Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (2018)

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There are exactly two moments in Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (just Revenant Kingdom moving forward) that I felt a bit of magic moving through me.  The first was when the deposed Prince Evan and new bodyguard / advisor / interdimensional time traveling President Roland (more on that in a moment) escaped Ding Dong Dell to enter the world at large.  Tiny chibi representations of the two and Evan's adorable jump animation were so precious I uttered, "That's darling," to myself.  The second occurred in Goldpaw - a gambling-based kingdom run by a dog - that enchants an annoying bird to follow around people who owe the kingdom money screeching, "U O ME U O ME".

Latter bit there might be an annoyance to some players, but it was the right amount of silly to make me think there would be some surprises in Revenant Kingdom.  I was wrong. Okay, not entirely wrong as the airship Freud would have had quite the time analyzing makes for a jarring midgame sight.  But that's not magical, or much fun, it's just a bit of grotesquerie that broke up the otherwise clean artistry of Revenant Kingdom that rarely challenged my skills or sparked my imagination.

The strongest sign of my eventual disappointment come within the first minutes of Revenant Kingdom.  Developer Level-5 introduces the interdimensional time traveling President Roland via a motorcade unknown forces strike with a missile causing the presumably incinerated Roland to instead wake up in Ding Dong Dell inhabiting a body several decades younger.  The previous Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch, took its time to establish the allegorical plot on the horizon by getting me used to the rhythm of the real world before jumping into the magical realm. Revenant Kingdom kick-starts its plot by way of 24.

The 24 influence goes beyond the explosive introduction.  Evan's way of reclaiming the throne he lost is by destroying the spiritual essence of every other kingdom in his world, effectively breaking their leaders into signing a unification treaty.  This reeks of American imperialism so thoroughly I had to double-check to make sure Level-5 was still a Japanese company.  They are, so I have to wonder how much Studio Ghibli - who did the art and story consulting for Wrath of the White Witch - were responsible for the moments of effective fantasy in the Ni No Kuni series.Level-5's imagination is so lacking that the big bad is introduced by way of jumbling around the letters of Roland's name with one extra vowel and introducing a lost kingdom as "Allegoria".  I don't necessarily need heaps of subtlety when it comes to the allegorical aspects of any story but this is pushing it when paired with the "might makes right" philosophy behind leadership in Revenant Kingdom.  None of the kingdoms bear a stamp of originality, love, or even much thought behind their designs.  Water town has lots of shells, wood town bamboo, tech town gears and so on.  Even the one place I hoped some personality could be inserted, Evan's new kingdom of Evermore, is little more than a roughly symmetric assemblage of similar looking buildings.

I'm at least happy to report that the action side of Revenant Kingdom fares better with one baffling exception.  Level-5 replaces the Pokémon-lite approach of Wrath of the White Witch with something more familiar to fans of the Tales series.  Combat is quick, in dungeons takes place right there on the field instead of cutting to a separate arena, and once I got a feel for the ability and Higgledies system I enjoyed the crisp flow.  The Higgledies are an aspect of Revenant Kingdom that provides a fun support net via the tiny single-colored creatures that can be ordered to shoot cannons, heal the party, or stun enemies.  Darting and dodging around the small battlefield giving orders to the creatures helps the engagements feel like tight skirmishes in light of the overall conflict.The baffling exception of quality is in the equipment system, an oddly convoluted overlay to straightforward combat.  Each character can equip three melee weapons that have their own charge percentages that go up when used to strike enemies and enhance magic attacks when they hit 100%. I was immediately asking myself why there is a three-weapon system when a simple charge mechanic would do, was still asking  myself this as I dutifully filled each slot with new weapons, and came to the conclusion that it is a vestigial organ awkwardly grafted onto the combat - a feeling made deeper by Revenant Kingdom allowing me to bypass the system entirely for automatic weapon switching.

Same can't be said for the army battles, a bit of rotating rock / paper / scissors that takes the magical feeling of first wandering onto the map and makes it a chore.  That encompasses how I felt playing Revenant Kingdom toward the end.  Wrath of the White Witch could have used some trimming in its length, not its gameplay or story.  Revenant Kingdom streamlines all three to lesser affect, leaving a fable that won't grow in retelling as there's not much left to say once the credits roll.

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Posted by Andrew

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