Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a charming and addictive JRPG. Its combat is fine enough and with the developers filling the world with optional activities and gameplay mechanics such as the Pikmin-like skirmishes or the sim-like kingdom building, there’s bound to be something for someone to latch onto. Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a traditional JRPG for genre fanatics that could have been as essential as Persona 5 if it weren’t held back by its production values and laughable difficulty.
The narrative’s driving impetus is about as generic as generic comes. Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum’s kingdom of Ding Dong Dell is overthrown by his father’s closest adviser, Lord Mausinger. During this siege on his father, King Leonhard’s throne, Roland is transported from his seemingly modern dimension to Ni no Kuni 2‘s fantastical setting. Roland helps Evan escape the castle. Soon after forming this allegiance, Evan sets out to seek a kingmaker with his friends because no one has the power to rule over any plot of land without forming a kingsbond with a kingmaker. After forming this bond, Evan establishes his own kingdom and sets on a quaint pursuit to rid the world of war, asking each kingdom’s ruler to sign his Declaration of Interdependence.
King Evan’s insistence on creating a peaceful land drones as the hours pass. Aside from his annoyingly oblivious nature, many of the characters spend too much time talking without taking action. The writing as a whole feels like it takes a backseat to the aesthetic pleasures of the game’s universe. That would normally be fine, but Ni no Kuni 2 assaults the player with text box after text box. The story and characters are neither engaging nor self-aware enough to carry it through so much dialogue.
Its startlingly low production values are also an issue. For a full priced game that made such a splash at one of Sony’s own press conferences, you’d be hard pressed to find where all the voice acting went. Characters routinely begin speaking in full sentences only for the competent acting to be replaced with typical grunts and groans all within the space of a single cutscene. Ni no Kuni 2 also has a habit of showing fully voiced pre-rendered cinematics, both preceded by and succeeded with endless text boxes. In one instance, the game even pulls off the unthinkable. After several minutes of non-voiced dialogue, the game cut to a 2-3 second pre-rendered cinematic in which King Evan speaks a single sentence, then it cut back to several more minutes of non-voiced dialogue. This inconsistency is one of the greatest barriers to enjoying the by-the-numbers plot for what it is. Keep in mind it launched at full retail price.
Thankfully, Revenant Kingdom succeeds where it matters most. Consisting of three core pillars, Ni no Kuni 2 enjoys an addictive and rewarding gameplay loop sure to hook fans of numbers, stats, and progression: the genre mainstays. Combat itself is nothing special, but it’s satisfying enough to prevent the 30-40 hour story from feeling like a drag. Standard light and heavy attacks can be used to form different combos. Players also have access to ranged attacks that differ between characters. Roland uses guns whereas Batu uses bows, for example.
Rather than using up ammunition, ranged attacks deplete the magic meter that can be refilled with items or by physically attacking enemies. Each character has access to different magic abilities, each depleting the magic meter to varying degrees. Within a combat instance, characters have access to three weapons that the player can switch between on the fly. Each weapon has a zing gauge attached to it, denoted by a numbered percentage. As foes continue to be decimated, the unequipped weapons’ zing gauges fill more quickly. The higher the number, the more basic attack damage the weapon does. In addition, the entire meter is automatically expended when a magic attack is used, albeit a powered up version of that attack.
Relatively early in the game, higgledies open up further nuances to encounters. As you explore the world and offer up specific items to higgledy stones or create the higgledies yourself, new combat strategies and potentials open up. Different higgledies provide different benefits. One set of higgledies might transform into a cannon and deal more significant damage to enemies whereas another set might create a healing circle. Very little micromanaging is necessary, allowing the player to focus on killing things. They act independently of the player’s actions for most of the battle, only randomly offering opportunities to walk up to their formation to press a button and initiate their “ultimate” offensive or defensive ability.
Combat is filled with mechanics that create nuanced layers of interlocking systems. It’s a shame the game is so easy that essentially all of this can be ignored entirely. Aside from “tainted” enemies, Ni no Kuni 2 provides no challenge. Even if you don’t grind, you’ll find yourself steamrolling many story bosses within a matter of 100 seconds. Mash the attack buttons, occasionally dodge or block, and enemies up to ten levels above you present little challenge with the exception of the aforementioned “tainted” monsters; powered up mini-bosses. With no difficulty select, Ni no Kuni 2 is sure to annoy gamers that want an RPG with challenge. It’s not the easiest RPG this generation. That dishonor goes to Blue Reflection, but it’s dangerously close.
