Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4)

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has everything it needs to be a great JRPG. There’s a deep combat system, charming characters and environments, and an interesting fantasy premise. It could have been really good, maybe even great. Instead, Level-5 spread the quality too thin, mixing it with half-baked concepts such as skirmishes and kingdom building with the end result often looking like a cheap mobile game. Add in a bunch of tedious but mandatory side quests, and you’re left with a forty-hour game that is immediately forgettable when it could have been a classic.

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Revenant Kingdom takes place hundreds of years after the first game, however connections between the two are limited and you don’t need to play the original to understand what’s happening in the sequel. Following the untimely death of his father, young Evan is about to be crowned King of Ding Dong Dell when Mausinger, the former advisor to Evan’s father, stages a coup. Evan escapes thanks to Roland, the President of the United States, who was strangely warped into Evan’s room from our own world.

After their escape, Evan appoints Roland as his Chief Consul and the two of them attempt to set up a new Kingdom called Evermore. Before they get too settled, a bigger threat appears in the name of Doloran, a man intent on taking over the world. Evan and Roland set out to sign peace treaties with other nations in order to prepare for the big fight against Doloran.

We’re never given Evan’s age, but I’d guess he’s around ten. For better or worse, that’s how old he acts. His youthful naivety is both charming and infuriating depending on what mood I happen to be in that day. His main motivation is to avoid war at all costs. Given the state of our own world, perhaps a little youthful ignorance isn’t all that bad a thing.

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Overall, it’s definitely a story aimed at young children. All the main characters are likable but Evan is by far the most integral to the story. It’s a shame, as I’d have preferred Roland to take the lead because he’s also new to this world. His own exploration and learning would have fit in nicely with the players’. You gain a few other acquaintances along the way although there’s no option to fulfill special quests for them so you never get to know them that well.

At its best, Revenant Kingdom looks absolutely stunning. The cel-shaded artstyle shows off beautiful environments such as the lucious greens of the forest, the Chinese influence of Goldpaw, or the seaside resort of Hydropolis. Combat looks even better. Enemies are distinct and visually interesting with everything from slime blobs to robots to huge dragons. Magic attacks spread colors and numbers all over the screen and the little higgledies jumping around the arena are joyous to watch. The transition from exploration to combat encounters is so seemless that you barely notice it.

Unfortunately, Revenant Kingdom doesn’t maintain this quality throughout. Large parts of the game take place in a zoomed-out chibi style, with exaggerated head sizes and rough visuals. Instead of smooth transitions for combat encounters, you’re warped into a separate screen and then warped back into the overworld after the fight. There’s no two ways around it; this simply doesn’t look good. Revenant Kingdom dangles a high-quality experience in front of players on a regular basis and keeps taking it away just as you’re getting absorbed in the world.

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Revenant Kingdom can be a touch underwhelming even when in full 3D. Many of the dungeon areas you encounter in the main story are dull and lifeless, with a factory level representing the worst of the bunch. The opening hours were excellent with an early puzzle dungeon being a particular highlight, telling the story of the first game through a puzzle akin to Hitman GO. None of the subsequent dungeons came close to matching this.

Something similar happens with the game’s kingdoms. The first major kingdom you visit, Goldpaw, not only looks incredible, it’s memorable for being a city that decides everything via a dice roll. This includes the amount of tax its citizens pay and even whether individuals are guilty of crimes. As you progress to other kingdoms, you get the distinct impression that the writers are gradually running out of steam. The last major location couldn’t be much less imaginative if it tried.

Despite the cute visuals and the simple story, Revenant Kingdom‘s combat system has a surprising amount of depth and complexity. It’s a shame you never have to use any of it. You usually have three members of your party available for combat. Each member has a light and heavy attack, a ranged attack, and four magical abilities. In addition, all party members have three weapons to switch between, each of which has its own separate “zing” guage. When the zing guage is at 100% your weapon does more damage and you can unleash extra powerful magical attacks. You also have higgledies helping you out in the battle. These mainly provide passive benefits, however you can trigger special attacks from them when they’re ready.

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What else can you do with the combat? I’m glad you asked. There is a tactics tweaker which lets you use battle points gained from combat encounters to adjust things like invincibility frames on dodges, XP vs gold earned, weakness to elemental damage, and strength against different enemy types. You can also upgrade weapons and armor for additional passive abilities and level up higgledies by feeding them food they like. There’s a whole wealth of options. You could spend hours perfecting your party and planning for combat encounters. Or you could just go into battle and mash the light attack button.

Eventually, you have to put a bit more thought into combat, but only when enemies are about ten levels higher than you. Even boss fights are easy when under-leveled. I was about fifteen levels under the final boss and still beat him first time without fighting particularly well. You’re limited to how many health items you can use during any one encounter, however it’s more than enough to get you through any given fight.

Ni No Kuni II‘s biggest problem is its terrible pacing caused by an insistence on including kingdom building and skirmish mini-games. You’re tasked with developing Evan’s new kingdom of Evermore as you progress through the story. To do this you need to collect a new currency called kingsguilders which are earned in real time. Once you have enough kingsguilders you can build a new shop, farm, etc. When that is in place you recruit citizens to work there which in turn brings in more money.

