Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Prince’s Edition Review
Though it is a shorter series, I have a strangely long history with Ni no Kuni. I reported on it for a year and more in the Japandemonium column, did an impression of the demo version from Tokyo Game Show 2010, reviewed the DS version (the one with the actual book), and participated in the first Backtrack podcast. I even did a movie review at one point. Until recently, however, my only interaction with the sequel was to recommend it to an adult student of mine who had really enjoyed the first and was about to move to the US. But now I am happy to say that I can add Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom to the list of accomplishments, specifically the Prince’s Edition for the Nintendo Switch.
The principal themes of this series have always been ones of crossed worlds and intertwined destinies, and Ni no Kuni II uses them for maximum impact in its introduction. There, the player is introduced to Roland, the president of an unnamed republic arriving for a peace summit in a metropolis that is theoretically not New York City, just in time for the nuke to hit. Amid the literal and metaphorical fallout of the disaster, Roland finds himself mysteriously assumed into the Another World of Ni no Kuni, and more specifically into the personal chambers of the game’s other protagonist, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the young king of Ding Dong Dell. The previous king has only recently passed away, and Evan’s supposed to have his inaugural ceremony that very evening, forging a bond with a powerful spirit known as a Kingmaker. What’s actually happening that evening is a coup d’état as the kingdom’s prime minister, Lord Mausinger, takes control and begins incarcerating the feline half of the local population. Pulled into a conflict he doesn’t fully understand, Roland helps sneak Evan out of the castle, across half a continent, and to the shrine of a Kingmaker in need of a kingdom. If the young royal cannot know peace in his own land, perhaps he can build a new one.
Ni no Kuni II is a game with two protagonists, two foci, and two major approaches to gameplay. On the one hand, it’s an action RPG not unlike some of the 3D-oriented Tales games, full of hacking and slashing and flashy moves. This makes up the larger part of the game as Roland and Evan travel the world to further the young king’s dream of a realm full of Happily Ever After. It’s a charming tale, filled with adventure and wonder, though it is not without its issues. Unlike its predecessor, the connections between Ichi no Kuni (Earth) and Ni no Kuni aren’t really explored until the very end, which is one area that could have seen more detail. The dual worlds aspect of the series allows for some interesting story beats which could have brought more depth to the game and its narrative.
The other half of the game follows the progress of the newly founded Kingdom of Evermore. As the main story goes on, more citizens can be recruited to man the various institutions of the kingdom. There are plenty of specialists to locate, many of them with small moments of individual story, and research is often dependent on who is currently available. Research takes place in real time as the player proceeds with the bulk of the game, with citizens gaining experience as they labor. However, the internal clock for this version of the game does not seem to notice when the Switch is put into sleep mode, which makes much of the wait time trivial. Citizens have only three grades to level through, and most will simply become ready for upgrade in no apparent time at all because of this. The game can be completed in about forty to sixty hours, with a great deal of side quest content even before one factors in all the DLC material.
Combat in the main game occurs in place within dungeons and adventuring zones, or on generic battle maps when encountering enemies on the world map. The player-controlled character has fast or strong attack options, as well as four mapped special abilities activated through button combinations. The player can swap between party member control at will, and there are several subsystems in place involving weapon charges, elemental effects, and — in the later expansion content — combat styles which provide new options and supplemental bonus actions to empower attacks. Special attacks use magic points, but these are replenished easily in battle through frequent monster-bashing. Overall, the combat feels fast and fluid, with the big enemies changing up tactics or presenting opportunities to pierce their defenses, so the player has to pay attention to how they run around the field of battle. Among the major fights, the Kingmaker battles also present special conditions and gimmicks that must be accounted for, making for appropriately memorable experiences.
Added into this are the Higgledies, described in the game as miniature forces of nature that decided to get up and go for a walk one day. These elemental nature spirits can be gained via story progression, summoned through a certain shop in Evermore, or bribed out of their hiding places in special stones scattered throughout the world. Each Higgledy comes with its own appearance and personality described in its profile, often with a cute anecdote. Up to four Higgledies can accompany the party into battle, giving what help they can on their own or at the behest of the player. For the most part they will heal or attack as they wont, but the player is able to activate special Higgledy powers from time to time, which adds one more layer of activity to the fast-paced battles.
On the other side of the game, there are the military encounters. These are large-scale battles played out upon the main world map as Evan leads four squads of Evermorean citizens against invaders, bandits, rogue monsters, or the training forces of allied nations. Various citizens come with their own forces of swordsmen, pikers, archers, gunners, defenders, or mages, and the military loadout is often more important than the actual levels due to how strengths and defenses work. Only a few military encounters are integral to the plot, but more than a few side quests involve them, so they form a good change of pace when the player so desires.
