‘Ni no Kuni 2’ Review: Another Magical Ghibli Twist On The Traditional JRPG

James Pickard
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of 5
Review Essentials
  • A magical and fantastical world to lose yourself in.
  • Compelling kingdom builder mode that expands over the course of the game.
  • Light and enjoyable combat mechanics that favour simplicity over complexity.
  • Charming story, though one that could’ve pushed for more emotional depth.
  • Repetitive and unengaging side quests can dampen the experience.
Reviewed on PS4

World peace is an admirable goal, but will it ever be truly plausible? When it can be hard enough to agree on a place to eat between friends, it comes as no surprise that the decisions made between entire nations are often fraught with their fair share of bickering — or worse. Maybe it’s naive, then, to think it can ever be achieved. But at least it’s something noble to strive for.

It’s a dream shared by Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a grimalkin boy (basically a half human, half cat) and the peppy protagonist of Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. Thrust into the role of king of (the brilliantly named) Ding Dong Dell, after the death of his father, the overwhelmed young ruler immediately finds his throne set upon by ratty usurpers and flees his home in order to survive.

Luckily, as his castle is besieged from all angles, a visitor from another world conveniently appears in his bedroom and aids in his escape. Still, the experience shakes him, and he vows to create a new kingdom of his own without war and where everyone can live in harmony.

Poor old Evan doesn't have the best luck.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s anthropomorphised animals, strangers from alternate realities and place names as ludicrous as the sound a bell would make falling down some stairs — and that’s all within the game’s opening few minutes.  In other words, it has all the makings of a brand new Studio Ghibli adventure. Unlike the originalNi no Kuni, however, the famous Japanese animation house is not directly involved this time around.

Before you get too upset though, many of the studio’s key animators (including Yoshiyuki Momos, who worked on Spirited Away) jumped ship to Ni No Kuni developer Level-5 and have been hard at work on this gorgeous RPG ever since. With these anime visionaries involved with the game’s creation right from the start, ironically,  this ambitious sequel actually arguably feels more Ghibli than its prolific predecessor.

Tales from Evermore

Areas like the casino-inspired town of Goldpaw ooze with Ghibli charm.

You only have to take a look at some of the locations you’ll visit on Evan’s quest to see that Ghibli charm oozing out of every pristinely drawn pixel. In fact, locales like the glittering casino city of Goldpaw or the serene canals of Hydropolis are arguably up there with some of the animation studio’s most memorable.

There’s impressive care given to its characters too – and not just the major players who join Evan on his quest, but the smaller ones you bump into along the way, too. While most side characters in gaming have all the charisma of a soggy flannel, each new person you encounter in anime-style adventure has been thoughtfully designed.

Boddly the elderly librarian, for example wears deep wrinkles and sports a  dour expression that feels immediately reminiscent of the aged Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle. She becomes radiant with joy, however, once you finish a bunch of errands to get her some lipstick. it’s a great little touch that really helps you feel invested in the game’s world.

It’s a shame, then, that outside of the main story, what you actually do on these side quests is often incredibly dull. Rarely are you asked to do anything more than fetch an item or kill a certain number of monsters to complete them. In some cases, you’ll find you’ve picked up the exact items you need to supply from just generally going about your adventures, making many of the requests from these endearing characters feel completely arbitrary.

Evan’s Delivery Service

Combat is a far more fast-paced affair this time around.

Still, at least the task of repeatedly bashing in monsters’ skulls’ is made all the more enjoyable thanks to a light and energetic battle system. Combat in the sequel swaps the Pokémon-esque battles of the first game for a real-time action affair. This time around, collectible creatures don’t do the heavy lifting — our heroes dive directly into the fray. Thankfully, the JRPG of random battles doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Enemies can be seen roaming the map, and bumping into them plants you in a small arena where you can move around and hammer out combos of light and heavy attacks, with ranged attacks, skills and magic weaved in between. You can freely switch between your three party members too, if you want to mix up Evan’s sword swinging and fireball flinging with some arrow pinging from peppy sky pirate, Tani.

Ni No Kuni II
These adorable little creatures have got your back in battle.

Supporting you in battle are, undeniably, the game’s most loveable little critters: Higgledies. These colourful bundles of sprites bound about the battlefield offering all sorts of passive effects and sometimes group up so you can unleash a special attack. You can bring up to four of these into combat, so it’s wise to use a mix of offensive and defensive Higgledies with traits that can compliment each other.

If that’s not enough, you can specialise your combat capabilities further on the Tactic Tweaker: a Fisher Price plaything of various knobs and sliders that lets you buff and tweak all sorts of battle parameters.

These range from minute details like boosting your resistances to certain attacks to more significant upgrades that increase the amount of experience you earn or boost the damage your attacks deal. It can be somewhat obtuse and doesn’t feel like an entirely necessary inclusion within the game, but it’s a neat little doohickey to fiddle around with if you really want to min-max your combat power and improve your odds in the game’s toughest battles.

Warring kingdoms

Kingdom management plays a big role in 'Ni No Kuni 2.'

You’ll also find yourself caught up in battles on a much larger scale too. Even though Evan pines for peace, he must regularly take part in warfare to protect or advance his kingdom. These large-scale skirmish battles play out like a cross between Total War and rock, paper, scissors as you order the game’s bouncy jumble of cutesy chibi figures to butt heads on the battlefield.

Up to four squads can surround Evan, and you can rotate them on the fly so that units clash with enemy types they’re stronger against in order to give you an advantage. Evan can also bark out commands that give your troops temporary boosts or unleash special attacks, including bombing runs, defensive buffs or a wide area stun.

A number of these army battles are mandatory, but many can also be seen dotted around the world map as you travel. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough depth or flair to make you particularly excited about finding the next one on the horizon, but they can be a fun distraction to switch up the pace nonetheless.

Ni No Kuni 2
Rather than just being a fun narrative setup, Evan's role as king actually ties into the core gameplay.

What’s so smart about Ni no Kuni 2, though, is how all of these elements feed into the compelling machine that is running and ruling the kingdom of Evermore. Practically every task in the game is working towards the kingdom builder mode, where you can construct different facilities and recruit a vast list of NPCs to run them.

Here, Ni no Kuni 2 draws heavily from Level-5’s previous work on theDark Cloud series and even makes a nod towards PS1-era classic Suikoden as there are a whole host of citizens dotted around the world for you to find and recruit. Each has their own specialties so you might find one is better at the outfitters researching new armour, while another is more comfortable gathering resources as a hunter.

Is ‘Ni No Kuni II’ Any Good?

It’s satisfying to watch Evermore grow: to see the upgrades, items, resources and money slowly trickle in as your population increases and empire expands. Though the last few years of mobile gaming has conditioned us to expect paid boosts in modes such as this, Ni no Kuni 2 thankfully avoid any such malicious practices. Everything remains squarely within the world of the game, giving you the option to speed up research with your own in-game earned cash if you feel you want to.

But when time in this world is so joyous and wholesome there doesn’t seem any need to rush into anything. The lack of Studio Ghibli’s explicit involvement with Ni no Kuni 2 has only slightly dulled its charm, missing the darker edge or deeper exploration of its characters beyond that familiar glossy sheen. Level-5 has still put together a wondrous and whimsical RPG to lose yourself in for many hours.