My love for JRPG’s began with Final Fantasy VII with an experience that to this day has still not been topped and seldom gotten close to having with any other JRPG since and that includes other Final Fantasy titles. It has been a very long wait for me but finally I have found one that honest rivals that first experience with FFVII, something I had hoped it would provide for me after missing out on the first game and have been watching this very closely for months and it easily achieved all my expectations and more and I have another early contender for game of the year. Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an absolute instant classic and joy to play.
I am probably going to be gushing a whole bunch through this review simply because Ni no Kuni 2 is as close to flawless a game that I have played in many a year, over forty hours and it never suffered a bug or glitch, crashing or elements of frustration that break the experience. This is one of the most highly polished games you can play right now on PlayStation 4 and it is refreshing to see that so much attention clearly went into making this game ready for release after a delay that has only helped the final version. I smiled my way through from the moment I hit start and it never left my face and only grew the further into the game I went and it opened up new things to enjoy. It is clear to me that even without having played the first game, that the way people were raving about it has transferred into this follow up game.
This is certainly a follow up as it has a new story with new characters and set hundreds of years after the events of the first game. It opens with a surprising opening cut-scene showing an elderly President of the USA in a limo travelling towards a city when a missile flies over head and hits the city. We then see the wreckage of the car and the President suddenly disappearing before he reappears but has somehow become a far younger man who is then discovered by a young boy who introduces himself as Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the young king of Ding Dong Dell who startled by Roland’s presence heads off to summon his guards. However before Roland can work out how he has been transported here and now younger, he suspects that something is not quite right and soon comes to the aid of this young boy when the guards turn on him. Evan is the heir to the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell and the advisor to his father has now turned on him and began a coup to dethrone the uncrowned king forcing Roland to step in and help Evan try to escape the castle. Soon they are joined by Arnella, body guard and mentor to Evan to reveals that it was the advisor, Mausinger who had slowly poisoned his father and plotted to steal the throne before Evan could form his Kingsbond with the guardian Kingmaker of Ding Dong Dell. Managing to escape, Evan makes the promise to form his own kingdom which will be a place for all to live in peace and Roland pledges his loyalty to both protect Evan but to aid in the creation of his new kingdom.
The first thing that struck me was just how beautiful the visuals for this game are with the same Studio Ghilbli animation as the first game and it is just glorious to be in its world. Character design, locations and those of the many varied monsters and creatures you encounter in this world all leap out of the screen and it honestly feels as though you are part of a Studio Ghilbli animated film. It is bright and colourful and just a lovely world to be in throughout the story as you move from location to location and kingdom to kingdom, each with their own unique visual style and design. Perfectly complimented by the musical soundtrack which features some tremendous scores by Joe Hisaishi and it is just so easy to fall in love with this right from the start even before the excellent gameplay has worked its magic on you.
That magical gameplay is really what for me transported me right back to the wonder and amazement of playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time, and Ni no Kuni 2 just ticks every single box of what makes a JRPG a truly iconic game style to enjoy. Not only does it succeed in hitting all the hit spots of traditional JRPG games but it also manages to refresh many aspects for a new and modern audience. Starting with the combat which before release I was a little nervous about as I am so familiar and rather a fan of turn based combat but my concerns were quickly put to rest once the fighting begins. A party system is used which is comprised of three characters with more becoming available as you meet and complete main story quests. The player is free to take control of a party member at any time by simply switching between them to utilise their own strengths as each may use different weapons and skill attacks. The combat styles is very hack and slash and to my delightful surprise, is actually more than just a basic mashing the attack button as combos can be formed between weapon and skill attacks and is very satisfying.
Of course the most fun aspect to combat comes in the form of the Higgledies, super cute little creatures which aid you in combat and can either serve as support by offering healing opportunities or attack by using elemental attacks. They simply join in the fighting and when grouped together enough can offer a special action triggered by the player to use their special ability. New Higgledies can be discovered and added to your party and later, during the Kingdom management mini game which I will come to a bit later on, can be grown. Having not played the original I was not sure how this aspect would work with a worry that they would overwhelm the fighting but instead the support is very handy, especially during boss fights or big monster battles. Not to mention just how ridiculously cute they are as well and I am still scouring the internet to find a Higgledy plushie!
