REVIEW: Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Monday, April 9th, 2018

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Ni No Kuni 2 Title Screen
Title Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Developer Level-5
Publisher Bandai Namco
Release Date March 23rd, 2018
Genre JRPG
Platform PlayStation 4
Age Rating ESRB T for Teen
Official Website

If you are in the business of writing reviews for games, there is an interesting trend that has popped up when compared against the medium’s contemporary peers. In video games it seems that the sequel to a game is better than the initial entry so often that it has become an expected occurrence. In fact, when a sequel isn’t as good or better than the first game, people get genuinely upset (examples being Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Dark Souls 2, to varying degrees). This is not true of movies, where a sequel being better than the initial movie is cause for surprise and veneration it happens so rarely (such as with Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather Part II). This is also so uncommon in music that there is a term for it; the Sophomore Slump. I want to specifically point to music for this comparison, because it’s often said that the reason for this is because you spend your whole life writing your first album, but when the studio demands a second album a year or two later, it is unfeasible to reach the same heights. Gaming development does not seem to fall into this issue probably for two primary reasons. Developers get more proficient on the game engines that they develop with (which gives them much more room to experiment and iterate), and because gaming development typically involves a very large number of people. AAA development for games has become truly massive. According to Cory Barlog, at the height of development for the new God of War game, there were over 300 people on it. So as much as that game is his vision, as a director, there are a lot more cooks in the kitchen than any other art form, even movies. To this you may wisely ask, “So what does this all have to do with Ni No Kuni II?” The cut and dry response is that I frankly did not like this sequel to Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch very much, and I’ve been analyzing why that feels like such a let down.

Ni No Kuni 2 | Character Designs

Studio Ghibli was not officially involved this time, but the influence in design was still there.

We reviewed the first game in the series back when this website was still new, and while I agree with much of what the author said, I liked it even more than he did and would have given it an easy 5.0 score. It is easily one of my favorite games of the previous console generation. As a result, I can see a pretty large disconnect between how I feel about this game and how other members of the gaming press feel. As I will discuss farther along, this is a very solid game in most ways. But for anyone who truly loved the first game, you may also feel like I do about the sequel. So I have really struggled with how to frame this review. As always, I prefer to focus on what a game is, instead of what I want it to be. But for us hardcore JRPG fans, I also have to be honest about what I feel the shortcomings are and give you that differing view. I do think that one of the comparisons to music makes sense here, and that is the fact that Level-5 as a developer was longing to make a game for years with Studio Ghibli, and I would bet that the studio was also curious about dipping their toe into gaming. So you might say that they had been developing that game, as an idea, for years before they started actual production. For the sequel, Studio Ghibli is not directly involved other than an artist and one of the composers. But I’m not quite sure the official departure of the animation studio from the sequel had much to do with the reduction in quality other than possibly providing better ideas. So, first let’s go into what this game is, both for someone new to the series and laying out the changes from the first game.

Ni No Kuni 2 | Modern World

Like in the first game, one of the primary characters is pulled in from the modern world.

Other than some similarity in character and enemy designs, there are effectively zero ties to the story from the first game. There is an early puzzle that kind of obliquely references some story events from the first game, but that is it. And you do not need to know that story to solve the puzzle, it is just relayed to you as clues to movement order. Even the themes of the games are quite different, the only story beat that is remotely similar is that both games start in a modern world. But in the first game you spent some time inhabiting that world with the protagonist, and even returned to the modern world a few times. In this game you see one of the main characters there for less than 30 seconds until he is blown to Kingdom Come with a nuclear explosion. Yes, literally. And that is the last you will see of the modern world until the extreme end of the main story. Frankly that whole side story could have been eliminated entirely without any major issue. That being said, there was not much fluff in the main story. By comparison to the first game, the story was actually fairly short at around 30 hours which is less than half of the previous. To some people that might be seen as an advantage, particularly if you are a busy adult or a reviewer with many other games to get to. For me that is mostly a negative, but it was not the largest negative with regards to the story.

Ni No Kuni 2 | Queen

The water kingdom represents how disjointed the tone of the story is.

My initial fear with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was that the protagonist was so young, so I was concerned that I would not be able to relate to him very well. But the involvement of Studio Ghibli helped me feel like they would find a way to make me emotionally invested just like they usually do in their animated movies. And that turned out to be true, not only was he written well enough that both kids and adults would see his point of view, but the story took on some surprisingly adult subjects, particularly around the sacrifice of parents for each other and for their children. So I expected the same from the sequel, even if the themes were going to be different. Unfortunately, my first fears turned out to be the case instead. Even though, in many ways, Roland is the primary character and is an adult. The story feels like it was written for children or was written by someone quite young other than a few cases of death (or the previous mention of a nuclear explosion killing millions) and some interesting views on work environment from the 3rd Kingdom you encounter (seeming to say a lot in particular about the Japanese way of chewing up and spitting out their workers). But, other than a few highlights, this game felt much more like Ponyo than Spirited Away. Ponyo was not a bad movie, but you are much more likely to love it if you are 5 than if you are 50. Whereas Spirited Away was a Studio Ghibli movie that is a classic for both children and adults because it respected the intelligence of its audience.

Ni No Kuni 2 | Lofty

Your primary fairy companion, Lofty, is a pretty serious downgrade.

Roland, from the modern world, and the deposed king Evan are the primary characters in this game. Unfortunately, they are also the only characters that are given much emotional depth or story arc. You will have 4 more characters join your party, but once they are in your party there is hardly any further development. In fact, the Sky Pirate leader sounds like a cool character if that is all you know about him. But once he joins, he is almost invisible for the rest of the game. Additionally, your primary fairy companion (this time a Kingmaker) Lofty is a pretty serious downgrade from the last game. Your lantern faced fairy from the first game could be a little annoying at times, and his power was dwarfed by many of the other fairies, but at least he had a character arc. Lofty seems to only exist to complain loudly all the time in a very strong Cockney accent. If I ever go through the story again, I will skip all his dialogue. The only reason I stuck through it the first time was in the hopes that he would redeem himself. But, no, he just stayed annoying the whole game. A strange decision all around is that there is not very much voice acting in this game, it seems much less than the previous game had. In fact, sometimes your characters will voice a few lines, and then during the same sequence it will just switch right to unvoiced. It’s almost like they either ran out of time or ran out of funding to do a proper voice track. That said, the voices that are there are well done, just way too infrequent,.

Ni No Kuni 2 | Real Time Combat

If your primary complaint about Ni No Kuni was turn based combat, you are in luck.

The other through-line I have seen in other reviews is that the change to real time combat is marked as an improvement by many. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch had an interesting turn based combat style that was heavily influenced by the Pokémon series of video games. While that did make combat a little on the slow side, it was also very tactical and you had to balance your party strengths by raising and equipping creatures that would take advantage of monster weaknesses without having their own weaknesses exploited. In practice, particularly towards the end of the game and the optional combat, that made the combat in the first title very strategic and many battles were almost Dragon Quest levels of difficulty (a series that Level-5 has also worked on). With the sequel, that entire combat system was abandoned. Not only is battle in real time, but you take direct control of your party members and there is no monster evolution to speak of. There is some creation, and raising (of a sort), however.

More Kuni on Page 2 ->

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.


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