Anyone who read my super manly article about games that made me cry like a tiny child will know two things: A man can cry and I loved Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It offered a lot of great JRPG moments and experiences while turning anyone a blubbering mess. Truth be told that’s probably because THE Studio Ghibli was involved with the animations and cutscenes. I like to believe their amazing, traditional charm also carried over into other aspects of the game like level design and story. That’s why I was disheartened to hear they would have no affiliation with the sequel and that was made abundantly clear once I popped in the Ni No Kuni 2 disc. The departure of Studio Ghibli had a tremendous, negative effect and it’s very obvious.
Ni No Kuni 2 follows a young whippersnapper by the name of Evan. He’s to be crowned king of Ding Dong Dell (the only city left standing since the first title) even though he’s just a boy due to his father’s untimely passing. The night this was supposed to happen brought some interesting developments however. A mysterious man, by the name of Roland, magically appears in Evan’s room with the player being cognizant of the intruder being from “our world.” Near soon after a coup led by one of the kingdom’s chancellors takes effect and our main hero’s death is ordered. Roland and Evan do manage to escape and certain events inspire the young, overthrown king to create a new kingdom and unite the world as one. Naturally, the duo became fast friends and go on plenty of adventures to recruit key people for royal appointments and find everyday citizens to populate their new land.
Unbeknownst to the group, a sinister man known as Doloran has enacted a plan that threatens the world of Ni No Kuni and each and every king is a target. Although as far as main villains go this snake-headdress aficionado wasn’t a notable one. His motivations are never made clear until the very end and just like his plan of action to achieve them, they rarely make sense. We’re essentially introduced to new lore and laws in this other world while being expected to not only accept them in the span of a few minutes, but care about their consequences as well. In fact, some of the more minor villains, the royal powers under the magical influence of Doloran, that rule other kingdoms were vastly better foes. Not just in terms of villainy, but in mystery and intrigue as well. Plus, our central antagonist probably has less than twenty minutes of screen time throughout the forty hour journey and that’s including his inevitable boss battle. At no point in my entire playthrough did I feel threatened by him or worried about what he might do. Due to this and other reasons the final bosses were mightily disappointing.
The main baddy wasn’t the only one to suffer from character development sadly. All party members you acquire will suffer from this as well, with the exception of Evan and Roland. Once their “arc” is complete they rarely have anything noteworthy to say as it contributes to the plot. What’s even more upsetting is I had to sit and try to remember the names of a few of them. Not something that should be a problem when you’ve spent nearly fifty hours with these characters. I don’t blame this entirely on the writing staff though. The directors and producers made the dumb headed decision to put 85% percent of the game’s dialogue into text boxes. Yes, a modern JRPG with 50+ hours of playtime barely has any voice acting in it. I understand this isn’t a rarity, but we’re talking about a “AAA” game here and not one called ‘Torment: Tides of Numenera.’ I truly feel this lack of voice personality directly affected my relationship with these in-game heroes. It eventually got to the point where I skipped or fast-forwarded any dialogue that wasn’t important to the plot. Although truth be told I wish I had done it for some of the story related text boxes because quite a few revelations were just cringe worthy, rushed, and insulting to the player. Lots of things made no sense or were offered no explanation at all.
Gameplay is fun, but simple. A little too simple for some I fear. I say this because not once did I change any strategies in my playthrough and abused healing items greatly. This tactic worked marvelously and not once did I “die” in Ni No Kuni 2. Unlike the predecessor, this title switched to a real-time combat mechanic and every time you push a button, you’ll get a reaction. All controllable characters will have physical strikes and magical abilities to utilize with each one receiving different customizable weapons, spells, and equipment. Pretty typical role-playing stuff except for the fact that all six party members play alike. Some have their own shtick, but you can use the same mode of attack for each one. No variation here. Like before, each battle will take place in a large circle with boundaries and pressing up against the edges will allow you to escape. This battle area was plenty big enough and I never had a problem with combat or the camera getting stuck.
Then there are the higgledies who take the place of familiars in Ni No Kuni 2. These tiny spirits of the world’s elements join you in combat and do very little damage on their own. Frequently, a circle will form around them and once you enter it a rather powerful attack is unleashed, that stems from the higgledy’s element. You can have up to four of them at any given time and are acquired through errands, creating them in your kingdom, or satisfying higgledy stones throughout the world. Basically a collection stone that requires a certain item to earn the hidden higgledy inside. You can also level them up to make their attacks and techniques even stronger.
