It’s exciting to see Ni No Kuni back, and to have Level-5 at the helm again is also a welcomed sight. Specializing in JRPGs, the studio didn’t really gain a major following in the west until they partnered with the acclaimed animation house, Studio Ghibli for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Telling the story of the newly-orphaned Oliver, Wrath of the White Witch was a breakout hit in the west for Level-5, and as they return, it’s fair to say there are more eyes on their new game, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, than ever before. Especially after a nice new trailer that dropped right before the E3 2017 PlayStation Press Conference.
During a theater presentation with publisher Namco Bandai at E3 2017, we were told they hoped to further marry the sensibilities of an anime movie and JRPG with Revenant Kingdom. The cast is all new in this coming of age story, but the epic scope of the world looks like it is relatively the same, if not bigger. The first game told an intimate tale of personal loss, which motivated an epic fantasy adventure, whereas Revenant Kingdom seems like a story more interested in the politics of royalty motivating a personal journey of growth.
While the narrative has shifted thematically, the gameplay also seems to take an interesting turn. Bandai Namco described Revenant Kingdom as a “global RPG”, marrying elements of both western and eastern game design. I definitely agree that there’s an emphasis on the action this time around, but I’ll discuss that further when I talk about my hands-on time with the game.
Returning to the head of the project is Akihiro Hino of Yo-Kai Watch and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. While Studio Ghibli is not directly involved in the development process this time around, character designer Yoshiyuki Momose (who worked on Graveyard of the Fireflies and Spirited Away) and composer Joe Hisaishi, who has scored numerous Studio Ghibli films and co-composed Wrath of the White Witch, are part of what Bandai Namco described at the “dream team” working on the game.
The sequel features the protagonist Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a boy who is thrust into the role of king of Ding Dong Dell (a kingdom that should be familiar to those who played Wrath of the White Witch), but is uncertain of his place in the world. This leads to him being overthrown and forced to flee with the aid of Arenella, the human woman who raised Evan and is his protector. Joining the party is Roland, who is the president of a country from a completely different world. Also along for the ride is Tani, who is the adopted daughter of the king of the Sky Pirates.
Strangely, there was no mention of the Familiars, who made up the majority of RPG gameplay in Wrath of the White Witch. Instead, Revenant Kingdom introduces Higgledies. These little creatures assist Evan and his party in battle by providing special power-ups. Conceptually and aesthetically, the new direction gives of less of the Pokemon vibe that first game had and more of a Pikmin one.
Yet, Bandai Namco still had another character to show us. While traversing the world, Evan meets Batu – the king of the Sky Pirates. Unlike his adopted daughter, Batu needs convincing before aiding Evan. Batu’s challenge leads the little king to a trial of courage, where he will have to compete in an arena battle to prove himself as a king.
The final character shown to us was Lofty. Again, fans of the first game likely draw a connection between Lofty and the companion character from the first game, Drippy. The two share the same Scottish accent, and the same sense of humor – though I didn’t see Lofty help out in battle like Drippy did. Lofty is trying to help Evan expand his power to take back his throne. To do this they go to Gold Ponds and try to win over the leader Pugnacious (a humanoid pug dog). Here they face off against Long Fang, a giant dragon.
This is where I finally got to go hands-on. The giant dragon, Long Fang, sat in a pool of lava alternating between phases of attack. Sometimes the dragon would pound the ground with its massive claws, other times it would retreat back and lob giant boulders at me, and other times it would spew fire.
Scattered around the battlefield were the little Higgledies in three different colors – blue, green, and red. The blue and green Higgledies seemed to power Evan up, but the red were the most important. When Long Fang would breathe fire and deal significant damage, I could use the red Higgledies to create a barrier that deflected the damage.
The east-meets-west RPG gameplay became more apparent in the hands-on portion of the demo. This is more an action-RPG than the previous Ni No Kuni game. Whereas Oliver’s focus was on magic, King Even fights with a sword, using special attacks which are engaged by holding the trigger and pressing the corresponding button. This can unleash powerful attacks, healing spells, or long range shots.
While playing a single character, you’ll have to rely heavily on the AI controlling your other two characters. Luckily, from what I played, the AI was fine. My party healed me when I was close to death, and occasionally contributed to the fighting. Mostly they just seemed to stay out of the way.
The action-based combat is more engaging than that in Wrath of the White Witch. The previous game’s battles usually led to Oliver running in circles to avoid enemies, taking pot shots to slowly whittle away health. In Revenant Kingdom the battles still take some time, but most of it is spent fighting it out.
I really dug my time with Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. In many ways it feels different than Wrath of the White Witch, but the common DNA shared between the games is certainly prevalent as well. The music is still sweeping, the visuals are impressive, and the whimsical fantasy world seems well intact.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is set to release worldwide in November 2017 for PlayStation 4 and PC.