Oh, the number of times I could count how many games have put a young man in the throes of danger as the last hope of something. It's a trope that, while many would probably like to escape it, continues to live on in RPG titles and probably will for decades to come. The latest title to take up this mantle is Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, as Bandai Namco attempts to create a proper successor to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch nearly seven years later. So how does the sequel hold up?
The game is your standard JRPG with a few specific items of focus and a couple things missing from the formula. Set centuries after the events of the first game, you take on the role of Evan, a would-be king sitting in exile (like a lot of would-be kings) who decides not to wait around for someone to hand him a crown but instead take one for himself by forming a new kingdom with the goal of uniting all the others. While that may seem a bit dictator-y, the story is actually set with a golden heart as Evan does his best to quell all the problems between kingdoms and the people in them, while showing compassion for everyone he can.
The gameplay is a mixture of your standard real-time battles, city construction, and quick decision making. You'll start with a small town, where your exile begins and slowly grow the place into a home of your own. You can recruit people to help build it up, which reminded me a lot of the Suikoden series. When you're not playing Sim City with your rising kingdom, you'll be off serving quests, visiting other kingdoms, dealing with problems, and following side-missions — all in an attempt to bring others to your side. The story is kinda fun to watch play out, but unfortunately none of the people you're playing as (not even Even) seem to have much of a personality worth getting into. In fact, most everyone in your party is pretty flat as a character, which is a shame.
The combat system is probably the best part of the game — everything about it is done well. Aside from having little helpers running around doing attacks, you and your party can engage enemies in real time as you move around and choose spells and moves on the fly. We originally got a taste of this back at E3, and since then the system has only improved. The bonus is that for the most part, you focus on yourself while those in your party tend to fight on their own terms and take care of themselves. So you're not spending half the match bringing people back to life or trying to focus a specific attack. It's a fantastic change that some will find too simplistic, as there's a great chance of defeating all the bosses on the first chance.
The look and feel of the game are great — you have towns and kingdoms that have their own vibe and look a lot like a mixture of stuff we already commonly know around the world. Everywhere you go there's something new and cool to see and do, especially with the side quests. The music holds up quite nicely too, as it feels like everything has a specific feeling to it that you can't escape. No matter how you're feeling, there's a song for it that feels like it was crafted specifically for you. It's a shame the characters and their dialog doesn't fit the bill half the time and come off as stiff attractions inside a well-designed world.
While there's a lot of enjoy about Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, the themes of the game go in a very different direction than the first. While the themes are on point, the story is lacking any character development or depth. I felt more like I was being given a history lesson on a fairy tale as opposed to creating a kingdom for myself. It feels like there are great ideas here but they're balled up with poor choices. Not terrible, but not great. It's worth at least playing once to see if it's to your liking, but don't get shocked if you end up disliking it at some point.