The world of Ni no Kuni II is broad and colorful, as befits a series based around character designs from Studio Ghibli. Besides the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell, which is a holdover from the first game, there are three other realms to tour: the oriental-themed gambler’s haven of Goldpaw, the classical Aegean monarchy of Hydropolis, and the retro-futuristic technocracy of Broadleaf. Every location of narrative importance has its own distinct motif, and there is a variety of generic zone designs for side dungeons and certain semi-randomized elements like the Dream Door levels or the Labyrinth. The citizens and subjects of these kingdoms come in a wide variety of models, with potential citizens of Evermore having the most detail. On the other hand, monster variety could have been better overall, with more categories of beasts included. Within the categories to exist in Ni no Kuni II, however, there are multiple types to encounter. In particular, the Whamsters and Grimchillas present enough subtypes, even in a single battle, to qualify as a unique culture in this world.
Added to the visual variety is the localization, which dives headlong into dialects of English normally reserved for BBC fish-out-of-water comedy scenes. Invading barbarians all speak like Australian rugby hooligans. The elfin forest folk are decidedly Scottish. I am not even sure what is going on with Evan’s Kingmaker, the cantankerous Lofty, and his unique approach to murdering English syntax and orthography. It’s entertaining to read, but after playing through the main game in its entirety I somewhat regret recommending it to my former student. This isn’t the sort of localization that you simply unleash upon someone in ESL.
The side quest content also benefits from the solid localization, providing a surprisingly robust number of minor stories and reasons to go questing. While many of these are essentially fetch-questing, the people making the requests present them in interesting ways that serve to give the player a reason to care about otherwise menial tasks, as well as a purpose to explore the far corners of the map. Some of them require a surprising amount of thought to figure out, as they may not state outright which item is needed to fulfill the request, but rather give hints in the context of the quest description. As an example, one minor character has a series of requests for flowers of various colors, but for the last one she simply says “an imperial color, as befitting a lady.” Notably, her dress is purple, the classic imperial hue. Other quest-givers may ask the player to bring a specific Higgledy, and the only way to figure out which one is to read the individual descriptions of the little guys to see who fits the description best. While it is possible to brute-force the answer by giving every possible item and seeing how they react, it’s fulfilling to figure it out on your own as well.
Musically, Ni no Kuni II was everything that I would have expected after playing two versions of the first game and then watching the movie, in that every entry in this series shares the same soundtrack at least in part. This is nothing to be ashamed of, since Joe Hisaishi is one of the finest composers in Japanese cinema, and the Ni no Kuni soundtrack stands out as a beautiful orchestral arrangement of RPG music. I expect that any future installments of the series will sound much the same. The voice acting is top-knotch as well, even with the idiosyncratic approach to accents exhibited by some characters. The principal scenes are properly dramatic, and they only add to the impression of a Ghibli-inspired RPG.
I delayed finishing this review for a while for one reason, and that was the DLC. The Prince’s Edition includes all DLC from older versions of the game in one package, with different items becoming available at different points in the story, and as we already have a review of the base game, I wanted to delve deeper into this new content before giving my opinion. All in all, the inclusion of the DLC content should not be a make-or-break point, but it is worth noting that this edition of the game includes upwards of twenty dollars worth of bonus material for effectively free with the purchase of the main game. So here is what is included in this version:
“The Lair of the Lost Lord” activates surprisingly early in the game, practically as soon as the first version of the city of Evermore is built. It gives access to a randomized labyrinth in the ruins of a demolished kingdom, and while it’s not possible to get in too deep until the post-game due to monster strength, the first ten floors or so provide an excellent spot to build up experience and gain some decent weapons before Evan and Roland set out for the high seas. This DLC also contains a bonus quest for two of the main party members, defining their relationship and their past more clearly, but it only comes in the post-game, long after it should. “The Tale of the Timeless Tome” re-introduces the rabbit-headed Dream Conductor of the previous game. It also benefits from activating fairly early on, as it is accessible in small segments throughout the main game before opening up in the post-game to a larger set of quests that delve into the backgrounds of core characters. Finally, the “Adventure Pack” brings a new scenario called “The Winnower Awakes,” and its content is largely gated behind the main plot’s progression, only coming into play later in the game with the latter half being strictly post-game content. It has some of the most challenging battles available in the post-game.
The Prince’s Edition is probably the best way to enjoy this content, as its staggered inclusion throughout the game gives it more utility to the player as a means of raising levels, materiel, and equipment, rather than leaving one with a feeling of “more of the same” well after the player has exhausted what the main game has to offer. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is nothing like its predecessor in general playstyle, but it shares the same sense of whimsy and wonder, the same motifs of sadness and redemption, and is a well-built game overall.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Beautiful visual aesthetic
Fast-paced active combat
Charming base narrative
Secondary and semi-random locations get repetitive
Lack of depth in bestiary
Could have used more cross-dimensional interconnections