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Once you have citizens in your town, you can get them to research projects such as building better armor or improving your spells. This is done on a timer, with projects typically taking between thirty minutes and an hour depending on the number and quality of the citizens you have working on the project. You have to regularly return to Evermore to collect money, complete research projects, and assign new citizens. If this sounds a lot like a mobile game without the microtransactions, then I’ve done a good job of explaining it because that’s exactly what it is.

That isn’t even the biggest problem with kingdom building. To complete the story, you need a level three kingdom which, in addition to being expensive, requires at least fifty citizens and thirty-five structures. You acquire a few citizens as you progress through the main story, but most of them require completing side quests. These side quests are some of the worst I’ve played since Mass Effect: Andromeda. Most of them are basic fetch quests. Fortunately, I often had the correct items on me already, so it was easy enough to hand them over and complete the quest at the same time as I received it. Other quests require you to head to a random place to kill an enemy. The worst are the delivery quests. Despite Evan being a king, he is often used as a postman to deliver food or notes around a city. These cities don’t have any enemies, so you just walk around following waypoint markers until you’ve found the intended recipient.

Let me give an example of how tedious the kingdom building system can be. I needed a particular citizen to work in Evermore because she had a special talent that was mandatory to researching the next level of armor. I happened to find her in Hydropolis and started her quest which I needed to complete before she would come and live in Evermore. After a simple fight, she asked me to research a certain spell. However, to research that spell, I had to level up the Spellworks. To do that, I needed more money. I waited until I had enough money and upgraded the Spellworks. Unfortunately, researching the spell required a citizen with a skill that I didn’t have, so I had to recruit her first. I hadn’t met this citizen yet but I eventually stumbled across her on my travels. I did her side quest (which was mercifully easy), recruited her for the Spellworks, had her research the new spell, and was then finally able to complete the side quest for the woman I needed in the armory. None of that was challenging, it just required patience with multiple interacting timers and currencies that I didn’t enjoy dealing with.

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Evermore looks impressive as it continues to grow and expand from humble beginnings. While I didn’t like waiting around to collect money, upgrading the buildings was satisfying, especially since many of them changed visually to resemble mini palaces by the end. It’s a shame you’re restricted to walking around in the zoomed-out chibi style instead of roaming in full 3D. The buildings are all placed in fixed locations, so I can’t imagine it would have been difficult to translate Evermore into a 3D world for you to walk around in.

The other major addition is the skirmish system. A handful of times during the story, Evan must command armies and defeat his enemies. You simply match your units against the enemy’s according to your strengths and weaknesses. It’s not fun. There’s minimal input required from the player and not even much in the way of music to keep the spirits up. This wouldn’t be so bad if skirmishes were entirely an optional mini-game, but they’re not. One of the most important fights of the entire game takes place using this skirmish system and it looks ridiculous. There isn’t even any music although given the quality of the game’s soundtrack that might not be a bad thing. This entire late-game skirmish destroys any semblance of building towards an epic climax.

While the skirmishes initially look optional, you need to do a fair few of them to level up your skirmish skills before the final battle. In total, the story took me forty-two hours to complete. Around six hours of this total was idle time where I left the game running to collect money for my kingdom and wait for research projects to complete. At least ten hours was spent doing side quests and skirmishes so unbearably tedious that they might come close to being “objectively” bad.

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Despite this, I enjoyed large parts of the remaining twenty-five hours. The combat looks and feels good, there are a couple of mysteries teased throughout the story that had me intrigued, and there’s a huge variety of people and species to meet on your journey. Unfortunately, nearly every good element of the game is highly compromised. As discussed, the combat is too easy. While some of the cities are glorious, a couple are completely uninspired and large parts of the world map lack any cities at all. This is either cut content or DLC.

However, the biggest disappointment is the cost-cutting around cutscenes and dialogue. Only a tiny percentage of the cutscenes are fully voice acted. Some will play out for you, while others require you to constantly skip forward to the next line of dialogue. The best scenes are spectacular and do a great job making you feel connected to the characters. The regional accents are a particular highlight. Lofty has a strong Welsh accent like Drippy from the first game, one town is full of people with accents from the North of England and there’s a Scottish Yoda-esque fellow you meet in the woods. These accents add a phenomenal amount of character and humor and yet we rarely hear them.

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There is some optional post-game content such as taking on tainted monsters—stronger versions of regular enemies—and completing procedurally generated Dreamer’s Mazes which get harder the longer you stay in them. These battles can be challenging so long as you’re not over-leveled by the time you get around to them.

My overwhelming thought after completing Ni No Kuni II was of what could have been. The combat system is excellent, but Level-5 didn’t have the confidence to make it challenging. The story is endearing at times, however it seems like the money ran out when it came to doing full voice work for all the cutscenes. There’s a great game under here somewhere, but perhaps not a $60 one. I’d have preferred a twenty-five-hour game without all tedious stuff and perhaps a $40 price point. Far too much of the extra content feels like filler. In trying to include a bit of everything, Revenant Kingdom ultimately mastered nothing.

3/5

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