Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review (PS4)
Level-5's heartwarming tale of the little king that could is a right royal success
Spirited AwayStudio Ghibli's involvement in the original Ni No Kuni game on PS3 was something of a mixed blessing. While the animated sequences the legendary animation studio produced were certainly beautiful, they served to highlight how the hardware couldn't quite push anime-style visuals of the same high standard. But now, with more powerful tech to work with, traditional hand-animated scenes aren't even necessary any more – the whole game can look like a big-budget animated feature in-engine, and the results are simply beautiful. Don't assume that the lack of the Ghibli brand means the studio's talent isn't involved the second time around, either. Artists and composers from the studio were very much involved in the creative process, helping the world of Revenant Kingdom look and feel like it's related to Ghibli classics such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. That's a damn good look in our books.
Every aspect has been fleshed out to make for a more exciting and engrossing experience all roundLevel-5 is perhaps one of the most reliable names in modern RPG development, and Ni No Kuni II certainly isn't the game to buck that trend. While it shares the same feel as its predecessor, every aspect has been fleshed out to make for a more exciting and engrossing experience all round. The team draws influence from its own previous works (town development, for instance, feels like a simplified version of the same system in the Dark Cloud games) and from wider afield in the JRPG scene – recruiting new allies works much like in the classic Suikoden games, action combat reminds of the Tales Of series, while unique boss battle mechanics feel a little like similar encounters in Kingdom Hearts II. Despite such familiar touchstones, though, Level-5 skilfully blends these elements and many more besides into something that feels fresh and original in its own right, and a game that's a true joy to play.
Little King's StoryThe setup is a little different from your usual rags-to-riches RPG affairThe setup is a little different from your usual rags-to-riches RPG affair, with party members all coming from positions of power in their respective kingdoms. They rally around recently deposed young half-cat king Evan to try and unite the land under the banner of peace, forming the new nation of Evermore and travelling the world in search of new allies. As well as forming allegiances with other whole nations, this headhunting mission also works on a more granular level, helping out individuals whose talents would benefit a fledgling nation in the hope of getting them to up sticks and help build Evermore into a bigger, better kingdom.
With the help of these recruited vassals, you slowly build up the nation's facilities via a fairly basic town-building system, as well as building a small army with which to defend Evermore from bandits and monsters – there's a lot to juggle, but this means you can take time out from one activity to make a little more progress in another as you see fit. The story itself is relatively linear, so this freedom offers welcome variety as and when you want it, pushing the story forward at your own pace. It's hardly the trickiest of games and if you stay on the rails and just plough through main content, it's probably around 25-30 hours. But with the vast amount of optional content, it's closer to 100 hours if you want to do everything. And you probably will, as the majority of the extra stuff is both useful and enjoyable.
On top of the 200-odd side quests and unlimited generated delivery missions to keep you busy, powerful 'tainted' monsters lurk the land, offering rich rewards to the would-be monster hunters who can bring the tough foes down. They're far more challenging than their regular monster counterparts and these battles are where your gear and skills are truly put to the test. If you're up for something a little different, army battles take the form of basic real-time strategy maps, with up to four units gathered around Evan and a simple rock/paper/scissors mechanic determining which units are effective against others – it's simply a case of rotating your troops around the king to get the most beneficial units where they work best while avoiding unnecessary casualties from poor match-ups. It's very simple but works well enough to provide another new kind of content to enjoy, with a whole separate progression system for army troops should you wish to make it your goal to make Evermore a military superpower.
Then there are the Dreamer's Mazes, randomly generated dungeons where each floor (there can be up to 30 to get through in one go) may have a modifier that affects how it functions, perhaps turning all attacks into critical hits, increasing rewards, or giving enemies various immunities that force you to alter your approach. The building blocks used here are few and you'll quickly see a lot of similar-looking floors, but those variables – as well as a Danger Level that creeps up over time and makes enemies more powerful the longer you stay in the maze – make them neat little diversions for the odd run here and there to break things up. You can have your kingdom's chef master new recipes to give you buffs in battle, you can cook up new Higgledy allies to assist you in combat, you can focus on smithing and deck your party out in custom gear created and upgraded right at home... there's tons of stuff to do here, so we'd strongly recommend against just smashing through the story, else you'll miss out on loads of cool characters, locations, features and more.
Tall TalesWhile it feels a little simple at first, the action-based combat soon develops into a neat little system. Each character has three melee weapons which can be cycled between freely during battle, and each has a Zing gauge that gradually grows as any attacks are used. Unleashing special attacks with a full meter increases their effectiveness, so the key is to try to keep all three topped up as best you can, switching weapons frequently to dish out maximum damage. Interestingly, gear works via a tiered loot system a la Diablo or Borderlands, so lucky drops or skilled crafts can see you punching well above your weight, plus it's always satisfying to see something shiny drop from a defeated foe. You're also able to have up to four Higgledy units join you in combat, adorable and handy little elemental sprites who act on their own based on their personalities and those of the rest of their squad. Each brings its own set of buffs and abilities, including one special power that must be triggered by running up to the Higgledy group and hitting X when they call out to you. This promotes good battlefield awareness and means you lose out on a lot of damage if you just run up to monsters and mash buttons, plus these little dudes are pretty much your only source of healing, so it's a good idea to have at least one lot on health-boosting duty for all bar the easiest fights.
The sense of variety between locales is wonderful, with each region evoking its own feel and flavourThe world itself is fairly small, with just five major cities (including your own) and a smattering of smaller settlements. However, the sense of variety between locales is wonderful, with each region evoking its own feel and flavour, from the gorgeous oriental casino town of Goldpaw to the high-tech metropolis of Broadleaf. The land is pretty densely packed with dungeons, grottos, forests and shrines to explore as well, many of which are entirely optional but they usually have something worthwhile hidden away within. Some may be just out of reach when you first spot them, but new mobility options and abilities unlocked as you progress mean going back to older areas in search of new adventures, gear or allies is always a pleasure – you can only be so thorough on your first pass through an area, so there'll always be some reason to return to almost every location in the game, even after you're done with the main story.
It's something that can entertain and impress without the consumer needing a footing in or fondness for anime at all
- Looks absolutely incredible
- Great gameplay variety
- Combat is vastly improved
- A little on the short and easy side
- Music is largely forgettable, sadly
- World is pretty small
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review (PS4)Every aspect of Ni No Kuni II is rock solid and it's comfortably one of the best JRPGs to grace current generation hardware so far. It may not quite have the spark or the edge to sit among the all-time greats of the genre, but it'll probably be content to be sat at the next table over looking hot as all hell and knowing that it made a lot of anime-loving RPG fans very happy indeed. In fact, like Ghibli's best works, it's something that can entertain and impress without the consumer needing a footing in or fondness for anime at all – it's a beautiful, wholesome, and thoroughly enjoyable adventure in and of itself, and there's certainly nothing quite like it out there right now.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £44.99
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