This is a game series that reminds us that child-like does not have to mean immature; that cartoonish and aspirational does not have to be a bad thing. I compare Ni No Kuni a lot to the Land Before Time original movie. That too was a cartoon, nominally for children, but it spoke to all kinds of real concerns, like death and loss of home. With varied gameplay and a stunning Ghibli-esque aesthetic, this was one of my favourite J-RPGs in a long time.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is nominally a sequel to the 2013 release, Ni No Kuni – Wrath of the White Witch. However, only the aesthetic remains, some themes, and the setting, nominally. However, even though you are in the same world many hundreds of years later, the design and layout of the continents are entirely different. Basically, what remains is that the game world is an alternate reality to our own. Occasionally people can travel between worlds, as Roland, one of the main party members does at the start of the game. He serves as the classic newcomer so that asking questions about the world does not seem so strange. He is also one of the best J-RPG party members I’ve seen in many years, and everything he does just gets better and better. He comes from America in our world, and when he sees an evil mouse-sorcerer for the very first time, his first instinct is to pull out his pistol and start shooting it.
Your main character is Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum (don’t laugh), the boy-king of the nation of Ding Dong Dell (still don’t laugh). In this world, you get regular humans, but also humanoid animal races. Evan is the son of a grimalkin (cat person) and a regular human, so essentially he has some cat-like features, such as ears and a tail. Soon after Roland arrives, the oppressed Rat people of Ding Dong Dell lead a coup, and Evan is forced to flee the kingdom. From there, after calming down, he decides to build a new kingdom and to unite the entire world in peace, so that war like this never happens again.
Most of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is spent travelling around to different nations, solving their problems and having them sign your treaty. There are other larger concerns that become apparent that I don’t want to spoil now, but overall the plot works well and moves at a good speed. It’s not as ambitious a story as the first game, but it works well enough. There were a few moments that had a genuine relatable emotional reaction from me, much more than I’ve had in many other current releases. The game and world is also very charming, with a great sense of humour in many situations.
Gameplay takes several different forms. Main combat reminds me of Tales Of gameplay. You have three characters in a party at one time, running around a world in real time. You encounter monsters, and fight them in real time, with different combos and levels of attacks, and you can also mix in special attacks and spells that use MP. One addition is the Higgledy system. You encounter and can recruit small nature spirits called Higgledys, and can have up to four as part of your party at one time. These spirits provide different boons to the team, such as healing and summoning monsters to aid you, or casting offensive spells. It makes your party feel bigger, and finding and raising Higgledys is a fun little mini-game.
The second gameplay form is the Kingdom Building mechanic, similar to that in Suikoden. You are growing your kingdom and must recruit people to join it, and expand it. You can create buildings, expand your territory, assign citizens to work at different facilities, and use research there to aid you in other gameplay forms. For instance, you research spells and raise your Higgledys at buildings in your kingdom. Seeing your kingdom grow from 4 people until it is a large metropolis with a 100+ people inside it is a rewarding, game long experience. My only quibble with it is that it relies on a currency that builds over time, and waiting for it to increase can be a bit irritating sometimes. At least there are no micro-transactions.
The final gameplay form is that of the skirmish. You can recruit during the game squads to join you in combat, and you can lead 4 of these at a time through small missions on the overworld. It works a lot like Pikmin – you send out your small squads towards different groups of enemies while buffing or debuffing appropriately. It uses a rock-paper-scissors form of combat between squads and can get increasingly engrossing.
What’s nice about Revenant Kingdom is that there’s a lot to do, and it’s all different enough that it doesn’t get boring easily. You can easily spend 50 hours or so on this game, which is rare these days. You can also choose to ignore the parts you don’t like and just enjoy the story in 15 hours. The difficulty can feel very easy towards the start but ramps up noticeably after a while. There is even a good amount of post-game content to enjoy that continues after the final boss.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is everything I want from a J-RPG, and it shows itself to be made with a great deal of heart and spirit.