Dreamer’s Mazes ♥
A side quest involving a series of Dreamer’s Mazes was the most fun I ever had in combat. There are nine that count toward the side quest’s completion with a tenth maze acting as a difficult post-game dungeon. The mazes hidden behind each Dreamer’s Door provide the only semblance of challenge aside from the “tainted” battles.
The goal of a Dreamer’s Maze is to defeat the boss on the final floor. Upon entering a maze, you’ll notice a gradually progressing danger level with each level making enemies stronger. This can be circumvented through collectible orbs that only count within that dungeon’s session. These orbs can be acquired by talking to NPC’s, smashing open jars, and defeating enemies. Initially, five orbs can be offered up to a statue in exchange for a decreased danger level, though each successive sacrifice requires more orbs than the last. Conversely, on occasion, an NPC can increase the danger level for those that want to push themselves. Orbs also open certain chests and like the statues, each successive chest requires more than the last.
The nature of the Dreamer’s Mazes requires critical thinking and efficient movement. Is it worth taking on every group of enemies and risking a heightened danger level that may lead to failure on the end boss? Do I spend orbs opening this chest that may give me better loot at the expense of saving them for a statue? Do I explore every inch, searching for orbs or make a mad dash to the next floor? These dungeons are the only time I ever found myself legitimately thinking critically about a plan of action as opposed to mindlessly hacking away with no remorse. It’s too bad this level of engagement is gated behind only ten dungeons.
Tending to Your Kingdom
Fortunately, Ni no Kuni 2‘s secondary pillar keeps the general gameplay loop addictive even when most fights are button mashing affairs. The game opens up significantly once Evan establishes his kingdom, exposing the player to a basic city-building distraction. Completing side quests and errands rewards Evan with citizens, each delineating various levels of influence. Citizens have three stats and an ability that defines how useful he/she is for a specific line of work. Some citizens perform better at the weapon shop, for example, whereas others feel more at home mining materials at camp sites.
This kingdom’s economy is run by kingsguilders, a separate currency from the guilders used to buy/upgrade items, weapons, and armor at shops. Kingsguilders are pumped into creating new buildings, leveling up buildings to open up new avenues of research, and researching the building itself. Citizens constantly gather materials and acquire kingsguilders, which can be reinvested into furthering the kingdom’s influence. You can build new facilities and level up existing ones happens instantaneously, but research occurs in real time. This means if you want to research an avenue of the higglery so that you can create new types of higgledies yourself, you will have to find something else to do within the game world until research is finished.
Much like the compulsive drive of acquiring new loot and seeing your party grow stronger as the the journey progresses in any RPG, building this kingdom up from nothing feels incredibly gratifying. Because of this, the arc of a tiny land plot morphing into a thriving civilization indirectly echoes Evan’s quest. It is the pillar holding the experience together, with every decision adding more to the core systems. Some new goal post is always within reach, be it a loot drop, level up, chest, quest reward, or feeding into the kingdom’s continuous growth.
If Evan’s kingdom holds everything together, then the overworld’s skirmishes are that friend you ignore in conversation. While skirmishes work, they are the weakest pillar, creating a slant that shouldn’t exist. As you can guess from my “Pikmin-like” comment earlier, they play pretty much as you’d expect. Evan has access to four unit types on the battlefield. Different unit types have different abilities and best certain unit types more easily. Strategy is technically possible in these scenarios, but one glaring design decision shatters that expectation. Failing skirmishes does not return you to the loading screen. Instead, you are hoisted back to the overworld with all of the units’ experience points retained. With no penalty for death, skirmishes are too easily exploitable.
Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a great game. It suffers from low production values and an insulting difficulty, but there are enough systems in place to keep it rewarding. From its loot drop system to the kingdom building, Ni no Kuni 2 provides a consistent level of progression at every moment. If you like seeing numbers go up often, you’ll love Revenant Kingdom.