Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom - Review in Progress
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC
Just a quick preface to this review, I have only put around 7 hours into the game so far and have definitely not seen everything there is yet so the review is based on the experience so far, that being said, providing nothing goes horribly awry after the 7 hour mark it should be a good representation of how good the game is.
Level-5 have made some truly exceptional games in their history which, while being on the niche side tend to have a huge cult followings as a result of the incredible gameplay in each one. Games like Dark Chronicle, the incredible action/ city building sim and Rogue Galaxy, a tough as nails action RPG set across multiple planets are amongst some of the best games made and tend to be full of innovations as well. The reason for this brief foray into the developer themselves is that Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an incredible game in it's own right but it really carries a lot of the developer's history in it's gameplay and systems. As such it is important to take note of the fact that this is the kind of quality that can be expected from Level-5 at their best and, make no mistake, this is one of their best.
Graphically the game is stunning, while not officially having Studio Ghibli involved with the design it still has some of the staff who carry the heritage of the company and certainly impart the frankly wonderful visual style upon the game itself. Everything from the character models, the attacks and the landscape itself is full of the kind of beautiful anime charm that the company are famous for. The creature and character designs are glorious and draw you in to the world and upon arriving you won't want to leave because the gameplay ensures that the game doesn't just talk the talk but builds the walkway as it struts down it.
The gameplay consists of a variety of elements from your standard exploration and combat to the less traditional kingdom battles and the kingdom building as well. As you wonder through dungeons you will be able to see every enemy you are about to destroy which means you always know whether or not it is a good idea to jump into the fray. On the world map things are slightly different, you see a single enemy model with a level above it and a colour which is a good indication of whether or not it is a good idea, red is bad, white is normal and blue means the enemies won't hassle you because they aren't that stupid. That one model represents a number of enemies from the area and might just be the strongest or the weakest in the group, either way it is a great system and being able to avoid the weakest enemies once you have outgrown them is a huge time saver.
Moving onto the kingdom level bits, the kingdom battles involve you controlling Evan, the King usurped and looking to reunite the world, as you swivel your factions around you in order to clash with oncoming groups of enemies. Each group of characters has a type of attack, these adhere to a Fire Emblem style weakness and strength system which is explained as it becomes relevant in the game. These are a nice break from the almost Tales Of Series battles that are the games break and butter of the combat with the mix of magic and skills that mean the fights are always fun. The fact that the game does both of these wildly different battle systems so well speaks volumes about the pedigree of it on the whole.
Eventually you get the opportunity to build and manage your own Kingdom, this gives you the chance to research new technology for your kingdom and allocate your subjects to different posts. Each person has their strengths and weaknesses and assigning them accordingly is essential to getting the most out of your people and helping your party of warriors progress too. This is the part of the game that is reminiscent of the Dark Cloud series and is a great way of relaxing between battles and adventures as well as a great reason to complete the side quests. As you adventure along people will ask you for favours. Completing these tends to result in them joining your kingdom and adding their skills to yours, this means every side quest is worth doing as it doesn't just reward a bit of armour or money but actually serves a greater purpose, this makes the side quests feel part of something bigger which in turn makes them much more enjoyable.
The characters and story so far are both incredibly charming and whimsical, each one having a unique voice and the party members you gather being genuinely useful and varied. This in turn makes the battles more interesting as you can switch between them on the fly in order to utilise their strengths. The variety of accents on display is great and each character's dialogue is written in a way that means even reading what they say gives you a feel for how they would say it. The little touches like this help bring the world to life and it is one that you will almost certainly get lost in.
As it stands this game is almost definitely a game of the year contender, it is hard to imagine there will be too many games that can come close to the level of craft and care that is on display here. Again, this is a review in progress but providing the game carries building as it has done so far it will keep being an absolute joy to play. The only downside in sight is the fact that at some point it will end, moving on from this one will be a challenge for sure, but it will be worth it.