Hands-On: Ni No Kuni II’s kingdom management system is surprisingly deep

Making video game sequels is really, really hard. On the one hand, you want to make sure the existing fans have enough to latch onto as a familiar taste of what they loved from the first game, but you also want to attract new players that missed out on or didn’t like the first game to continue growing and expanding the franchise.

In the case of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom there are lots of changes from the previous entry in the series. For example, the familiar system from the first game that had you capturing and training monsters like Pokémon

is entirely gone. There’s also an entire kingdom building and management system that feels like a dramatic re-envisioning of the same idea from the Suikoden franchise.

For this pre-release preview, we’ll focus specifically on these new kingdom building components.

Loyal Subjects

The very start of Ni No Kuni II sees our main protagonist, a young boy named Evan, in the midst of a coup. His father’s most trusted advisor is taking control of the kingdom shortly after his father’s death, stealing it from Evan even though he’s the rightful heir and ruler. Within the first hour you’re set off on a mission to found a new kingdom, recruit subjects, and establish yourself as the greatest ruler in all of the land so that everyone can “live happily ever after.”

As a result, the first few hours of the game have Evan traveling all over the realm, meeting people, befriending allies, and resolving disputes in other kingdoms. I’m not far enough to know if there are any real choices to be made with this system (i.e. does recruiting some people prevent you from recruiting others? Are any of them mutually exclusive or unnecessary?) so it could be entirely linear. But in either case, it’s satisfying to convince someone that your vision for a kingdom of the future is worth following.

Rally The Troops

Just before you find the location for your budding new kingdom, you learn about the troop system, which is another brand new gameplay element that didn’t exist in the first Ni No Kuni. On the overworld map, you take control of Evan’s chibi-style character model and your troops surround you in a radial pattern.

Pressing R1 and L1 rotates them around Evan either clockwise or counterclockwise, respectively, so you can target which units are attacking the enemy. It’s a simple-seeming system that actually has a surprising amount of depth. Depending on which units you take into battle it affects their type (ranged vs melee, sword vs axe, for example -- Fire Emblem rock-paper-scissors style) and the types of abilities you have. In the first fight, you’ll use Sky Pirates, which means one of your specials is a massive aerial bombing run.

Once you’ve established the location for your kingdom, Evermore, future troop battles result in resources, experience, and territory disputes. It’s a compelling system that adds some much needed variety to a combat system that can, over time, become relatively repetitive otherwise.

Kingdom Come

Considering that the kingdom building aspect of Ni No Kuni II is a central theme all the way down to the core catalyst of the plot and the whole premise of the game itself, I was a bit surprised it took me approximately seven hours to unlock this substantial part of the game. That bodes well for the sheer length and amount of content packed into this title, but it could be a bit off-putting to some that they’re still seeing tutorial messages almost ten hours into the game.

Once you have access to Evermore, you can sit on the throne and start making kingly decisions. At first it’s basic stuff like building a weapon crafting area or an armor crafting area, but it quickly expands. You can assign individual NPCs to man different stations and research new types of technology that can be put to use in new gear your kingdom makes over time.

You’ll even get to negotiate disputes amongst your subjects and really feel like a leader in charge of a budding new society. Slowly, but surely, over the course of the multi-dozen hour adventure, you’ll be able to expand your kingdom even further as you recruit new subjects and continue to build and upgrade its facilities.

In many ways it leaves me wondering what a brand new modern-day entry in the Suikoden series might look like, seeing as how Ni No Kuni II already has so many of the hallmarks for what fans would want. Combined with the enhanced real-time combat system and a deep, compelling story full of twists and turns, it’s quickly becoming a game worth keeping high on your list to watch out for.

Ni No Kuni II releases for PS4 and PC on March 23, 2018. Check back on March 19 for our full review

For more on Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom make sure to read our original preview of the game and our combat-focused hands-on impression from E3 2017.