Ni No Kuni was originally a joint production of Level 5 with Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli. It felt like a large scale animated production from Studio Ghibli that fans have loved so far, and it truly managed to capture the aesthetics of the studio. The sequel has sadly lost its charm because of the departure of Studio Ghibli, but it still attempts to recapture some of the magic of the original and succeeds in several ways, but not without certain faults.
Ni No Kuni 2 is an entirely new tale that has no relation to its predecessor. It might carry some of the mythology and world but it is largely a brand new story with a different cast. Everything from the combat to exploration has changed with the sequel and while some aspects have greatly improved now, others feel like a letdown. It is still a great RPG and arguably one of the best to release this generation for the PS4. There is a certain charm to the world and art style of Ni No Kuni 2 that keeps your attention drawn to the world as you are eager to explore more of it.
Despite the name implying that this is a sequel, the story is set several hundred years after the first game so even if you have never played it, there is honestly no need to do so. The game sets up opening nicely with the introduction to two of the lead characters, Evan and Roland. As a young boy, Evan has trouble accepting his duty as a King and right in the start, he has to deal with a mutiny that forces him to escape his Kingdom with the help of Roland. He is a man who belongs to a different world from Evan and has a rather mysterious past. Evan has to learn the responsibilities of becoming a King and vows to reclaim and rebuild his Kingdom to fulfill his duty.
My issue with the story is that it fails to offer a compelling narrative. In the first game, you could feel some of the emotional moments between the characters after learning more about their past, while in the sequel, it never fully delivers on this front. The story centers on Evan’s attempt to build his Kingdom and this leads to the Kingdom Builder aspect of the game which will take a significant chunk of your time. The gameplay is just vastly different now, both in combat and exploration that at times it feels like a completely different game. Monster capturing mechanic has been removed now and replaced with befriending magical creatures called the Higgledies.
Higgledies are cute little critters who can be encountered throughout the game. In the start, you will have to find glowing stones on map that will ask you for a specific item, once you give it to them, you will gain new types of Higgledies. Later, it is possible to obtain them through breeding once you fulfill certain requirements. Their use in battle varies depending on their color and abilities. They can heal or attack during battle helping you deal a large amount of damage to enemies. As you enter a combat encounter, they will be seen running around the field and soon a group of them will form and glow in the shape of a circle. You have to approach them and then press the X button to give them instructions. Once you have gained your own Kingdom, it is possible to breed new Higgledies or level them up to improve their stats, otherwise they usually gain no experience unlike your main party members.
The combat system is now completely action-based and there are no random encounters. You will see the enemy on screen before you can attack them and this works well in dungeons since it is completely seamless experience, but for some reason, the developers thought it would be a great idea to change the way encounters play out on the world map. As soon as you enter the world map, your characters change into a terrible, ugly-looking chibi form. This would have been fine if the battles were still seamless but each time you encounter an enemy on the map, the game switches out to a battle screen with the default character models and this transition is just so jarring that it is infuriating to experience it when exploring the world map. There is also a slight loading animation that plays before and after the encounter. It is a pity that the world map combat is spoiled with such a dated design when the technology is already there to avoid it.
Speaking of the combat system, it is mostly good but also makes the game far too easy once you learn to control the Higgledies. Aside from my issues with the world map encounters, the game offers you full freedom to switch characters at the press of a button. You can just press the directional buttons to cycle through the different characters in your party and considering how unique some of them feel to control, they can make the battles a lot more dynamic and fun. Each character can equip 3 weapons that can be switched either automatically or manually, depending on how you prefer them. You basically have a light and heavy attack coupled with a ranged attack that helps with difficult to hit enemies. There are also skills that can be used once you have accumulated a certain amount of charge for your weapons. Sometimes during a battle, it is possible to find a golden orb that results in a super powered state for the character giving them unlimited skills and boosted stats for a short time.
This brings me to the most important mechanic of Ni No Kuni 2 and the one that elevates it to something special among other RPGs: Kingdom Builder. It will take a while in the story before you are able to start with your own kingdom but once you do so, it is honestly a lot of fun. You can build various types of facilities in the kingdom for research and development. These range from facilities for weapons, armors and magic spells to higgledies. You will be required to assign personnel for these facilities and recruiting them is easily the best part of the whole kingdom management aspect. There are just so many sidequests to take in order to get the best personnel for a particular job. As a king, you will also gain a special currency from your own Kingdom which can be used to carry out further research or development projects, or build more of the different facilities.
This is not the only mechanic that is new in the sequel. There are also tactical battles with the same chibi models on the world map that require you to recruit an army. These battles are triggered through special checkpoints on the world map, also called skirmish, and can reward you with some nice items. Some of these are mandatory for the story so there is no way to avoid them. They were honestly pretty bland and lacked depth for the most part, basically requiring you to move around the battlefield and issuing a limited set of commands to your army. The chibi aspect of it doesn’t help for me because I already hated their design.
If we take a look at Ni No Kuni 2 as a sequel, the story is a step down from the first game but there are plenty of new additions that make it a worthy successor. The world in Ni No Kuni 2 is full of secrets for you to discover and the world map is easily larger than the first game. You will be limited to just a specific portion of it in the beginning but after passing certain story segments, you will slowly unlock new sections on the world map which leads to more exciting discoveries and sidequests along the way. Thankfully, there is a fast travel system that requires you to find special warp points near some key locations. It is a valuable time saver for quests that require you to go back and forth between two locations.
I played Ni No Kuni 2 on the PS4 Pro where it offers two different display modes: 4K and Performance. There is also support for HDR which honestly looks amazing and blends in well with the art style. I did face performance hiccups when playing with the 4K mode although there never bothered me enough to switch to the Performance mode. I do feel the game runs at an unlocked frame rate whether you play in the 4K or performance mode so those who have an issue with it can perhaps stick to the performance mode.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an upcoming role-playing video game developed by Level-5 and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is essentially a complete reboot offering a clean slate. The new Kingdom Builder mechanic is extremely addicting and even though the combat has its flaws, the visuals and the beautiful soundtrack make it one of the most enticing RPG released by Level 5 so far.