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Review

Review: Ni no Kuni II – Revenant Kingdom

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The first Ni no Kuni was a very divi­si­ve game. Some loved the visu­als and char­ming sto­ry­line, while other com­p­lai­ned about the clun­ky batt­le sys­tem and lack of chal­len­ge. Ni no Kuni is one of our favou­rite JRPGs on the PS3 even with its short­co­m­ings and we were exci­ted when Level 5 began work on a sequel. And yet, after many delays, Ni no Kuni II has litt­le of what made the first game so enjoy­a­ble.

Taking place hund­reds of years after the first game, Ni no Kuni II opens with secon­da­ry prot­ago­nist Roland being trans­por­ted to ano­t­her world. Here he meets Evan Pet­ti­whis­ker Til­drum, next in line to rule the king­dom of Ding Dong Dell. Not long after his arri­val the king­dom is taken over by the mou­se race, for­cing Evan and Roland to flee. This marks the start of Evan’s jour­ney to crea­te his own king­dom with the help of Roland.

The ope­ning hour of Ni no Kuni II is fan­tastic, was­ting no time intro­du­cing its key cha­rac­ters and moti­va­tions. Com­pa­red to the first game, which took its time to get going, this was a breath of fresh air. The ope­ning few hours are extre­me­ly pro­mi­sing. This quick pace con­ti­nues through the rest of the sto­ry, but this ends up being to the game’s detri­ment. The sto­ry moves so quick­ly that the­re is often litt­le time spent on new cha­rac­ters that it intro­du­ces and anything that hap­pens is usual­ly over so quick­ly that it’s hard to be invested in the world of Ni No Kuni II.

Taking just under 30 hours to finish the main sto­ry, the game is very short and somehow still pad­ded out with side­quests and other meni­al tasks. The cast of cha­rac­ters you meet during the game is gene­ral­ly decent, though most of your par­ty will see rela­tively litt­le screen time over­all. Evan and Roland are the best cha­rac­ters out of ever­yo­ne in Ni no Kuni II, but even they suf­fer from the over­ly quick sto­ry that fails to capi­ta­li­se on the poten­ti­al for cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment.

The big­gest offen­der when it comes to pacing is the king­dom buil­ding sys­tem. Ear­ly in the game Even estab­lishes the king­dom of Ever­mo­re and sets out to recruit new citi­zens to live the­re. Ever­mo­re can be expan­ded using kings­guil­ders that are gene­ra­ted in real time or given as rewards from citi­zen requests. As you build more, the amount of kings­guil­ders you gene­ra­te increa­ses, incen­ti­vi­sing you to keep che­cking on your king­dom to make fur­ther upgrades.

Buil­dings requi­re citi­zens with cer­tain skills to be able to rese­arch new bene­fi­ci­al effec­ts for your king­dom or par­ty, so you’ll often be run­ning around try­ing to com­ple­te a ton of side­quest to add more peop­le to your king­dom. Bet­ween unlo­cking new cha­rac­ters and upgra­ding your king­dom, the game starts to feel like busy­work more than actu­al fun. It doesn’t help that most side­quests con­sist of eit­her han­ding over a cer­tain item or kil­ling a cer­tain mons­ter. Some have a litt­le more depth to them, but you’ll gene­ral­ly be trea­ted more as an errand boy than a king.

Expan­ding Ever­mo­re is a fair­ly quick pro­cess at first, but slows down con­si­der­a­b­ly once you level up the cast­le for the first time. Rather than being some­thing you have to plan out in advan­ce, king­dom buil­ding feels like a glo­ri­fied idle game. You have to wait for kings­guil­ders to gene­ra­te, you have to wait for rese­arch to be com­ple­ted, you have to wait for items to be collec­ted. By the end of the game we had a lar­ge king­dom with many buil­dings and citi­zens, but it didn’t feel like we had accom­plished anything. Having to check up on Ever­mo­re all the time to make sure we didn’t cap out on kings­guil­ders or to see if rese­arch had been com­ple­ted remo­ved any pos­si­ble attach­ment we could have had to the king­dom Evan was buil­ding.

Ano­t­her misstep is the chan­ge in batt­le sys­tems com­pa­red to the first game. Ni no Kuni II opts to go with real-time batt­les, though they’re still not what we’d con­si­der action pact for the most part. Each cha­rac­ter has a light, hea­vy and ran­ged attack, along with blo­cking, dod­ging and access to four skills that can be chan­ged out­si­de of batt­le. The batt­le sys­tem starts off pro­mi­sing, if a litt­le simp­le. The pro­blem is the­re the­re are fun­da­men­tal flaws with batt­les that mean they have litt­le actu­al varie­ty.

