Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) set in a breathtaking world that rivals those of iconic Japanese anime movies, such as Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) and Spirited Away (2001) from the legendary animation outfit, Studio Ghibli.
The game is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which was released in 2013.
If you have not played the original, fret not because prior knowledge is not needed to play Revenant Kingdom, which takes place hundreds of years after the events of the first game and has a new story.
You play as Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the young king of Ding Dong Dell.
After getting overthrown in a coup, he sets out to found his new country, forge allies and, ultimately, create his own kingdom.
Evan is accompanied on his journey by Roland, a visitor mysteriously transported from our world, as well as by other interesting characters.
Studio Ghibli took part in the development of the Wrath of the White Witch. While it was not involved in this sequel, its influence is still evident.
Indeed, Revenant Kingdom looks and feels as if it has been created by the great anime director and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. I certainly felt like I was playing in an interactive Studio Ghibli movie.
From a Japanese town that has Las Vegas-casino vibes to a water city with a giant eye spying on its denizens, the game world is simply gorgeous with its Miyazaki-like art direction and exquisite rendition.
The beautiful world is complemented by the awesome soundtrackcreated by composer Joe Hisaishi, who worked on many Studio Ghibli films.
PRICE: $79.90 (PS4, version tested; PC)
GENRE: Role-playing game
And it was magnificent to hear the music, performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, whether exploring the world or engaging enemies in battles.
Also superb is the character voicing. Each character, be it a main role or a person on the street, is carefully designed and unique in its own way.
In fact, the bosses in each of the chapters are so beautifully conceived and crafted that it is a shame you and your party mates have to defeat them.
While many characters might join and serve you, you can take up to only three characters into battles. You can swop the character line-up in your party when you are exploring the world.
The game world is split into World and Local maps. When playing in the Local map, which covers a particular city, the surroundings feel like a Miyazaki movie.
In the World map, where you venture from city to city, your party will be represented by small figures with big heads. This is where you will get intorandom battles. And it is through battles that you gain items, weapons, money and experience.
Unlike many Japanese RPGs that have battles which are turn-based, the ones here are done in real-time. You will learn to execute melee and ranged attacks. However, you can control only one character at a time during these battles.
In addition, there will be times when you need to lead armies into battles called Skirmishes. Here, you and your armies will move around on the World map defeating hordes of enemies. It is like a simplified real-time strategy game.
Once you found your first city, you will need to start building structures and assigning jobs to citizens. And you need to gather more resources and attract more citizens to expand your kingdom.
To do that, you need to finish more quests. Apart from the main ones, there are many side quests with some related to the main story. Some side quests will yield new followers or citizens for your kingdom.
Perhaps the only real downer is the rather linear storyline. There are no alternate choices that might lead to a different outcome.
•Verdict: With its gorgeous art direction, awesome soundtrack and absorbing gameplay, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an early contender for Game of the Year.