Inventory management is also just perfectly handled here and whilst other games can suffer from very complicated systems and grinding to find new weapons or armour, here almost every encounter will reward the player with new weapons or items to equip to the party and the inventory clearly shows what the quality of weapons, armour and accessories to help decide what should be equipped to the right party member. This system is clean and gives a fast quick aid to party management which helps sort out new stronger items from the lower value ones. I also appreciate how each character, regardless if you are actively using them in the party or not, will also level up as the main party does meaning you can change your party members at any time and thanks to the inventory system, everyone can be equipped with the best items for them in seconds.
Now all the above comes in very handy for this game has so much content to play through outside of the main campaign that at first you can feel an almost overload of side missions and additional things to do. But the beauty with how the game handles this is truly sublime as it sections the main campaign into story chapters with main goals to be completed in order to progress the story but each chapter also provides an absolute freedom to go off and complete the various side missions made available by just exploring new locations or revisiting previous ones as the main campaign unfolds. The game never forces you to stick to the main campaign or to drag you back if you are like me, happy to just go off on a tangent and spend time in the world doing side quests. Just as with the inventory management, quest management has also been simplified so you always know where the main story quest is and also listing all the side quests available at any one time. You will also meet the task keeper, someone who will offer more side quests to you such as gathering a certain amount of items and will reward with task points which can then be traded with him for items you may not find in normal shops but required to complete side quests. The elegant nature in which this completely plays into simply enjoying the game and playing it makes it a great addition as I found that the majority of tasks he offers you will naturally be ready to be completed because you have already obtained enough of whatever is required. He will also reward you by scouting out new people to recruit to your kingdom to strengthen it and aid in boosting production of a store or research center.
This tidily brings me to the additional mini activities that become available that also fit so nicely into everything else this game has to offer players. First will be the Kingdom management game which will have the player work to grow and build up Evan’s new Kingdom of Evermore throughout the game. Buy opening shops and research centers; you can build up a kingdom that truly feels like a living breathing community of people as you make farms, gardens, ship yards, armour and weapon shops. As the kingdom grows and advances new facilities can be created and thanks to the side quests and Task Master Missions, you will soon start recruiting new people that will offer more opportunities for growth. I found this a fun and brilliant distraction that only served to aid me as I could buy supplies cheaper and improve my weapons and armour through those stores and even develop magic that will help in other side activities like the Skirmish battles or to open new side quests. At the forty hour mark I had still to complete the game and still had an abundance of side quests to complete if I wanted to or just working to improve the kingdom further and the game invites you to do all this or just focus on the main campaign quests. That is a freedom I really appreciate in a good JRPG and Ni no Kuni 2 delivers this in spades for players.
I love the story the game tells as Evan grows as a potential king in his mission to unite all the kingdoms together to form a peaceful world for every race and though this happy ever after almost Disney film aspiration could feel rather cringe at moments, it also has enough darkness and reality checking elements to make this a deep and enjoyable story to enjoy. The highlight has to be in the localisation of all the characters with so many of the UK home nations represented by main characters who are English and Scottish, Irish and Welsh and how the game tells the story to the player showcases this so fluidly. Cut-scenes will often have the characters fully speaking their dialogue but some will be text based and the accent of the character comes to life every time with their own contextual subtitle text. For example Evan’s own Kingmaker Lofty is clearly Welsh with Niall the forest ruler being Scottish. Their text has enough localisation that just reading their words puts the accent in my mind effortlessly and impact fully. The attention to detail in every aspect of this game is staggering at times, and brings me back to just how polished the final version that released was making the two release delays it had completely justified and welcomed.
I struggled to find anything to really criticize with this game as I said above, I am yet to discover or encounter anything that stops the game being fun. If I was to think of any particular niggles it would only be the side quests that you can get early on but require a much higher level in order to complete or reach a location till later in the game meaning your side quest list will be constantly full of quests you are unable to do just yet. I did feel the game does have Evan required to do a lot of basic fetch and return quests which as a King kind of makes so sense and even Lofty at some points reacts to the request in a more truthful manner then Evan should. Seriously there is very little to complain about there and if like me you appreciate JRPGs at their best, this is perhaps the finest example of it in recent years.
I came to love so much about Ni No Kuni 2 that I can honestly place it alongside my benchmark title of Final Fantasy VII in terms of the very best of this genre in gaming. If you have never played a JRPG before, this would be the title I recommend to jump into with and even if just for the sheer ration of price to content and satisfaction, this is a game that has over sixty hours of game to play through without having all side quests completed and the items of DLC that will arrive post launch with the season pass.
Within minutes of starting this game I was smiling and I never stopped till the end, I had the most complete and refreshing experience with this game that I could happily play it all over again and no doubt will be my go to JRPG for years to come.