Fantastic combat and the promise of building our own kingdoms have us stoked for Level-5’s upcoming sequel.
The original Ni No Kuni remains one of the absolute best traditional JRPGs that the PlayStation 3 has to offer, so it’s no surprise that we were super stoked to hear that the sequel, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, is just around the corner. While the incredibly-talented Studio Ghibli is no longer involved this time around, developer Level-5 has continually given us confidence that this follow-up is in good hands.
We got a chance to play about four hours of Revenant Kingdom, which included all manners of its new, incredibly expansive gameplay. Here are three major reasons why we’re excited for its March release.
A Killer Battle System
While our initial reaction to the sequel getting rid of the Pokemon-esque Familiars made us worried that the battle system would lose much of its charm, I’m happy to say that it’s quite the opposite. Revenant Kingdom’s combat is a frantic and consistantly-entertaining mix of the Tales series, Kingdom Hearts, and Pikmin — yes, Pikmin. We’ll get to that later.
You constantly have to pay attention to what’s happening in battle, which I really loved.
Battles occur fully in real time, making combat lean heavily into the action-RPG mold. While you transition into the battle screen when you encounter an enemy on the open-world map, combat occurs seamlessly while you’re in a dungeon or smaller area. You have full control over any of your three current party members as you run and jump your way around the battlefield and use any combination of melee, range, and magic attacks. Simultaneously, your other two party members have pretty solid A.I. and a sense of self-preservation, meaning that they’ll actually hold their own in combat and not have to be babysat the entire time. Juggling between weapons, managing when to use magic and your special attacks, and actively blocking and dodging enemies means you constantly have to pay attention to what’s happening in battle, which I really loved.
The final piece of the combat puzzle are the Higgledies, which sort of act as Revenant Kingdom’s replacement for Familiars. These cute little elemental sprites adorn the battlefield in small little groups (seriously, they look like gaggles of Pikmin mixed with Koroks from Breath of the Wild) , and add a really interesting layer of strategy into the mix. When you approach a group of them, you can activate them in order to use their abilities, which range from creating a ring of healing, to transforming into a cannon and blasting flying enemies out of the sky, to forming a giant dome that protects you from fire attacks. I constantly found myself keeping an eye on where my Higgledies were at in any given moment, and swooping in and out of combat in order to use their awesome abilities.
Charming as All Heck
While Studio Ghibli’s lack of involvement in the sequel is definitely a bummer, Revenant Kingdom is still a gorgeous game that kept surprising me with new characters and settings. In my four hours of hands-on time, I encountered a roving gang of sky pirates, snuck into a den of Wyverns, got lost in an ancient luminescent forest, and found a Japanese-inspired village obsessed with gambling, luck, and fortune.
I got the same sense of surprising variety from the characters as well. Noble knights, wise Yoda-like forest dwellers, gambling-obsessed town leaders, and vaguely-Australian bandits all kept me on my toes, and delivered some well-acted performances. That said, even after four hours with the game, I still don’t really have a sense for what the overall plot and driving narrative of Revenant Kingdom is, and whether or not the “real world” aspect of the original is still somewhere to be found here.
The final things that stood out to me in my time with this sequel were the handful of new major systems at play here, most importantly the whole “Kingdom” aspect of the game’s title. This time around, it’s up to you to rebuild an empire, one building and citizen at a time. When you sit on the throne, you enter a mix of Actraiser, Skies of Arcadia, and SimCity-lite. Do you put your resources and manpower towards building and upgrading an armory, which will allow you to buy stronger weapons and armor? Or do you want to expand your farms, which will give you more resources for crafting and maintaining your kingdom?
I only got to scratch the surface of the town-building mechanic, but it left me super stoked to try out more.
Aside from choosing which buildings you want to put where, you also assign characters to them, with each NPC and party member you recruit having specific roles they’re good at, and specific ones they’re just straight-up terrible at. You’ll also flesh out your kingdom via side-quests that let you recruit new citizens to come and live in your new Utopia. While I love this idea in theory, I was a bit bummed out that the few of these missions I encountered fell in the realm of “go from A to B, talk to character and get item, bring it back to A.” Still, I only got to scratch the surface of the town-building mechanic, but it left me super stoked to try out more.
Aside from the traditional JRPG exploration, wonderful combat, and much-appreciated kingdom-building aspect, I also stumbled upon a larger-scale RTS-like battle that lacked any tutorial and completely slapped me upside the head. Granted I was playing a chunk of the game that was a ways into the campaign, so I presume the game teaches you how these missions work at some point. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that I led my army into battle against a couple mobs of goblins, and each and every single one of my poor soldiers died terrible, terrible deaths.
I’m happy to say that my four hours with Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom went by in an absolute flash. The combat immediately hooked me, and the promise of building a kingdom that’s specific to me is super exciting. And while there a handful of issues I’m still a bit less sold on, I’m stoked that March is bringing us a massive and charming JRPG.
Marty Sliva is a Executive Editor at IGN. A girl he was dating once stepped on his PlayStation 4, and now he no longer owns PT. But don’t worry, they broke up. Follow him on Twitter @McBiggitty.