Now Ni No Kuni 2 has two different side activities with one being more important than the other. The lesser of the two has Evan and up to four squads participating in skirmishes or commanding soldiers on a battlefield. There are more than ten warrior squads to earn or unlock and all of them will have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, but still slaves to a rock, paper, scissors system. Swordsmen, archers, spear holders, and hammer squads will all have one advantage and disadvantage towards another battlefield foe. There is a possibility where you can rotate the squadrons so they can face in any advantageous position around Evan. The player then takes these warriors in battle knowing their strengths and weaknesses while cutting a path through different missions. You’ll usually cover a decent amount of land to reach each level’s objectives while taking out opposing units, structures, and cannons.
- Developer: Level 5
- Release Date: March 23rd
- Price: $59.99/£49.99/€69.99
Doing this effectively will require management of battle points as this controls how many times you can bring your fallen comrades back or use special techniques. Once you run out of these it’s game over and you’ll have to start again. Naturally, the more you participate in these kinds of missions the more you’ll level up your squads. At any time if you need a boost you can spend some kingsguilders (will get to them in a moment) and give your soldiers a temporary boost on the mission screen before a battle. Here you can also get a heads up on the enemy levels and types you’ll be facing as well as a layout of the area you’re going in to. Again, this type of activity isn’t too important, but Ni No Kuni 2 forces it into the final string of boss battles with the grace of a fork down a toaster. So if you want to avoid some serious grind, I wouldn’t ignore these battles.
The really fun side activity is the kingdom building feature. This loosely ties into the plot as you help Evan literally build up a kingdom from scratch. Once you reach a certain point in the story Evan will gain the ability to construct buildings and assign citizens to them. As work gets done and structures operate, kingsguilders will be deposited into the kingdom’s bank account. This currency can be used solely to add more buildings, level up already existing ones, and expand the land on which Evan rules. Not only that, but the majority of places you create tie in to nearly every aspect of the game. This fun micromanaging activity allows players to acquire typical resources, traveling perks, gameplay advantages, treasure hunting help, XP boosts, dungeon crawling benefits, shops and much more. I’m not lying when I say EVERY. ASPECT. OF. THE. GAME. I was surprised how entertaining managing everything was and I’ve easily spent hours in this kingdom creation mode.
One thing I can factually state is that Studio Ghibli’s absence affected Ni No Kuni 2’s graphics. I suppose they are acceptable as far as 3D modeling goes, but Wrath of the White Witch did it better five years ago. And if you remember that’s all this title has in aspects of visual stimuli. The beautiful animations of old are no longer here and you’ll be looking at blocks for all intents and purposes throughout the experience. Another aspect the first game did better was getting players excited over exploring the world. For the most part the environments (and creatures) can be bland or one-dimensional and a lot of areas reuse the same design assets. Other places are small and only exist for a side mission that will inevitably appear down the line. Speaking of which, most non-story related tasks will begin to blend together until the post-game rolls around. Which I have to say is pretty impressive. There were a handful of quests to complete only after you finished the campaign and a secret dungeon that, was albeit boringly designed, offered some unique scenarios.
As far as technical concerns go, this Level-5 production was mostly in the clear. I had no camera issues, dialogue repeats, screen tears, glitched enemies, or any stereotypical dilemmas. The only problem I did have was when the background music disappeared once. It just stopped playing and I could only hear battle noises and footsteps until I rebooted the app. Lastly, I know this isn’t related to buggy issues, but this is my review and I do what I want and shut up! I was disappointed at the lack of connections between Wrath of the White Witch and Ni No Kuni 2. The only instances where the first game was referenced in this was a statue of a minor character, only seen once, and the dimensional lore where one person in a world shares a soul link with a person in another world. You truly wouldn’t be able to tell that this was second Ni No Kuni otherwise.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom PS4 Review
It’s hard for me to believe that Ni No Kuni 2 is the successor to the White Witch when the latter is better in every single regard. A better story, better characters, better world design – just better everything. Even the feels were dimmered in Revenant Kingdom. There were only two times I barely felt something emotionally and I pondered about it longer than the game itself did. Before you ask, the only reasons I’m still hanging around after forty five hours of playtime are fun but simple gameplay, the kingdom creation feature, and simply being a Ni No Kuni fan. I have no doubt someone who doesn’t like what I just mentioned would have been lost long ago.
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Reviewed on base PS4.