Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Will be a Standout RPG

While Ni no Kuni has had a number of releases overseas, the Level-5 developed franchise has only breached the west in a single instance. Released back in 2013, Wrath of the White Witch is a unique, highly-original RPG best known for its Studio Ghibli involvement. Unfortunately, the award-winning animation studio isn’t reprising their role with the sequel, but fortunately Level-5 has been able to maintain the very essence and charm the first game contained. While we should be playing Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom right now, its delay into 2018 is likely for the best, as we shouldn’t rush perfection, and based on what has been shown thus far, it has the potential to be something special in a year that’s absolutely crammed full of huge AAA releases.

The story of Ni no Kuni II centers on Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a young boy who inherits his father’s kingdom after he passes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long as the child ruler is quickly dethroned by a warring faction and thus our royal hero is forced to choose between staying hidden or reclaiming what he has lost. Of course, there really wouldn’t be much of a story if he chose the former, so he’s off to see what the world has to offer and find a way take back the Kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. As he traverses the globe, Evan meets various unique individuals, such as Roland, a visitor from another world, not too far off from Oliver’s situation from Wrath of the White Witch, Tani, the adopted daughter of an airship pirate leader, an engineer by the name of Bracken, and a spell caster who goes by Leander. There’s not only a beautifully-rendered and large world to get lost in, but there’s also a colorful cast of characters you’ll get meet, each with their own motives and back stories that hopefully will help you delve deeper into the lore.

Speaking of color, Ni no Kuni II sports absolutely beautiful art. The artwork in Revenant Kingdom resembles that of an anime thanks to its colorful cel-shaded art style and lively designs. Even entering a battle outdoors, the backdrops aren’t overly complex but have a certain mystique to them that will have you entranced in the scope of things. There are some odd choices in specific portions of Revenant Kingdom, which we will be talking about below, but there’s a lot going on screen while in battle, but not too much that it will overload your senses; there seems to be a good balance of restraint and chaos. Still, like most Japanese RPGs, Ni no Kuni II’s main focus is on the characters and their surprisingly simple designs. They’re not overly flashy or complicated, being far more sensible considering the environment they’re living in. While Studio Ghibli isn’t directly involved with the sequel, their influence is felt in waves, especially considering when you consider this is a story about a young child who traverses a scary, yet magical world.

The overworld is one of the larger changes to the game, as Evan and friends are represented in a more chibi art style, with the world having more detail to it. It almost seems like two different games transitioning from the overworld to towns/dungeons and battles. It’s a little surprising Level-5 decided to move towards the oddly proportional characters as their standard designs seem to be more than adequate, actually more preferred, but it does give the game a little bit of a cute factor. Similar to the first game, you won’t be running into random battles in the vast world, but instead will see enemies roaming around and can be avoided if needed. Outside of that, the world itself is ripe with possibilities and we hope as vast as it looks, especially considering the little we’ve seen from the game has been linear thus far.

While there are similarities to the first game, Ni no Kuni II sports a drastically different combat system. In Wrath of the White Witch, you didn’t take direct control of a main cast of characters, such as the young boy Oliver, but instead were granted Familiars that could be interchanged whilst in battle, making it easy to customize a party how you see fit. Ni no Kuni II has taken this formula and thrown it aside for a more traditional system where you will be swinging a sword and casting magic at oversized monsters with up to three characters on the field, and the ability to swap between them. That isn’t to say there isn’t some form of creature management, though, as Higgledies are introduced for the first time, which are elemental sprites that aid you in combat and exploration. These little guys will separate into groups and act accordingly based on how the battle is going, and it’s up the player to use them to obtain buffs or cast specific attacks at a quicker rate. Outside of that, combat is straightforward where you’ll be striking with light and heavy attacks and performing one of the many skills to keep your party alive and doing damage. It’s an action-RPG at its finest, but maybe one of the slower ones as it doesn’t have speed or tenacity as something like the Tales of series.

Interestingly enough, it’s not just typical battle mechanics players will be running through as there are other combat systems implemented that should add some diversity to the gameplay. Surprisingly, there’s RTS-esque mode called Skirmish that will pop up throughout the campaign where you’ll take control of various units, be it attackers, defenders or ranged allies, and send them to help Evan’s kingdom regaining. There’s even a rock-paper-scissors system, similar to something like Dynasty Warriors, where swords beat hammers, hammers beat spears, and spears beat swords. There’s other enemies on the field you’ll have to dispose of, structures & barricades that need taken down, and various objectives to overcome as the battle progresses. It’s an interesting twist to a traditional RPG such as this, but whether or not it will vibe with fans is still undetermined. I know my initial impressions have been mixed as it reminds me of how Double Fine Productions worked RTS mechanics into Brutal Legend to an overwhelming degree. At least this will add some variety to how you progress through a story and ensures Ni no Kuni II won’t be one note, for better or for worse.

This is just a small portion of a much larger picture. It’s going to be hard to top the emotional thrill ride that was Wrath of the White Witch, but Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has all the makings of a top tier RPG when it hits PlayStation 4 and PC on March 23.