By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong
WHEN IT COMES to video games, there’s a certain polish that Bandai Namco is able to give them to make them stand out. No matter what the genre is, Bandai Namco games are both fun to play and enthralling to behold. Whether it’s their fighting games like Soul Calibur or Tekken, or their role-playing games like Tales or .hack, that certain sense of style never fails to shine. In Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, this is more than apparent as it embodies everything good about Bandai Namco’s releases. Charming, stylish, and fun, it remains entertaining over the course of its 50- to 60-hour playthrough.
In Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, players follow the story of Roland, a man thrust into the Kingdom of Ding Dong Dell by random chance. He arrives in the midst of a coup where the evil Lord Otto Mausinger moves to take the kingship away from young heir Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum. It’s up to Roland and Evan to end Lord Mausinger’s tyrannical rule and take back the crown. In following the compelling storyline, players take control of Evan, Roland, and their companions as they travel throughout the land, fighting monsters, lead armies, and even undertake quests for the local townfolk, all in a mission to right what’s wrong in the land of Ding Dong Dell and unite all the kingdoms under one banner.
First things first: Ni No Kuni II is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Whether on the PlayStation 4 or on the PC, its cel-shaded art style combined with its nice, light hearted aesthetic design makes the game really shine, almost looking like an old-style cartoon or an anime film. Small wonder, as the first Ni No Kuni was created in tandem with the Hayao Miyazaki-led Studio Ghibli, and Ni No Kuni II follows in its footsteps and does it justice. Vibrant colors engulf the screen and combine with a rich character design, making even the tamer enemies look entertaining and unique. Environments are lush and detailed, standing out compared to other titles in the genre, especially given the sheer depth of the game and the variety it presents. Graphically, there’s very little to complain about, and apart from the odd stutter on the PC, it runs well and looks amazing even with the settings maxed out. Likewise, the PS4 version of the game is close to flawless and shows no slowdown, featuring crisp gameplay all throughout.
At the outset, Ni No Kuni II seems mostly standard Japanese RPG fare, but with added twists to keep players constantly interested. Taking control of one of several characters, players dodge and fight foes in real-time combat. Skills are flashy but effective, and can be learned and used against foes. Ranged attacks are available for picking off flying enemies or stragglers with low hit points; both cost mana though, which players can generate by connecting hits against enemies. Juxtaposed with the Zing mechanic, which encourages proper usage of skills in tandem with constant weapon swapping, it’s a pretty straightforward but enjoyable combat system. There’s never a dull moment as each battle is characterized by on-the-fly thinking, frequent dodging, and proper mana and skill callups, especially when Higgledies come into play. These are friendly NPCs that provide helpful buffs and abilities during combat, but do so at random points across the battlefield. This turns combat into a nice mix of attacking, defending, dodging, and strategizing, as brute force can sometimes be less effective than proper timing and exploitation of the map.
Ni no Kuni II also has Overworld Army battles, a pseudo real-time-strategy combat game within the game that has Evan leading his troops against enemy armies. Taking a rock-paper-scissors approach to battles, it’s a simple but effective diversion, though not nearly as interesting as the kingdom management Ni no Kuni II has players doing. The kingdom-building mini-game has players doing quests for citizens in return for greater and better rewards. These endeavors can lead to the construction of larger and grander buildings, and, in turn, access to more powerful spells and equipment. While both these mini-games are mostly optional, they’re effective in spicing up the gameplay; they never feel too intrusive or forced upon those who refuse to do them.
In the end, it’s hard to find fault in Ni no Kuni II. There’s a simple but compelling charm to it, like a child’s fairy tale. The plot isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s told with such sincerity and depth of emotion that it’s hard to stop midway, and the addictive nature of the gameplay keeps you going no matter what. If anything, the only fault to be had lies in the PS4’s button layouts, where the dodge and block actions share the same input and may well lead to some frustration during combat.
It’s just nitpicking, though. In the final analysis, Ni no Kuni II lives up to the hype; it delivers as advertised, and more. Fun, innovative, and interesting, its seamless combat, gorgeous visuals, and outstanding game mechanics will keep players hooked, and its light-hearted, overarching narrative gets them invested in their progress all throughout. As one of the best JRPGs ever released, it’s highly recommended and definitely worth the price.
By Alexander O. Cuaycong