Header Ads

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (2018)

It has been hundreds of years since the pure-hearted hero Oliver saved the world of Ni No Kuni from certain demise. In that time, the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell has flourished into a prosperous land. But when King Leonard Tildrum dies from a mysterious illness his son, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum is set to inherit the throne. With such a young and inexperienced heir, the vindictive mousekin (a race of anthropomorphic mice) makes their move to overthrow the boy king. But in his time of need, Evan finds an unlikely ally in Roland. A man spirited away from the modern world, claiming to be a President. Together the two must escape the castle and create a new kingdom together. One that will be strong enough to unite the other kingdoms of the world under a banner of compassion and kindness.

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an action JRPG and long-awaited sequel to the original Ni No Kuni, which was released in 2010. Unlike the original, however, Studio Ghibli was not officially involved with the game's production. Development was handled entirely by Level-5 and a few select Ghibli alumni. Joe Hisashi, Studio Ghibli's iconic composer, returned to compose the music for Revenant Kingdom. On the animation side, Yoshiyuki Momose (animator for Ghibli films such as Porco Rosso and Whisper of the Heart) who had worked on the original Ni No Kuni, returned to work on Revenant Kingdom as a character designer. The story was written and directed by Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino. Though the game's release was delayed twice, it was officially released to the public on March 23rd, 2018 to positive reviews.

As a big fan of both the Ghibli aesthetic and the original Ni No Kuni, words can not accurately express how excited I was for Revenant Kingdom's release. Even without the official Ghibli seal of approval, Level-5 has proven time and again that they have the ability to create games that are as full of charm as they fun to play. Combined with wonderful talent of both Yoshiyuki Momose and Joe Hisashi, the stage was being set for a game that would be a standout sequel.

And from the looks of the game's numerous reviews, I would say Ni No Kuni 2 has succeeded with flying colors.

But what has been done differently this time around that makes Revenant Kingdom worth picking up, even if you haven't played the original?

How does the gameplay tell the story?

Every element of gameplay introduced in Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is designed around the theme of building a kingdom. From humble beginnings as a small camp to a grand castle city backed by loyal citizens that help Evan on his journey to unite this fantasy world under one banner. While the main narrative of the story is engaging enough to keep players invested, Revenant Kingdom's most memorable moments come from the many side quests that are tied to recruiting citizens for Evan's new kingdom. Recruiting these colorful characters and utilizing their unique talents to help the kingdom prosper is key to Evan's success. But in order to find them, you'll have to the sprawling world of Ni no Kuni and it's various neighboring kingdoms.

The citizens of the casino city of Goldpaw await the verdict of their guardian deity, Lady Luck.

Exploring each Kingdom is a joy due to their unique designs and culture. Goldpaw, for example, is a kingdom of humans and dog people who live by the guidance of lady luck. With each year's taxes being determined by a single throw of the dice. It is little touches like these that give each kingdom a sense of depths. Culture, traditions, problems that all make for well-rounded locales. Thus making each chapter in Evan's tale better than the next.

Something that was mentioned in the game's promotional material is that Revenant Kingdom's story would have a mature tone compared to its predecessor. A story that would be able to entertain adults as well as kids. A tone that is established even in the games first few minutes.  Throwing players right into the action and giving players all you need to know to get invested in both Evan and Roland's adventure. The game can still feel overly lighthearted at times but it is also good to see a game that deals with some complicated topics. Difficult choices and sacrifices have to made for Evan to create the kingdom of his dreams and the game doesn't try to make the process look glamorous or easy. Though it could have afforded some more hard-hitting moments, I believe Level-5 succeeded in telling this story with enough maturity to appeal to both kids and adults alike.

What makes the animation unique?

A lot of the game's charm aside from the story and characters comes from Revenant Kingdom's art and design. While Momose's designs feel very reminiscent of his time with Ghibli, part of me gets the feeling that with this project he was able to cut loose a little bit. Making the character designs feel unique enough that you can tell by looking at them that this is not your typical Ghibli cast. This isn't limited to just the main cast either, but also the plethora of monsters and bosses that players will come across in game are visually interesting. Making the numerous battles all the more enjoyable as you get to see these strange creatures up close. Momose's talent in design is certainly not wasted on this title and could very well be, in my opinion, some of his best work.

(Nobuyuki Yanai (Art Director) elaborating on Revenant Kingdom's art design and lighting)

Another area that must be given praise is the world design. As stated above every new kingdom explored is a feast for the eyes with unique NPCs to interact with an honest to god feels like your exploring a foreign city. A lot of what can be gleaned about these Kingdoms can be learned just from looking at the design of their capital cities.

What are the flaws/problems?

Depending on the players experience with Japanese role-playing games your level of difficulty may vary. While there is no way to change the game's difficulty level, the game does a good job making sure all of the tutorial information is easily accessible if you find yourself forgetting a step in the slew of numerous world building mechanic's Revenant Kingdom has to offer. Personally, as someone who has played plenty of action RPGs there, bits were the game feels like it falls a little on the easy side (then again I was just trying to enjoy the journey so it didn't bother me as much as it would have otherwise). Though the story is compelling and the characters are enjoyable...there is not a great deal that we learn about them. Aside from Evan and Roland who are the primary characters, the narrative is focused on, many of the side characters are given little to do other than act as party members. That doesn't make them bad characters, just not very developed.

My last bit of criticism is more of a nitpick, but I found the chibi animation style in the overworld a bit jarring compared to the regular area animation. It just seemed to lack the visual charm that makes the regular animation pop off the screen but it does do a good job in showing the world's scale. It does not, however, help the army battle segments feel any less chaotic. A mechanic that should be more strategy focused and be resolved with panic scrambling to get the right units in position to eliminate an obstacle and press forward. Fortunately, this mechanic is only used a few times in the main story so you can avoid the rest should you so choose.

Final verdict

Though I would not recommend this game for everyone, I found Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom to be a title that really tickled my nostalgia. Not just due to its Ghibli aesthetic that I had been anticipating but how it approached its story of building a kingdom from nothing. Its sincerity and sprinklings of political intrigue reminded me of one of my favorite classic JRPG series, Konami's now-defunct Suikoden franchise. Though Suikoden 2 has yet to be dethroned as one of my all time favorite JRPGs, I'm honestly surprised at how close Revenant Kingdom came to doing so. Regardless, of your video game experience, this latest installment of Level-5's Ni No Kuni franchise builds on the success of the first and has created a worthy successor. A game that handles its mature theme extremely well and can be enjoyed by any RPG fan.

FORMATSPlaystation 4
FROM Level 5/Bandai Namco
RATINGT for Teen

IN A NUTSHELL: A bold little game that dares to unite the world with its charm sincere message.