Level-5's Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom originally released on PS4 back in March 2018 to pretty much unanimous critical praise, and playing it now in this latest Switch iteration, it's really not too hard to see why. This is a wonderfully well-crafted adventure that hits the ground running, nails pretty much every single gameplay mechanic it introduces across its 50-hour core campaign and, we're happy to report, lands on Nintendo's hybrid console in truly excellent condition.
Set some 100 years after the events of Wrath of the White Witch, this sequel kicks off with an explosion in an unnamed, US-like city that knocks President Roland Crane unconscious, during which time he's magically transported to the colourful kingdom of Ding Dong Dell. Struggling to understand what's just occurred, Roland is dragged immediately into an ongoing coup, taking up arms alongside House of Tildrum's teenage king (and walking hair disaster) Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum as he attempts to escape the clutches of the evil Mausinger and his armed thugs.
After a few brief skirmishes that teach you the basic ins and outs of the game's excellent real-time combat — during which Evan and Roland also learn the true extent of Mausinger's treachery and lose a treasured companion — Evan announces that he's going to strike out and build his own kingdom, a kingdom in which everyone can be truly happy and at peace. And with that our adventure begins in earnest.
As far as the narrative goes here, it definitely doesn't rise to the same level of delightfully Ghibli-esque weirdness or carry the same raw emotion as its predecessor and, especially early on, we found ourselves having a tough time caring for the rather brattish Evan and his troubled little rich boy plight. However, as the story begins to find its feet, as our heroes join forces with a motley crew of friends and adventure out across the many regions that make up the world map here, there's joy to be found in how this boy king begins to learn, grow, and discover himself through the actions and deeds of the brave people and creatures he meets along the way.
That joy is bolstered further in Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom by an opening twelve hours that never takes its foot off the gas as it barrels you from place to place, layering on combat mechanics, introducing large scale skirmishes, flinging you into puzzle chambers, and pitting you against a host of excellent boss battles. And the battles here, especially in comparison to the turn-based affairs found in Wrath of the White Witch, are a real revelation. The new real-time action you'll engage in as you take on the many wonderfully named enemies found across this world is immediately engaging stuff; fast, flashy and easy to get your head around.
Evan and his ever-growing party of pals have light and heavy attacks, magic-based skills and ranged attacks as the base of their offensive powers. These are then enhanced by a bevvy of neat wrinkles that keep you on your toes as you dance around your foes. As you bash away at enemies here you'll fill up a Zing meter on each of your weapons as you use them, top it out and it'll enhance your attacks, as well as enabling you to pull off some special charged manoeuvres. For players who just want to bash away and not engage with this stuff, there are semi and fully automatic modes available that switch your weapons around for you as your Zing meter fills, giving players of every ability the chance to just enjoy smashing baddies.
Once you've got your head around the basics, you'll then be introduced to the game's amazing little Higgledies, collectible element-based sprites who follow you into battles and have their own tweakable abilities and skills, including firing off large cannons, blasting foes with powerful dark energy, wind, fire and water attacks, as well as providing healing for your party. The Higgledies are an excellent replacement for Wrath of the White Witch's Familiars and how they're worked into the mechanics here, how you can find and collect new types, fiddle with how they factor into skirmishes and so on, make them a delight to engage with.
But then pretty much every new mechanic in this game is a delight to engage with, no matter how off-putting it may initially seem it's going to be. We were well aware going into this one that it introduces a fully fledged kingdom building element a little further into the story and, at round the 12-hour mark when it finally made its appearance, we were genuinely concerned it was going to ruin the excellent flow of the adventure up until that point.
However, beyond the introduction of some side missions that see a little backtracking and fetch questing, the kingdom building here is just another brilliant layer of fun added to Evan's adventure and is also extremely easy to get stuck right into. As you take on side and mainline quests around the world map you'll recruit citizens to come live in Evermore, Evan's brand new kingdom. Some of these citizens specialise in certain tasks, others just make up the numbers. These recruits are then used to populate the various buildings that you'll plop down on pre-assigned spots, giving you a steady flow of staff to enable the researching of new technology and upgrades for your fledgling town.
Within minutes of being introduced to all of this you'll be creating weapon workshops, spellworks, outfitters, cookshops and general stores, all of which can be upgraded and expanded through several levels, giving you and your crew access to tons of gear and goodies to help you as you take on the Big Bad of the piece, who's revealed at around about the same time you finally begin to construct your new empire.
There's just so much going on in Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom by this stage, so much creating, combat, exploring and discovering, that it's genuinely quite remarkable that it holds itself together as well as it does. The rhythm of the core gameplay loops, venturing off to discover amazing new areas, dungeon-crawling, fighting great big Kingmaker bosses, crafting, upgrading and so on... it's endlessly enjoyable stuff that, for us, tops the gameplay found in its predecessor. Yes, the story might not measure up when all's been said and done, but in terms of how the combat and adventuring has been evolved, this sequel is a real winner.
And in terms of presentation, too. Studio Ghibli may not be directly involved this time around but Yoshiyuke Momose returns, as does composer Joe Hisaishi, to ensure this looks and sounds every bit as sumptuous as the original Ni No Kuni. On Switch, the graphical dials have undoubtedly been turned down a notch — it's not quite as crisp and clear as on more powerful hardware — but the exquisite art style here ensures that this genuinely doesn't matter. This is a tremendous-looking adventure, in both docked and handheld, and — more importantly — we didn't encounter a single noticeable framerate wobble, no matter how screen-shaking a boss we were battering, across our entire playthrough. This new Prince's Edition also arrives on Switch with all previously released DLC included, as well as some bonus dungeons and a few extra outfits. This is, in short, a fantastic and comprehensive port of a wonderful-looking action-RPG.
Do we have any negative things to say here? Well, yes, there are a few things if we're being picky. The side quests can be a little repetitive and, as we mentioned, they do introduce a little backtracking which we're not particularly massive fans of. The voice-acting, too, although what's included is excellent, just doesn't factor as much as it really should. There are some fantastic characters to get to know on your adventure, especially the likes of Lofty, the tiny little Welsh Kingmaker, and a whole host of sky pirates, merfolk and others who should be providing lots more humour than they do along the way, but they're hamstrung by a real lack of recorded dialogue. It's a shame, and something that takes away from a story that was already struggling somewhat when compared to that of its predecessor.
There's also a slight issue with difficulty settings. The normal difficulty may prove to be just a tad too easy for some players — although we have to admit we still really enjoyed the combat this way — and you'll rarely find you need to dip into your tactics tweaker and so on in order to come out on top. Harder difficulties, which were added in a patch to the original release, are also present and correct, although they can be a bit of a mixed bag, with the toughest setting making for some annoying one-shot kills that ignore armour stats and mess with the rhythm of things a little.
These issues aside, however, what's here is still one of the very best action-JRPGs we've played in a long, long time. Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom really is just that good. The combat, the exploration, kingdom building, art style, soundtrack, characters and script all combine here to make for a truly wonderful adventure that you should absolutely dive right into with this excellent port on Switch.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an excellent action-RPG that's arrived on Switch in a fantastic, feature-packed port. Evan and Roland's antics across this game's sprawling world are stuffed full of great characters, exciting combat and adventuring and a kingdom building mechanic that's a delight to get to grips with. It looks and sounds every bit as good as its predecessor and, although the story might be a little more hit-and-miss here, we were completely hooked into this one from beginning to end. This is a sumptuously crafted adventure you won't regret diving into.