By Tanner Kinney
Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM.
Level-5 released Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch back in 2010 on the PS3, and received a lot of praise from critics. Yet, the game still ended up being relatively divisive. Some people were able to commend the game for its absolutely stunning visuals for the time, fantastic score, and a great story. Others wouldn’t give the game that credit, because even with all of those factors, the gameplay was an absolutely confusing mess that wasn’t that fun. Even for a fan of the first game, it still has gone down in quality upon playing it again due to how not fun the gameplay is.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom manages to keep everything that made the first game amazing, improved on it, then added gameplay that’s fluid, satisfying, and loaded with legitimately fun things to do. This may honestly be one of the best JRPGs of the decade.
A big, bright, and beautiful storybook world
The art style of Ni No Kuni II matches very closely to the first game, only greatly improved thanks to the power of newer hardware. The game has an incredibly anime-esque style, with a team of artists that formerly worked for Studio Ghibli. The animation of the characters also has a lot of care and effort put into how they move, every part of their model moving smooth like butter. The game also runs very well, even on hardware that’s slightly dated like mine is. Even the random NPC characters look good and animate well, like they truly are apart of this storybook world. It’s hard to really describe how lovely it is without seeing it, but it just is stunning in motion. A particular locale that looks great is the city of Goldpaw, with a style of traditional Chinese architecture mixed with the neon lights of Las Vegas.
The soundtrack in the game, just like the first game, is incredible. It’s beautifully orchestrated, with songs flowing into one another as you travel through the massive world. It doesn’t necessarily flow as smoothly and beautifully as the first game, but it’s still amazing. There are also plenty of songs that are great to listen to, even if the dungeon or fight is rough to get through. Particularly, the factory dungeon music is a banger, and the music when fighting the Tainted enemies that are scattered around the map is just fantastic as well. Even though I think the first game had better music, the first game also had you sticking in one location for a long time so even the best songs would get tiring to listen to. That problem isn’t here, thanks entirely to the revamped gameplay.
Action-RPG combat taken to a whole new level
The first game was some bizarre mix of action-based MMO targeting and auto-attacking like Final Fantasy XII, Pokemon, and turn-based combat. It was a complete mess, that was fun when it worked, but just didn’t work that often. The combat got really fun when Oliver obtained some strong spells on his own, and you could just dash around the battlefield, nuking enemies with blasts of magic. The developers realized this as well, completely changing the combat to make it fully action-based, and it works incredibly well.
The combat plays very similarly to the Tales series, particularly Tales of Xillia. The player is given free reign to move, roll, strike, and spell-cast within the combat arena. These combat arenas are also made from the terrain around the party, similar to Tales of Zesteria. Each of the party members plays differently, with different styles of combos and special attacks that can be woven together freely. Some characters may be more fun to play than others, but it comes down to personal preference. The first fight I got into was just shocking, especially compared to the first game. It’s so fluid and just pure fun to play.
The gameplay outside of combat has a great loop as well. The game is paced well, especially when compared to the first one, with new locations and dungeons being discovered in short amounts of time. This is opposed to being stuck in the first major city for four or five hours. The party explores through the world map, reaches a new location, sets a waypoint to teleport to freely, and completes their objectives in that area. It matches the new speed given to the combat and the game rarely feels like it drags along.
One final aspect that I didn’t think I’d enjoy as much as I did is the kingdom building and management. As you are the young King Evan, you must build your new kingdom up to a greatness that can rival any of the other kingdoms in the world. To do this, the party completes side quests to recruit citizens, use those citizens to build structures, and collect resources to build the kingdom stronger. It’s essentially a small mobile game WITHIN the already incredible main game, and it’s actually very fun and rewarding to build the kingdom up.
The story of a king uniting the world
The story, even though I still think it’s quite good, is probably the weakest aspect of the game. The first game had a story that felt like something out of a Studio Ghibli film (because it kind of was, basically), and felt fun and whimsical while still having a lot of emotional weight in it. The story sticks with me even now. Ni No Kuni II has a more, well, “average” JRPG story. It’s a pretty basic “team up with friends to save the world” sort of plot. King Evan’s father is killed, and his kingdom is stolen by a coup from the evil rat advisor. Thanks to the help of a stranger from another world, Evan escapes, and begins his journey to create a country that will unite the world. Along the way, he meets a number of other colorful characters and only destabilizes a couple of foreign powers. It reminded me a lot of classic JRPGs like the ones from Squaresoft’s days. It’s engaging enough to keep you playing, but nothing too special.
The real achievement is that the characters are just as good as the first game, possibly even more so. Each character is loaded with personality, even the random citizens that are recruited for the kingdom. The party is also very charismatic and members work well with each other, though some of the later party members don’t gel as well as the first few party members. If you need any more convincing as to how these characters are so amazing: the stranger from another world is the President of the United States, who was teleported to the world of Ni No Kuni. He is trained to use swords and literally shoots a monster in the head to get rid of it. It’s amazing, and no JRPG will have a character that comes close being that cool.
Featured image from YouTube
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
‘Ni No Kuni II’ is an absolutely incredible JRPG. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but does it so well that few other games can come close. The world is beautiful, the characters are likable, and the combat is some of the best in the genre. This is easily one of the best JRPGs of the past decade and, if it wasn't for Persona 5, it might be the best. If you loved the first game, love JRPGs, or even just love fun action-based gameplay, this game is highly recommended.