Looking back, 2011 was a good year. It was a year that saw the release of what was to become one of my favourite games of all time – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (WotWW). By no means was WotWW a fantastic JRPG, it was good but not the best by any stretch. Its saving grace was the fact that Studio Ghibli (the animation studio behind Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and so many more) were heavily involved in the creation of the game. They produced gloriously animated cutscenes that made the game the amazing, memorable adventure that it was. The voice acting was pretty good and the characters were unforgettable, especially Mr Drippy. It was like watching a tidy Ghibli film, broken up by a fairly easy JRPG, featuring adorable little critters called Familiars.

Imagine my surprise when it was announced that Ghibli would only be somewhat involved in the creation of the sequel Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom…Surely they’d be keeping the heart and soul of Ni No Kuni intact. Right?…

Having started the game, and (possibly intentionally) forgotten about the absence of Ghibli, I was puzzled by the lack of a long-winded anime introduction. Before I knew it I was in combat with armoured mice. I was extremely confused. After a quick reinstall (hoping cutscene files didn’t install…or something?) there were still no beautiful cutscenes or meaningful voice acting. A Google search confirmed their absence.

Check out one of the more emotional cutscenes from Wrath of the White Witch:

 
Shattered, I continued.

Having resigned to the lack of Ghibli level cutscenes, I noticed that the combat had been improved from the first title. No more turn based combat, everything is done in real time with fantastic hitbox registration. Though improved, the combat in Revenant Kingdom didn’t pose much of a challenge and hence lost my interest fairly quickly. There are also a wealth of UI improvements, with menus easy to navigate and spells at the ready during battle. Still, something felt off and it wasn’t just the absence of any significant voice acting.

For the first hour or so, there seems to be no levelling system or management of stats or spells, which was seriously concerning. There also appeared to be no Mr Drippy type character to lead you through the story. Again, very concerning. Luckily, once you start to build your kingdom, the RPG elements you’d expect of a JRPG are present, as is the 2.0 version of Mr Drippy. Enter Lofty, a little critter who speaks in a similar manner to Mr Drippy but provides nowhere near as much comedic relief as the beloved character from the first game.
 

Ollie meeting Familiar Mighty Mite (left), Higgledies (right), Ollie meeting Mr Drippy (bottom)

Ollie meeting Familiar Mighty Mite (left), Higgledies (right), Ollie meeting Mr Drippy (bottom)


 
Another aspect that was missing were my beloved Familiars! In Ni No Kuni 2, Higgledies replace Familiars and….they’re kind of ok, I guess. I may be one of the few with this opinion, but they’re just not as cute or likeable as Familiars. They too can be upgraded and brewed (crafted) in your kingdom, but again I didn’t feel connected or attached to my Higgledies, as I did my Familiars.

Higgledies serve a similar purpose to Familiars, though you can’t directly control them as you could in WotWW. They have special abilities that can be activated during a battle, such as providing heals and AoE attacks. Not being able to directly control them, as you could Familiars in WotWW, lead to a situation where I felt distant and disinterested in my Higgledies. I really only used them for the utilitarian purpose of dealing more damage or healing. The growth and connection I had with my Familiars was totally absent.

Unfortunately, there’s a real time strategy element in this game too…and feels very out of place. You have to play it a couple of time to progress the story and I genuinely didn’t enjoy it. If I wanted to play that style of game, I’d fire up Total War, not a watered down scissor, paper, rock version of the genre.
 

RTS Gameplay from Ni No Kuni 2

RTS Gameplay from Ni No Kuni 2


 
Similarly, the town management of your Kingdom (Evermore) is horrible. It has a mobile game style wait for upgrades to be completed, which can be sped up by spending coins (earned in-game). It’s painful and was another factor that pushed me towards quitting. Unfortunately, it seems once you’ve fully built your kingdom, there’s not too much else to do there.

When it comes to the quests Evan must complete in order to traverse his journey, well, there were a couple of puzzles that were mildly interesting. Beyond that, most were just fetch quests (broken up by written dialogue) that you could fast travel between. Generally, they felt pointless and didn’t give the feeling of exploration and adventure-seeking that the first title did.

With all these negatives, there is some good. The levelling system in Ni No Kuni 2 is fantastic. It allows you to change your attributes at any time, giving you the opportunity to refocus your stats in preparation for particular enemy types. This is a fun mechanic and gives the player the chance to fully engage with the levelling mechanics – which are surprisingly deep – and to try out different combinations. New spells can be learned and upgraded at buildings in your Kingdom, as can weapons, armour, and other in-game items, so there are a few options for players looking to customise their party.
 

Broken Heartedness

Broken Heartedness


 
Maybe the past seven years have jaded me? All Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom did was make me miss Wrath of the White Witch, despite the glowing reviews online. It felt like a vastly improved game that lacked any of the character of its predecessor, making the improvements ultimately irrelevant. I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters, least of all the protagonist Evan, nor was there any incentive to continue playing the game due to the lack of real storytelling. Ironically, this game could have used some help from ol’ Ollie-boy, as clearly this game is broken-hearted. It’s a hollowed out shell that vaguely resembles the game I loved so dearly. Will I put more hours in to finish this game? Sure, I’ve come this far but it’s going to the bottom of the RPG pile. If you haven’t already, grab a PS3, and a copy of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch before getting into Revenant Kingdom. See for yourself.