The worlds of the Studio Ghibli movies are places I've always wanted to visit. In fact, many of them seem like the perfect setting for a role-playing game. I can imagine stopping in the quaint town of Kiki's Delivery Service for a restful break between battles or looking for important magical items in the Spirited Away bathhouse. Even the cast of Howl & # 39; s Moving Castle feels torn from a Japanese role-playing game, with a cursed old woman, a shape-changing magician and an intelligent turnip who come together for a long and arduous mission.
This is one of the reasons why Ni Ni Kuni 2013 was so exciting. It was the first time that Ghibli had worked in a game, associating with Level-5, the studio behind acclaimed RPGs such as Dark Cloud and Dragon Quest IX. It combined the absorbing feel of a global role experience with the style and narration of a Ghibli film. Now, the series has returned, with the release of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. Although Studio Ghibli is not technically involved this time, the continuation is based on what made the original so good, while extending the scope and refining the experience.
Revenant Kingdom starts with a hit. A young prince named Evan is almost kidnapped just before a ceremony to swear him as king, but is finally rescued and forced to attack on his own. At first, the game resembles a typical fantasy RPG, driven by the whimsical nature of Ghibli's productions. Evan comes from a kingdom of cats – he has a pair of cute kitten ears along with a flowing blond mane – that are at war with what appear to be angry rats. While he ventures and tries to find some security after the kidnapping attempt, Evan cultivates an eclectic group of helpers, including a pair of rugged pirates from heaven and a politician mysteriously transported from our world into the fantasy realm of the game. (The story takes centuries after the original Ni Ni Kuni, so it is not necessary that you have played it to understand what is happening).
The game has all the characteristics of a Japanese RPG. There is a satisfyingly complex and surprisingly complex real-time battle system that feels visceral as it traverses enemies, but it also has a strategy element as you manage your team and a horde of cute magical helpers. Combat represents a large part of the experience. You will enter numerous battles while you explore the world, which, in turn, will allow you to gain useful experience, elements and money to improve your characters. In the middle, there are cities in which to rest, and there are many dialogues to complete the story.
But within a few hours, Revenant Kingdom is revealed as something bigger than a typical RPG. When Evan sets out to restore peace in the world, he does not try to regain his throne. Instead, build a completely new realm from scratch. And when the foundations are laid for that, he begins to travel around the world to get other nations to join his peace plans. Occasionally, you will need to summon an army for large-scale skirmishes with problematic factions.
All these aspects are manifested through the mechanics of the game. Most prominently, you will spend a lot of time creating your kingdom; you need to build structures, investigate magic and new weapons, and assign jobs to citizens. Everything feels connected. When you start growing and harvesting products, for example, your eggs and vegetables can be used by your chef to create new foods to help you in the battle. When you go on side missions to help people in the world with various problems, they will pay you coming to live in the flourishing kingdom, further expanding your nascent empire. The building of the kingdom is intuitive enough that it never feels overwhelming or overly complex, but it has the kind of depth that makes it easy to waste hours figuring out how to get your blacksmith to make the best possible swords.
The result is a game that feels virtually uninterrupted. Whatever you're doing, whether it's investigating new types of magical creatures or venturing into a distant realm to sign a peace treaty, makes sense within history and also has connections to other aspects of the game. More importantly, all these aspects are very funny. This also gives Revenant Kingdom the kind of variety that is often missing in RPGs. If you get bored of the battles, you can take a break to control your kingdom. When that is exhausted, there are always new interesting places to explore. Search missions really feel like a productive use of your time, and the game has a very welcome quick trip system that allows you to skip to the most interesting parts of the game.
On its own, this would be enough for an absorbing role experience. Revenant Kingdom stands out both in the macro – the feeling that you are changing this fantasy realm on a global scale – and in the micro, with a focus on smaller moments that still feel important. But when you dress with the sense of Ghibli style, the game becomes incredible. Thanks to a more powerful hardware change, Revenant Kingdom is more like an interactive Ghibli movie than its predecessor.
It's not just the art style, which has a similar look, especially when it comes to character design. There's also attention to detail that feels very Ghibli-like, like the way Evan's tail moves naturally when he dives and rolls in battle or the expressive faces that show how a character feels, even when he does not. they say nothing. Perhaps the most impressive is the pure imagination on display with respect to the different places it explores. There is a city of gambling that it seems that Las Vegas was crossed with a small and sinuous Japanese village, where every question of state is left to a dice roll. Later, you will find a glorious and watery kingdom where love is illegal and a giant eye watches over citizens.
Even in RPGs that I admire most, there are usually times of inactivity, times when things can be tedious, or where history snakes and becomes confusing. I never really felt that while playing Ni No Kuni II. Instead, it's a game where I always knew what I was doing and why, and, most importantly, I enjoyed doing it. Revenant Kingdom is not the game of Howl & # 39; s Moving Castle with which I have always dreamed. It is something much better.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is available on March 23 on the PS4 and PC.