you want for side quests or a quick bit of grinding. Ni no Kuni 2 is very archaic in its JRPG trappings but is still a joy to play, largely thanks to its irresistible Ghibli charm.
Ni no Kuni 2’s world is beautiful, and I can’t wait to explore its cavalcade of towns and cities. Like its predecessor, each location is carefully crafted to feel like a living, breathing place. It has the excessive detail I’d expect from a Studio Ghibli work. Every NPC and building feels like it could tell a story of its own, drawing me into a vast, anime world for which I’m a complete sucker. While I was exposed to only a small part of it, the potential was obvious.
Much like Kingdom Battle, the over-world is explored with chibified versions of Evan and friends as they sprint through deserted canyons and sprawling valleys. It’s a little jarring at first when transitioning into combat encounters, but it’s a visual choice I soon grew to appreciate. There would have been little way of envisioning a world of this scope without shrinking the player down in some way.
Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom has the potential to be one of 2018’s finest adventures, featuring a lovable cast, gorgeous world and engaging combat system. Here’s hoping that Kingdom Battle doesn’t play a major role – currently it lacks enough depth or challenge to keep me hooked.
Pre-order Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom from Amazon UK
Despite this, I can’t wait to explore the world of Ding Dong Dell and discover more of what it has to offer. We already knew Level 5 and Studio Ghibli were a match made in heaven, now it’s time to see if they can strike lightning in a bottle twice.