Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a classic JRPG transported into the contemporary era. Infused with ideas from the Suikoden series, the Dark Cloud games, and with a firm understanding about what makes action gameplay engaging and exciting, Ni no Kuni 2 continually surprised me with how effortlessly it kept me from getting too bogged down in details and minutiae.
Case in point is the opening of the game: We follow the president of a pseudo-U.S. in his motorcade. As he approaches a city, a missile comes soaring overhead. It destroys the city in what appears to be a nuclear attack, and the President, thrown from his vehicle, looks up toward the destruction before shimmering out of existence and appearing in the fantasy world in which Ni no Kuni 2 takes place. I repeat, this is what happens at the opening of this game.
Similar to 2013’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which centers on travel between worlds, what follows is a more a traditional, but rich fantasy story. While the grand narrative structure will be familiar to those who enjoy JRPGs, I found some real pleasure in the specifics of Ni no Kuni 2’s plot. When Roland (the President) disappears from his world, he appears in the royal bedroom of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, a teen prince who is set to be inaugurated the next morning as king of the realm of Ding Dong Dell. Evan’s father, the previous king, died recently under mysterious circumstances, and now there are villains in the castle who are trying to destroy the Tildrum line once and for all. Roland rescues Evan, gets him out of the kingdom, and then enters into a big world full of sky pirates, magical water kingdoms and robot-filled treehouses.
One of the stand-out features of Ni no Kuni 2 is the combat. Gone is the pseudo-Pokémon gameplay of the first Ni no Kuni. In its place is a real-time action combat system that places three party members in a small battle arena in which they can perform the classic maneuvers of fast attacks, strong attacks, magical abilities, block and dodge roll. All of these are implemented without complication and for maximal ease of use. Ni no Kuni 2’s combat is surprisingly tight, and becoming familiar with artful dodge rolls and optimal skill usage allows you to take on many more enemies (or higher level enemies) than you would be able to in a more traditional or a turn-based JRPG.
A zing gauge manages how often you use your three equipped melee weapons (each character also has a single ranged weapon). When you score enough hits with a sword, its zing gauge fills up to 100 percent, allowing you to deal more basic attack damage with it. You can also expend that full charge to power up your already strong special abilities. If you want to get even more fiddly with your combat experience, you can delve into the game’s tactic tweaker, which is a way of augmenting how much damage you do to certain enemy types, how much of each kind of loot you gain, what kind of elemental damage you can do, and other sundry effects in combat. You can go deep in this combat system, but you’re also not punished for quietly ignoring it.
If you miss the combat of the original Ni no Kuni, you might appreciate Higgeldies. Understood to be phenomena more than individuals, Higgeldies are strange little elementals who help Evan out on his journey. You can equip up to four at a time, and in combat they appear to passively attack enemies and provide buffs for your party. Every now and again they will spread out into a visible area so that they can be activated, and upon activation they will either do a powerful attack (like shooting a fire cannon at your foes) or provide you with some kind of boon (like a healing field).
While a lot of your time is spent in combat, that’s obviously not all you are up to in the game. Evan and Roland embark upon a journey of self-discovery and hard political choices, and after some early game soul-searching and general sadness about being deposed, Evan decides that he wants to found a kingdom in which “everyone can be happy.” This being a fantasy game, that generally seems attainable, so Evan travels around the world on a mission to convince all of the different leaders of the world to sign a Declaration of Interdependence that will ensure safety and prosperity for all.
The center of this prosperity is Evan’s own Kingdom of Evermore, a little citadel nestled in the middle of a wide plain. While the depth of combat and the well-written and clever fantasy story kept me hooked into the game, the management and defense of Evermore is really what got me to lock in for hours at a time. Taking notes from both the Dark Cloud and Suikoden series, Ni no Kuni 2 has the player directly managing the population, construction, management and research agenda of Evermore. Like the combat system, you can get deep and fiddly with it. Unlike the combat system, which I enjoyed but didn’t invest too much time into, I fell right into the kingdom management trap.
You build Evermore and staff it with citizens that you gather from around the world. Sadly, unlike Dark Cloud, you don’t get to determine where to put the buildings, but you choose the order in which to build them and who to place inside of them. The researchable upgrades in those buildings have effects all across Ni no Kuni 2. Some of them affect item drop rates, character speed, experience gained in battle and a dozen other scattered things. Others allow for better weapons and armor to be crafted. Still others simply gather items like bones, crystals and dairy products to put into your inventory.
You need those banal items to get citizens. While items are useful for other side quests and for upgrading your Higgeldies, their real purpose is to be used as enticing objects to bring people to your kingdom. After you get Evermore up and running, there is a near-constant stream of available micro-quests centered on convincing people to live there. A fair number of those quests are based on giving a person a simple item like coral or iron ore. Those items can be manually gathered in the world by the player or they can be passively gathered in sufficiently upgraded buildings in Evermore. You can see the loop forming. Managing Evermore has taken up a significant amount of my 30 or so hours of playtime in the game, despite making enough progress in the game’s story that it feels like the ending is coming right along.
There’s one more piece of the Evermore management puzzle: military power. Evermore defends itself via a neat military battle system that places Evan and four contingents of troops on a battlefield. The troops rotate like a wheel around Evan, and you manipulate them in order to win rock-paper-scissors battles with your enemies in realtime on the world map. It’s simple, clean and sells the story that Evan is learning all of the different skills that a pseudo-medieval king might need to know.
The game’s story is pure comfort food, full of JRPG stock characters and plots. In his travels around the world to get everyone to sign his pact of friendship, Evan learns that there is a nefarious presence going around and corrupting all of the world’s leaders. That presence is stealing the Kingsbond — a magical linkage between that person and a magical being called a Kingmaker — from those rulers. While each of the thematic kingdoms of the game have their own story acts (all of which are familiar to someone invested in either fantasy or JRPG narratives), they ultimately cohere around giant magical monsters and those who can (or cannot) manage to control them.
The level of commitment to specific ideas within those plots, however, is commendable. The story of the kingdom of Goldpaw, for example, revolves around state-based debt, taxation, and what a government will do to preserve itself. Another is focused on the tension between surveillance and freedom. Yet another features a revolt of workers who literally chant “we need workers’ rights!” in the street. I never thought that I would write this, but Ni no Kuni 2 is a surprisingly political game that is more in conversation about real-world conditions than you might expect.
Ni no Kuni 2 aims for a lot of different targets: world-spanning story, management sim, recruitment game and solid combat experience. Against all odds, it manages to hit them all in a way that very few games in its genre can manage. There’s no part of the game that feels more or less important, and there were no moments in the game where I thought I was slogging through exposition or kingdom management to pad hours in my playthrough. There’s not a wasted breath or a plot point that doesn’t manage to pay off in a significant way. Ni no Kuni 2 is a solid contemporary JRPG that brings a lot of design ideas that I love into sharp, clear focus while staying entertaining and engaging throughout.
Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom was reviewed using a final “retail” Steam download code provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.