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A necessary sequel?

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    Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    A necessary sequel?

    When the first Ni No Kuni game released back in 2013 for PlayStation 3 (a greatly enhanced port of the Nintendo DS title) much was made of it’s aesthetics and music, with cartoon like visuals inspired by and indeed contributed to by the legendary Anime studio ¡°Studio Ghibli¡± who provided the beautiful Anime cutscenes in the game while it’s maestro composer Joe Hisaishi provided an orchestral score worthy of any Miyazaki film.

    Flash forward to 2018 and the launch of sequel Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, with Studio Ghibli no longer providing the animation for the cutscenes developers Level 5 have done their best to create visuals in the style of Ghibli. And while Hisaishi once again provided the musical score, it doesn’t quite match up to the original games effort.

    Graphically much has been improved in Ni No Kuni 2 as is to be expected on current gen hardware (on the PS4 Pro the game runs at 4K dynamic and 60FPS with a 4K option mode that can cause slight frame stuttering at times) the characters are nicely designed and the major towns are a sight to behold. However, the various optional dungeons – were you will spend a lot of time doing side activities – are very bland and repetitive, from samey looking shrines to samey looking jungle scape’s.

    Sound wise there is a noticeable step down in quality from the first game, there is a large reduction in both quaility and quantity of voice acting. The vast majority of cutscenes are now unvoiced with only subtitles which you must click X to move on as you read them (with occasional phrases repeated by the characters to start their part of the conversation being voiced) this is rather a disappointment as voiced cutscenes can add greatly to the visual drama of the story. Indeed it is hard to know if this was an artistic choice or a budgetary one.

    What voice acting there is is done well enough, most characters talk with strong UK accents which adds to the ¡°fantasy realm¡± aspect of the game and has a real charm.

    Gameplay, and once again there are a handful of new systems to get to grips with as is the way with any sequel. First the combat, in the original game combat was based around strategy, around finding and collecting familiars (Think Pokemon) which could be upgraded and equipped with various pieces of equipment to supplement the main characters adherence to using spells. In Ni No Kuni 2 much of this strategy has been removed and instead we have a much more action based traditional JRPG system, as such the party members now have specific melee and ranged weapons and deal in combat directly. During battle you can be assisted by adorable little creatures called Higgledies, these are elemental based ¡°sprites or fairy’s¡± that you can either create yourself, or find at hidden Higglediy stones around the world map. Higgledies will heal party members, throw out green and blue orbs that replenish HP and MP, and shield party members with protective spells. This is all automatic depending on which Higgledy you have in your party. You can also run to gathered groups of little Higgs and press X which will make use of it’s particular special skill (elemental based cannons, element resisting shields, team healing etc) or you can use them to charge your abilities/spells to do even more damage.

    In addition you can equip three weapons (of the right class) to each character as well as specific ranged weapons, during combat these can be swapped to take advantage of the ¡°Zing System¡± which is displayed as a percentage beside each weapon and is filled as you do melee damage, at 100% you can switch manually or automatically (set by a menu) to the 100% charged weapon and when you use a skill it will do more damage or even turn into a different skill. Ranged weapons can also be charged up twice before being fired, although this can leave you vulnerable in boss battles.

    The other major gameplay change is called Kingdom Building, this opens up in the early chapters and is the main focus of the entire game from story, to sidequests. Kingdom building is exactly as it sounds, you build your very own Kingdom over the course of the game. Once opened up this consists of Sim City like elements in which you have a castle and a few citizens, over the course of the game you can expand you’re kingdom by building new facilities with a secondary currency called ¡°Kingsguilders¡± this is acquired from either your subjects gathering it over time in your coffers or by completing various sidequests with KG rewards. You can then use this currency to build facilities on plots of land around your kingdom (these include standard buildings like a weapon smiths and armourer to more fanciful places like a spellworks and a Higgeldry which is were you create your own Higgs) many facilities are used to either increase your influence-which generates more KG per hour- or assist you by directly effecting gameplay, like increasing EXP gain or helping with Dreamers Gates.

    Unfortunately every sidequest in the game is tied to Kingdom building as this is how you gain new subjects, to this end every sidequest boils down to ¡°kill this¡± or ¡°fetch that¡± which becomes monotonous after so many hours. Not one sidequest has you explore a ruin or solve some ancient puzzle, just more mindless fetch quests. Indeed several areas of the world map are almost unused as they are nothing more than areas for more item collecting and monster fighting (outside the five main kingdoms there are no other smaller towns or settlements to visit) though Level 5 at least had the decency to add a service called Swift Solutions which is a one stop shop for completing quests and gaining new subjects quickly. And gain subjects you must, as you require certain numbers to advance your kingdom to its next stage.

    Beyond acquiring subjects the other side content is hunting ¡°Tainted Monsters¡± which are larger more powerful but optional mini boss battles which at least give a welcome EXP and gear reward. The other content are dungeons called ¡°Dreamers Gates¡± a series of ten (one being unlocked only after beating the other nine) floor based dungeons in which the difficulty ramps up every time a percentage meter hits 100% -up to level 5- in these dungeons you must search for a door to the next floor as well as look for treasure chests and items along the way. You gain orbs from beating enemies which can be offered up to statues which lowers the difficulty by one.

    One additional new mechanic is ¡°Skirmishes¡± which are battles carried out on the world map (chibi versions of your soldiers and all) and consist of leading up to four units into battle against enemy units, commanders and a leader. Beyond some story based ones and a few that offer a KG reward, these skirmish battles are a somewhat unnecessary addition to proceedings as they are easily beaten (unless your units are woefully under level) and offer little in the way of reward.

    The games story is fairly lightweight stuff, a tale of betrayal, coming of age and self improvement, but there is not a lot in the way of character development and the story beats repeat with each kingdom you visit.

    All in all I largely enjoyed my time with Ni No Kuni 2 (my play through was just over 40 hours so not the longest JRPG ever) I enjoyed the art style, the new combat system and I found the kingdom building addictive at times. Though I was disappointed by the lack of decent sidequests, a lack luster musical score, a mediocre story and little in the way of end game content.

    Overall 3.5/5 Good but not great

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