MP is used to per­form ran­ged attacks during batt­le, which is gene­ra­ted by attacking enemies with your melee wea­pons. Howe­ver, the more power­ful spe­cial attacks also use MP, mea­ning that ran­ged attacks are essen­ti­al­ly red­un­dant for most batt­les. You also take three melee wea­pons into batt­le, which char­ge up their “Zing” meters as you attack. Once full, using that wea­pon for a spe­cial attack will cau­se it to beco­me more power­ful. The pro­blem with this is that you will likely only switch wea­pons once one is ful­ly char­ged, then switch back to your stron­gest one strai­ght after. This sys­tem has litt­le pur­po­se other than to jus­ti­fy the mas­si­ve amounts of equip­ment that you acqui­re during the game and it doesn’t makes batt­les any more tac­ti­cal.

The­re are also a coup­le more fea­tures during batt­les that make litt­le sen­se. Higg­le­dies, litt­le spri­tes that take the place of fami­li­ars from the first game, join you in batt­les but are not con­trol­led by the play­er. They can attack enemies, cast spells on allies and even buff your spe­cial attacks if you have to right amount of a cer­tain type of higg­le­dy. The issue with them is that the­re is real­ly litt­le incen­ti­ve to get new higg­le­dies or upgrade them, sin­ce batt­les are so easy that they’ll be over befo­re a higg­le­dy can even do anything. Bos­ses are the only fights whe­re you’ll see use from this sys­tem, but even then the dif­fe­rence bet­ween low and high level higg­le­dies is negli­gi­ble.

Ano­t­her new addi­ti­on are skir­mis­hes, batt­les fought in the over­world bet­ween armies. You con­trol Evan and four squads that cir­cle around him, with squads auto­ma­ti­cal­ly attacking if they are clo­se enough. Cer­tain units are more effec­tive against others which is whe­re most of this mode’s stra­te­gy is. Units can be rota­ted around Evan depen­ding on what ene­my type you are facing and each squad has a spe­cial abi­li­ty that can help turn the tide of batt­le. The­se skir­mis­hes are a novel con­cept but end up offe­ring litt­le chal­len­ge and most batt­les requi­re you to do litt­le more than wipe out squads of enemies then rep­le­nish any tro­ops you lost. As long as your level is around the recom­men­ded one, the­re is no need for tac­tics or real­ly and thought when it comes to what units you take into batt­le.

Thank­ful­ly, the fan­tastic visu­als and sound­track the first game was known for are still intact here. In fact, Ni no Kuni II has some of the nicest visu­als for a cur­rent gen JRPG, easi­ly sur­pas­sing its pre­de­ces­sor. Towns are visual­ly dis­tinct and are fun to explo­re the first time you visit them and the main dun­ge­ons are expan­si­ve even if the­re aren’t many over­all. It’s a shame that the remo­val of fami­li­ars cau­sed a mas­si­ve drop in the varie­ty of enemies you face, lea­ving only a hand­ful of decent mons­ter designs that are reco­lou­red and resi­zed far too often. The first game had many gre­at mons­ter designs, some­thing that is only real­ly matched during the big­gest boss fights in Ni no Kuni II.

It’s also worth not­ing the small amount of voice acting, some­thing that is noti­ce­ab­le very ear­ly on. For how litt­le sto­ry con­tent the­re actual­ly is, you’d think that the majo­ri­ty of it would at least be voi­ced. The sto­ry honest­ly feels unfi­nis­hed, like they had to cut sce­nes out here and the­re to try and have the game rea­dy for launch after it had alrea­dy been delay­ed many times.

Gameplay video

Conclusion

Ni no Kuni II could have been some­thing spe­cial. A more active batt­le sys­tem com­bi­ned with the whim­si­cal set­ting of the first game, it sounds like some­thing that should have worked. Howe­ver, the majo­ri­ty of new game­play ele­ments added into the game are unne­cessa­ry at best and the sto­ry fails to stay inte­res­ting after the excel­lent ope­ning sequence. For all nega­ti­vi­ty, Ni no Kuni II isn’t a bad game. It’s just far too average at most things it does, lacking the sen­se of adven­ture its pre­de­ces­sor had and ulti­mate­ly being a weak sequel over­all.

The review is based on the Play­Sta­ti­on 4 ver­si­on and the video was cap­tu­red via PS4 Pro.

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