At this point the PlayStation 4 is home to many quality role-playing games. From the serious tones of The Witcher 3 and the violence of Bloodborne to the eye-popping style of Persona 5 and the majesty of Horizon: Zero Dawn, there's something for just about everyone. However, very few titles can measure up to the sheer charm that's on display in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, a game that revels in bright colours, cartoon characters, and storybook fantasy.
This sequel has a lot in common with traditional Japanese RPGs, especially in terms of initial structure. You join young would-be king Evan on his journey just as his throne is stolen away from him. For the first ten hours or so, the game takes you from one fantastical location to the next as Evan and his growing band of followers decide on a plan of action. There's a lot of exploration, a good deal of combat, a few cool boss battles, and some nice storytelling.
Again, it's all very JRPG. But then, once you pass a certain point, the title's true depth reveals itself as Evan is given the opportunity to create and nurture his own kingdom. Suddenly the game changes form and demands a lot more from you if you're to progress. It introduces a whole kingdom management system where you recruit citizens to your cause and funnel funds into weapon, armour, and magical spell development. All of this sits patiently in the background as Evan continues his adventure, but it's not something that you can ignore.
There's an argument to be made that once all of these secondary systems kick into gear, Ni no Kuni II loses its momentum. The plot slows down dramatically as you chase side quests rather than quests that progress the overall story, and it can be jarring when you've just spent a good amount of time enjoying a nicely paced narrative. It doesn't help that many of the side quests boil down to simple tasks like defeating a certain number of enemies or delivering specific items.
Fortunately, the game does keep things relatively simple. Managing your kingdom is easy once you've enlisted a few key citizens, and the process actually becomes quite addictive as you get to spend more and more time with it. It's just a shame that it brings some of the title's more tedious elements -- like fetch quests -- to the forefront of the experience.
And that's really Ni no Kuni II's biggest sin: padding. There are times when you're forced to revisit old locations and carry out rather mundane tasks, and doing so can take the edge off interesting story beats or the excitement of a recent boss brawl. Make no mistake, this is still a lengthy game, lasting a good 35 hours or so if you stick to the main path -- considerably more if you want to see and do everything -- but a portion of that will undoubtedly feel like filler.
Pacing gripes aside, Ni no Kuni II is still a fantastically fun RPG, and one that can quickly nibble away at your free time. Thanks to silky smooth controls and gorgeous graphics, it's a pleasure to play. The whole thing runs at a beautifully fluid 60 frames per second, and the art style truly pops on a decent display. It's a joy to behold whether you're in combat, exploring an intricate city, or watching one of its many cutscenes.
Speaking of cutscenes, it's worth pointing out that the game isn't fully voiced. Most of the dialogue is presented via text box only, but it works well enough because much of the writing is quite short and snappy. The localisation's on point, too, with a wide range of British accents making an appearance. It's proper mint, like.
Moving on, the story itself does take a little while to get going and doesn't offer many surprising twists, but much like Dragon Quest, it's all told with charm and wit. It's just an enjoyable narrative to be a part of, and there are some heart-warming character moments throughout. If the grittier examples of the genre have got you down, you'll likely find Ni no Kuni II to be a very uplifting experience.
What's more, you don't need to play the first Ni no Kuni to understand what's going on here. This is a completely separate story that's carried out by an entirely new cast, and although there are some nods to the previous game, they're nothing more than minor references that aim to make returning players crack a smile.
It's not just the story that's completely different, though -- the combat's also been totally overhauled. Gone is the hybrid turn based system of the first title, replaced by all-out action. There's no waiting around as you dodge roll away from incoming blows and retaliate with a combo or an especially flashy special move. It's pretty standard action RPG stuff, but responsive controls and some seriously satisfying attacks elevate each fight.
Whacking monsters not only looks and feels great -- it's also rewarding. Surprisingly, Ni no Kuni II boasts a reasonably robust loot system, with foes sometimes dropping treasure chests containing equipment upon defeat. Get lucky and you can hoover up some powerful gear, bolstering your party's effectiveness. You'll come for the fun, but you'll stay for the loot.
Going into Ni no Kuni II, we were somewhat worried about the game's real-time strategy elements. Not too far into the adventure, Evan is granted the ability to command a small army, and the tactical tussles that ensue take place on the world map in real time. At their core, skirmishes are quite simple, opting for a rock-paper-scissors mechanic that sees you re-positioning your troops so that you have the advantage. While it's not as enjoyable as regular combat, it's still nicely executed. Victory sees your units level up, and you can recruit more warriors as you progress further in the story, and like the kingdom building, it can become an addiction.
Between being a relatively traditional Japanese RPG, a kingdom management sim, and an advocate of real-time strategy, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom could have easily stretched itself too thin, but developer Level-5 somehow manages to pull everything together and make it all seem worthwhile. This is a robust but accessible adventure that's stuffed with charm and character. A really fun combat system and gorgeous visuals top things off, making the sequel a joy to play. In a word, Ni no Kuni II is delightful.