Aside from the thoroughly charming cel-shaded aesthetic and good-natured storytelling, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom bears little resemblance to its 2011 predecessor: the cast of characters is entirely new, the battle system has been completely revamped, and there’s huge focus placed on a city building minigame. It’s one of the weirdest sequels of the year – a game that outright ignores much of what made the first game popular, and instead entertains in ways you might not expect.
Ni No Kuni II tells the story of the young king Evan, usurped by his father’s once trusted adviser, and forced to flee his homeland with a mysterious stranger from another world. Together they vow to start a new kingdom – one where rich and poor alike can live in peace and harmony – and they begin recruiting allies to bring their dream to fruition. Yes, it’s all a bit cheesy, and there’s little going on here story-wise that you couldn’t see in a dozen generic animated movies, but it gives you an excuse to travel a wonderful, magical world, battle mythical creatures, and take part in an outrageous number of side-quests.
And that’s how best to enjoy Ni No Kuni II. Once you get over the threadbare narrative and the lack of voice acting in most scenes, you’ll find a game that offers much to enjoy in different ways. Each city you visit on your journey is home to dozens of side-quests, optional battles, and potential citizens to recruit to your burgeoning kingdom, and it’s only by exploring that you’ll find them. As you gain citizens your kingdom grows, and as it grows you can build more varied shops and institutes to help both your people and your own party in battle. Help out your weapon-makers via side-quests and new recruits, and you’ll be able to outfit your allies with much deadlier weaponry.
Battling is real-time rather than turn-based, and while it is perhaps a mite button-mashy at times, it’s a more exciting system than the one seen in the original game. Battles shine brightest during one of the many boss encounters, with your party of misfits going up against all manner of legendary creatures in some fairly memorable tussles. There’s also a skirmish mode that sees Evan lead an army in a rudimentary RTS minigame that offers its own challenges and rewards.
Ni No Kuni II is the rare example of a sequel that is enjoyable for totally different reasons to the game that spawned it. While it doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary and is by no means the gold standard in any of its different styles of gameplay, it does possess a charm that is utterly infectious, and a positivity that only the coldest of hearts would fail to be moved by.
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Not everyone loved the changes to Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, so do you think it deserved to place so highly on our list? Ghibli it up in the comments section below.