Ni no Kuni II finally made it to the Nintendo Switch with a special Prince’s edition. This game by Bandai Namco was originally developed by LEVEL-5 and released for PC and PS4 in 2018. It’s part of the Ni no Kuni series, consisting of no less than six games already, and a film you can check out on Netflix. Read on if you’re into JRPGs, Studio Ghibli, anime in general, kingdom management, open-world games, real-time battles… OK just keep reading, this game is bound to have something you like.
|Not for you if
|– You like other games in the series
– Kingdom management is your thing
– You like studio Ghibli’s aesthetic
– You appreciate a good JRPG
|– You’re not into JRPGs
– Too much gameplay
turns you off
Ni no Kuni II: Story
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a sequel to Wrath of the White Witch, a game from 2011 that made it to the Nintendo Switch in 2019. It’s also the latest game in the franchise if you’re not counting Cross Worlds that will have its Western release next year. The common elements across all games are limited to the gameplay elements and design. Story-wise, every game involves a “ni no kuni” in one way or another. Meaning a “second/other world”. Since the storyline is self-contained, you’ll have no problem picking up this title. Personally this is my first game in the series, but I did watch the movie on Netflix. The movie is in fact a sequel to Ni no Kuni II, not that I noticed that while watching.
From prince to regular catboy to king
Ni no Kuni II is the story of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, half-human/half-cat, heir to the throne of Ding Dong Dell. His father recently passed away, and Evan is preparing himself to become the new king. At the same time Roland Crane, president somewhere on Earth, gets warped to Ni no Kuni’s world as a younger version of himself. They meet in full crisis, as Mausinger (former advisor and ratboy) stages a coup. With some help, Evan manages to escape. He promises to establish a new kingdom, one where people can be happy and free.
Evan and Roland set off on their adventure with a clear goal in mind. The objective to build a new kingdom seems easy enough somehow, but of course, there will be many twists and turns. I will not spoil any of it, since I think you should discover how the story unfolds for yourself. Playing Ni no Kuni II is like having someone read a fairy tale/bedtime story to you. The fact that the story is built up by chapters with a narrator stepping in between major plot points feeds into that feeling.
Is this a 3D anime?
Ni no Kuni II is not only great at telling stories, but also at visualizing them. There are fully animated cut-scenes that look like they’re straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie. And that’s about right: the animated scenes from the first game in the series and from Wrath of the White Witch were actually produced by Studio Ghibli. The artwork in general is heavily influenced by their work and it shows. Although they weren’t directly involved for Revenant Kingdom, a former studio Ghibli character designer and music composer, who also worked on Wrath of the White Witch, worked their magic on Ni no Kuni II.
In smaller areas like dungeons and towns, you walk around in the same 3D anime Ghibli-styled environment. Which is my personal favorite. The battle sequences are also designed in the same way. When you’re exploring the open world, however, there’s a shift to chibi characters like we’ve seen in Bravely Default II. Although I get that this art style provides a better overview of the entire world, it’s a bit of an eyesore compared to the other art style that’s simply world-class.
Chibi style Don’t look behind you..
The captivating art style of Ni no Kuni II would be properly wasted without a golden soundtrack. Luckily, Joe Hisaishi, a Japanese composer who worked on several Studio Ghibli titles, stepped up again. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performed this soundtrack that consists of no less than 31 original music numbers. The music truly reflects the fantasy genre, while fitting right in with the action RPG-elements and thus complementing the gameplay.
The special effects and voice-acting don’t stand out in a good or bad way. As always, I switched the language to Japanese as I find it to be more immersive, but that’s entirely up to you. Some dialogues are voiced and some are not, without it being clear why one cut-scene should be voiced and another should not. When they aren’t fully voiced, there’s still some sound like the occasional “hmm”, “arigato” or “nani?” to keep up the pace of the scene.
Ni no Kuni II: Gameplay
The story, visuals, and soundtrack should already be enough to reel you in. But in case you’re still in doubt: there’s a whole lot of gameplay to cover. You’re certain to get your money’s worth.
This royal knows how to fight
One of the most important elements of any JRPG’s gameplay is the battle system. As usual, there’s a party consisting of up to 4 members, who you can switch out and fully equip to match your playstyle. Party members have both melee and ranged weapons, and can even learn certain spells. The weapons they can wield depend on the character. If a party member dies, you’ll control the next one in line. It’s worth mentioning that the AI actually seems to help you out. Although it is wise to control the member whose spells you wish to make the most use out of. The battle takes place in real-time on a semi-open battlefield. If you wish to escape, you’ll have to run out of the designated area.
Next to the regular party members, there are also Higgledies. In the previous game, these were called Familiars. You can obtain Higgledies by finding Higgledy Stones and making the desired offering. Or you can craft them in your kingdom. They each come with their own stats and special abilities, combining certain Higgledies can greatly improve your gameplay. During battle, they will automatically help you by eg. attacking or healing. When they are ready to perform a special action, you want to head over to them and press A. Not only are they cute, but they are also actually helpful, especially during longer battles such as boss fights.
