Video Games

Ni No Kuni 2 is darker than you think

How far does this rabbit hole go?

Ni No Kuni 2: The Revenant Kingdom is a game brimming with childlike innocence. It is a feel-good JRPG with a traditional story. Your ultimate goal is one of vibrant altruism, unite the world and bring peace to every nation. There are obstacles along the way, and an ultimate threat waiting at the end. The story at first glance is very safe; journey to 4 places, do 4 things, beat the big bad and be home in time for dinner.

However, there is more too it than that. The old adage that if something is too good to be true, then it is, is as right as ever. Just below the surface of cartoony designs, excessive cheeriness, and do-gooders doing good, sits a surprising darkness. I don’t mean the terror of fighting enormous beasts, preventing the big bad from doing something naughty or the inherent darkness in any JRPG that expects you to grind levels. I mean something far worse that is embedded in every inch of the world of Ni No Kuni 2.

Starting at the beginning, one of the first scenes we see in Ni No Kuni 2 is Rolland shooting a guard with a gun, and killing him. Rolland was transported from our world and brings with him a pistol. This same pistol becomes on your starting weapons. Since any JRPG combat, even this real-time action one, is an abstraction of the events we see in cut scenes and the like, we can extract the fact that Rolland’s gun kills a guy in a cut scene to it does the same in other battles. From there we can also take that defeating an enemy means that they die unless a follow-up scene shows that they have managed to survive. This means that on Evan and Rolland’s journey they leave behind a substantial body count.

But wait there’s more. The monsters in this world at set up to be sentient. You have conversations with them, they even have families, homes and social structures. In Ni No Kuni 2, you aren’t defeating wild monsters but thinking, feeling creatures. So when you aren’t butchering guards, you’re killing off families of people who just happen to not live in a castle or Kingdom.

And then there’s the Kingdom. Evan has to leave his after his father ‘mysteriously’ passes away and one of the first things he decides to do after his escape is to create his own kingdom. And he does this by finding some land that he likes, kicking out or killing the people who are currently living there, who he names as ‘bandits’. Evan then has his people who are also ‘bandits’ but the type that he likes to build him a castle. The Kingdom of Evermore exists because a child wanted to live in a castle and liked the land where someone else already lived. It’s awful and the game never addresses the issue with this once, it plays it off as a perfectly normal part of this world. Horrifying.

Evermore itself is a strange place where you convince people to come to live there and then they seemingly work for the sole purpose of getting you items and money. Rolland proudly states that the citizens have worked hard to earn Evan some money that we can assume are their taxes. This money can then be reinvested into Evermore to upgrade the various buildings and landmarks. By this logic, Evan owns everything. He owns the shops, the lumberjacks and the places of learning. These are also seemingly the places where people live as there are no homes in Evermore, only locations that can earn Evan money. Going around convincing people to settle down in Evermore feels like a cross between joining a cult and a pyramid scheme, but one where the whole world thinks it’s good and normal.

The other Kingdom’s are just as bad. You’ve got the one that has its entire economy run by gambling and big decisions are made by rolling some dice. There’s another that is on the brink of falling into the sea but a spell has been set to prevent it doing so. However, if anybody falls in love or changes the city in any way, it will fall into the sea and everyone will die. A third that is a country that’s also a company, which is awful. And the final one where cat and mouse people live in a tense equilibrium that was broken at the start of the game.

Diving slightly deeper into Evan’s home town, the whole cat and mouse thing is also horrendous when you take a second to think about the fact that cats eat mice. Sure there are people cats and people mice but the mice are an underclass in this country and are ruled by cats. The tables are turned on this by the end of its storyline but the idea of living next to a creature that could eat you if it decided to is terrifying. Throughout, the mice are seen and evil and scheming and this tries to be an allegory for racism but fails horribly in ways I won’t go into but you can probably guess.

And then there’s how you become a King, which is stupid and dark. You first need to befriend a mystical being called a Kingmaker, which is basically some kind of god monster. With the god monsters powers, you are then super powerful yourself and can thusly be a King. And while historical and fictional rules have used power as a method of control and conquest, none have had the prerequisite be that they need a monster that could tear down the state if they are having a bad day, which Ni No Kuni 2 does and is a core part of the story. And all the while nobody questions any of this, the peasants don’t revolt, nothing happens. This is all normal and nobody wants anything to change.

As your parts progress through each kingdom you face challenges to the status quo, usually in the form of a Kingmaker on a rampage. However, once this beast is quelled the status quo is restored and everyone goes on with their lives. To repeat they go on with their: country run by dice throws, island falling into the sea where if anything changes everyone dies, corporation controlled state, predator and prey are neighbours city-state. And everyone wants this? The only shift is that they join Evan in his world conquest and agree to become a single nation.

Which has its own issues. Evan is a conqueror. There are no two ways about it. He kills countless people in his way and if you don’t join him you die. There’s a mini-game (which I hate) that is a story of lite RTS where you take an army and do some fighting. This is again abstracted from the real thing but as stated above, beating somebody is more than likely killing them so what would be on an army size scale? Mass death, probably war crimes, genocide. Evan is not nice, don’t listen to him. Wake up, people!

Alright, I might have gotten slightly carried away there but you get what I mean. Ni No Kuni 2’s world is insane and none of it is good for anyone but the rulers of the Kingdoms who don’t really have to do anything to gain their wealth and power. By the end of the game, we find out that Evan’s son has united all of the countries in the world which means that his son is an autocrat in charge of the world. Let that sink in, he is literally King of the World. And yet, the game presents it as the ultimate victory.

Ni No Kuni 2 raises a lot fo concerning material but does so in a way to make you think that questioning any of it is a mistake. It tells you that you should get back in line, bow you head to your betters and work to earn money for the Kingdom. It says that unless you are from an important bloodline you are nothing. Evan the non-royal party members barely have any lines once their small part in the story is over. The ending that sees Rolland return to his world is only seen by Evan, which sends the message that everyone else is worthless.

If you decide to pick up Ni No Kuni 2, which I don’t recommend for more reasons than it’s twisted vision of the world, then take a moment to think about what this game is telling you. While it’s promoting feudalism and authoritarian dictatorship, don’t be distracted by the Studio Ghibli sheen. This game is dark but presents itself as light and breezy, watch yourself.


Thanks for reading. For something else in this vein, check out my article that questions whether the slowdown in Control has greater meaning. Alternatively, why not read about why I didn’t enjoy the narrative behind Devil May Cry 5.

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1 comment on “Ni No Kuni 2 is darker than you think

  1. Pingback: Coffee Talk – Review – Bits & Pieces

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