After a little introspection, I’ve decided that the score I originally gave wasn’t indicative of the amount of fun I actually had playing. There are a couple qualities that Level-5 gave the game that I didn’t give it credit for. The first is the music which always seemed to fit the tone of the game perfectly and never got old. The second is that the map would almost always tell you exactly where you needed to go to complete a quest, which I have never seen in any game. Combined with the ability to fast-transport yourself to any landmark you’ve previously been, this keeps the game always moving forward, requiring little grinding and searching.
The original Ni No Kuni is something of a legend in gaming lore. Level-5 developed the game with animations and art inspiration coming from Studio Ghibli. It was a beautiful, vibrant game that combined action-RPG elements with Pokemon-esque monster catching. The story was also reminiscent of lighthearted anime movies such as Spirited Away with deeper, more mature concepts mixed in for those mature enough to understand them. Considering the PS3 was nearly devoid of quality RPGs, the game was very well-received by critics and players alike. It’s been 5 years since the first game was released in the States, so expectations were high for its sequel.
Alas, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom does not hold up well next to its predecessor. The game begins with promise as a man who seems to be a foreign dignitary is magically transported from his world to another in order to meet the real main character of the game, Evan Pettiwhisker. We find out that Evan’s father, the king of Ding Dong Dell, has recently perished and the young prince is about to go through a ceremony to become the new king. Shortly thereafter, a coup commences and the party is forced to flee for their lives. So far, so good.
Upon escaping, the princeling vows that he will make the entire world peaceful by forming one giant kingdom. The game follows his journey in realizing that goal. That’s…basically it for the story. There is a nefarious character introduced along the way whose true intentions and backstory we don’t get until the very end of the game, but other than that, the bulk of the game revolves around building your kingdom. The main story of Revenant Kingdom reminds me of some older RPGs in which the main conflict is presented at the beginning of the game and each step along the way is to simply go to the next town and solve their problem.
If you played the first Ni No Kuni, you might remember the use of familiars to fight battles. These have been replaced by creatures called Higgledies which are a lot more random in their actions. Each one represents a specific element and having enough of the same element attached to your team can power up certain spells as well. There are a number of other additions to battle such as being able to have three melee weapons and one long range weapon, the ability to increase the power of and learn new magic spells, and even a way to adjust elemental strength and effectiveness against certain enemies. While this sounds like it might make battles fun, no real guidance is given toward using these creatures and systems effectively, so their use in making battles easier is likely negligible and a waste of time trying to use beyond just equipping the strongest.
To make matters worse, almost every enemy and boss is a palette swap and draws from similar move pools meaning too many enemies look and perform identically to others. After defeating a major boss, the game then grinds to a halt so that the kingdom can be built up. Whenever I decided to move on and complete the main missions, only about a quarter of the dialogue had voice acting. It was such a jolt when it first happened near the beginning of the game. This day and age, when even games on the 3DS have full voice acting, not having it seem like a huge mistake. It is such a shame as many of the voices are spot on. All these factors really make for a boring experience in which it’s difficult to discern what dialogue is important to the story and what isn’t.
Having a simple premise isn’t a big deal in and of itself, but when a good plot is sacrificed in favor of dull gameplay, that is where I draw the line. Every single character you want to recruit to your kingdom (except for your main characters) becomes a major or minor fetch quest where you have to fulfill their requirement before they will agree to join. This may sound remarkably similar to another popular RPG series about building a kingdom. The difference is that the Suikoden games were smart in how they mixed storyline recruits with optional side characters in order to keep the momentum up during a playthrough.
I’ve harped on enough of the bad things about this game. The good news is that it looks great and performs spectacularly, though many dungeons have a tendency to look very similar. Overall, it can be pretty fun to play as long as you don’t devote too much time to recruiting people. There’s also a certain satisfaction that comes with building your own kingdom from the ground up, watching it prosper.
Ni No Kuni II feels like a rushed attempt to capitalize on an IP with an empty game posing as a fully realized experience. The enemies and dungeons are recycled, the battles are chaotic yet boring, and most of the main characters are introduced then quickly sidelined. However, being that it was developed by Level-5, it is amazing to look at and can be fun to play at times. If you enjoyed the first game and were looking forward to playing the sequel, my advice is to either pass on it or wait until it is significantly discounted because it is not worth the current $60 price tag.