When Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released in 2011, it promised the look and feel of a Studio Ghibli epic. While the characters were charming and the locales were impressive visually, the game was not fun to play. Fast forward to 2018 and after suffering multiple delays, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom manages to reinvigorate the series and delivers on its promise to feel like you’re playing inside a Studio Ghibli world to a significantly greater extent than the original PS3 title.
When I first played Ni No Kuni II at E3 2017, it’s commitment to have combat be unlike anything offered in the first game was immediately apparent. The real time action mechanics are reminiscent of the Tales Of series, with special moves and companions named Higgledies added extra layers of depth to encounters.
Moving from the E3 demo to the final product, Ni No Kuni’s combat feels smoother and clearly benefited from the delays. Battles are more fleshed out with Higgldies being able to amplify spells, and your special moves gain special attributes when your weapon is fully charged. Players also have access to multiple party members and can mix and match all 6 as they wish. While the combat may not be at the frantic pace of other JRPGs in recent years, it still feels fun and is by far one of Ni No Kuni II’s strongest points.
The narrative in Ni No Kuni II takes place hundreds of years after the story of the previous title concluded. While it does acknowledge the events of its predecessor, Ni No Kuni II’s story focuses largely on a new tale featuring protagonist Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum. Evan’s kingdom was the victim of a coup, and now he must figure out how to reclaim his kingdom. The story contains gorgeous cities and memorable characters who make the experience rich in personality and humor, even if it feels fairly formulaic. Players will arrive at a new destination, acquire a new party member at said destination, defeat the boss, then move on and repeat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are an incredible amount of side quests and tasks to complete in the interim. However, I found myself disappointed that not every new protagonist had more time in the limelight. These characters travel with you everywhere, and yet some were definitely far more important to the overall plot than others. There are your fair share of twists and turns, which does keep the tale interesting, and the ending is satisfying if not partially predictable.
Aside from its real-time combat system, Ni No Kuni II also features skirmishes with your kingdom’s army. Unfortunately, these fights are quite bland and don’t add much to the already great combat system. Fights are largely played out by ramming your army into your opponents so that your units fight with a weapon advantage over your opponent. Take down structures and rout the enemy and victory is yours.
One of the biggest new features this time around is the ability to create and customize your new kingdom of Evermore. Citizens can be recruited throughout the entire world via side quests and each bring certain strengths to your kingdom. Everything from farms to weapon shops, to higgldie daycare centers can be staffed with citizens and leveled up to yield more items and equipment. The amount of structures you can build is massive and the amount of micromanaging is almost dizzying. That being said, you can get by without giving your kingdom an overwhelming amount of attention. It’s definitely fun to manage everything and it’s rewarding to level up your kingdom, but outside of the essential shops much of it feels unnecessary. Completionists will likely find a certain amount of nirvana in leveling and building every last structure, but I question just how many farms and mines one kingdom really needs.
It would be remiss not to mention the phenomenal score that rounds out Ni No Kuni II’s stellar presentation. Master composer Joe Hisaishi returns once more to breathe life into every aspect of the game. Every main city has a memorable track, and I found myself humming along to my favorites every time I revisited an area. His orchestral talent can be felt in every scene and truly gives the narrative the emotional gravity and genuine feeling it needs. I can only hope he is brought on to do more video game music in the future.
Overall Ni No Kuni II manages to outshine its predecessor in almost every way. A fresh combat system and cast of characters flesh out a world that is packed with adventure and full of charm at every turn. While it may be bogged down with some sidequests that feel like an elongated fetch quest or army skirmishes that lack any depth, let alone fun, it still manages to be a stand out JRPG that I think would be a mistake for anyone with any interest in it to miss.