The battles are, generally speaking, are easy and you will blast through them. For this reason, two harder game modes have been added. I played on normal mode for this review, and only got to put the Higgledies to good use during boss fights or dungeons.
Let’s go on an adventure
The story advances by completing the steps related to the main quest. You’ll explore new areas and meet new people, who will often give you side quests as well. An interesting technique concerns Evan’s magic abilities. Often you will learn new spells along with the main storyline that impact your environment, such as building bridges. This can then be used in locations you’ve visited before to reach new areas. I like this better than games literally blocking off paths because you’re not supposed to go there just yet.
Side quests in Ni no Kuni II consist of the universal “go fetch me this” and “go kill X monsters of this type”. What makes them worth your while is that the ultimate goal of these quests is often to recruit new people for your kingdom. Since building a new kingdom is the ultimate goal here, this should encourage you to pick up some side quests every now and then. Dungeons are of course also present, and a special type of dungeon can be entered through what’s called a “Dream Door”. Dream doors are scattered across the world, if you enter the maze-type dungeon the monsters will get increasingly harder to beat the more time you spend on each level. Be fast and get good.
Thanks to a new spell you can reach this cliff
Build a kingdom from scratch
Not too far into the main story, Evan will have found a plot of land to claim and founds his own kingdom called Evermore. This brings with it a whole bunch of new gameplay elements to Ni no Kuni II, because you’ll have to actually build and run this new kingdom. If you first start out it can be quite a lot of information, but you can always read through the tutorial again. There’s also a strict connection between the progression of the main story and running your kingdom, so don’t worry about it too much.
In Skirmish mode, you act as the military commander and lead your units into battle. You can encounter skirmishes through the story or while exploring. Unlike the regular battles, these are visualized with the chibi characters, which actually suits this game mechanic well since you need that top-down view.
Before starting a skirmish, you can bolster your forces. This means eg. boosting offense and/or defense. For this, you’ll need Kingsguilders, which is a separate currency related to your kingdom’s expenses. Once you’ve obtained more units you’ll be able to inspect them and choose which ones to use, while paying attention to the enemy’s units. Once you’re prepared you to mobilize your forces and the skirmish begins. You’ll basically move across the map and the units will follow you and attack enemies and enemy structures. You can reclaim their structures and call reinforcements or special attacks, depending on your remaining military might. The skirmishes are a fun addition and one I honestly did not expect.
Next to everything your usual JRPG has to offer, there’s still a kingdom to manage as well. You have to build facilities, recruit and assign citizens to work in them, and carry out research. This will then unlock new technologies that will help your game, especially in the long run. Think shops that offer unique items, a nursery for higgledies, a place to research new spells… You should always be conducting research at your facilities. Assign the right people with the relevant IQ to complete the research more efficiently. All of this will cost you Kingsguilders, and you’ll gain influence as a reward. You’ll in turn earn Kingsguilders more easily as your influence grows. Both are needed to upgrade your castle asap because it expands your property and allows you to build even more facilities. See how this game is going to keep you busy?
Social media and tactics
Not unlike in our own world, the people in Ni no Kuni II use a social media site called Leafbook. Yep. You’ll get notifications now and then saying people have posted which you can ignore like you always do. However, in between all the rubbish, there will be posts about NPC’s that are willing to move to your kingdom or tips that unlock side content. I’ve personally completely ignored Leafbook, but the fluff is cute if you’re into that.
Ni no Kuni II also includes something called a Tactic Tweaker. It allows you to finetune combat basically, by adjusting certain parameters. You’ll need so-called Battle Points; which you earn by, you guessed it, battling enemies. These can be spent in four categories: Monster affinities, Elements & ailments, Arts of war, and Spoil settings. Inside each category, you can then allocate points towards a certain bonus. I think this is especially helpful if you plan on completing the game on hard mode. Personally, I can’t really be bothered, but I know this is an interesting mechanic for most people.
Ni no Kuni II: Conclusion
The Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Prince edition contains the Adventure pack with new outfits, items, a random dungeon, and threats. It also comes with the Lair of the Lost Lord DLC, again with new quests, a new world, items, and dungeon. Lastly, the Tales of a Timeless Tone DLC again adds new content and a new dungeon. If you’ve already played Ni no Kuni II on a different platform but really want to own it for the Switch, the addition of this DLC might convince you to just go for it.
Both the art and play style are well suited for the Nintendo Switch, although I have to mention I noticed some FPS drops and small issues with textures. I have to add that I played this game before it was released and the Day One Patch could already have fixed these issues. The game looks stunning but could stand to render fewer elements in the background to enable a smoother experience.
All in all a well-written story, beautiful design, and animation, a grand soundtrack, and TONS of gameplay. I guarantee your money is well spent on Ni no Kuni II.
Thanks to Bandai Namco EU for making the review possible!