Remember 2020?  Where we all got cooped up in our houses and everyone went crazy for a bit?  Well, right about then, NIS America put out a unique game about a girl trapped in a bottle being one of the last humans and your job as a faithful robot protector was to keep her alive.  The irony of humans in captivity in void tRrLM()//Void Terrarium (review here) is not entirely lost when we look back and now NIS has returned with a sequel! 

void* tRrLM2(); //Void Terrarium 2 (and we’re just going to call it Void Terrarium 2) picks up right where the first game left off.  Robbie, the faithful dog-like robot companion and factoryAI are both still trying to keep Toriko alive but things are looking grim.  The previous terrarium for her has been destroyed after the events of the first game and they’ve temporarily stored her in a suspended animation chamber while they look for a new home!  It won’t last forever though.  Fortunately, it won’t be too long until this oddly matched pair manage to create a new home for Toriko and you can try and protect her all over again. Even though it’s a direct sequel, this is also a really good jumping-on point for new players as the recap of previous events is simple but effective and the gameplay is introduced well. 

The story in Void Terrarium 2 is definitely more intriguing than the first game.  There is significantly more dialogue from factoryAI than in the first game and while neither Robbie nor Toriko speak, they’re both somewhat more expressive.  There’s more of a connection to the characters this time around and even though Toriko is clearly not entirely human, she seems somehow more human and less detached (yeah, I went there).

 What’s more, as corruption spreads through the habitat that Robbie has found, we start to see a meta-narrative that shows what really happened to all the humans.  This backstory expands the effectiveness of events during gameplay and adds noticeable depth and interest as we slowly find out why Toriko is the way she is. 

You honestly can’t ask much more from a direct sequel than you get with Void Terrarium 2.  In addition to the expanded focus on storytelling, basically every gameplay issue that was a complaint in the first game has been refined and improved.   The game still consists of dungeon-diving through procedurally generated dungeons that are turn-based action, just like the original.  Evoking flashbacks to Vandal Hearts 2, characters and enemies move at the same time, so each movement you make can put you closer to danger.  This also allows for a degree of strategic planning as you bait enemies closer with careful moves in order to strike first and gain the advantage. 

Robbie moves in a grid pattern, slowly collecting resources and items to bring back to the terrarium.  Weapons, shields, food, and items are all both useful in combat and can be broken down as ingredients to improve Toriko’s terrarium.  Your inventory is limited and some items are corrupt so it pays to be careful what you bring back, but you’ll need it all eventually.  Each time you start a dungeon, you return to level 1 but don’t worry.  Like all well-designed roguelikes, there’s are permanent stat gains as well for both Robbie and Toriko again, in this case generated by creating new items for Toriko. 

As you play through an increasingly large number of areas, you’ll slowly build base stats, allowing you to breeze through the early stages of the game (which you must replay each time you go out) and make your way rapidly to new areas.  That’s a good thing since Toriko’s terrarium is flawed and lets in contaminants.  She gets hungry too and you have to clean up her filthy human waste (dirty humans, no wonder they were exterminated).  While the progression feels glacial for the first few hours as you get a feel for the gameplay loop, it speeds up and feels quite natural after that, making a much smoother transition to plot focus than the first game did.

Also unlike the first game, Void Terrarium 2 is easier to play overall.  The choppy movement from the first game has been slightly smoothed, creating a less jarring experience in gameplay.  Environmental pieces and bottlenecks are easier to utilize and you don’t seem to die quite as often either.  Not that dying really matters too much as long as you grabbed some food.  Anything you collected gets turned into resources and comes back to help you improve for next run and you can even autodestruct when you reach your intended goal, allowing you to return with your gear converted to useful components.  But combat is definitely more entertaining than the first game and you aren’t quite as tense when you get cornered either.  Every mechanic from the first game is preserved, utilized, and built upon.

The entirety of Void Terrarium 2 feels like a crisp, responsive, and improved version of the first game.  As you defeat enemies and level up, you’ll still get your choice of two new upgrades each level, but the balance of good upgrades has increased.  Food is a bit easier to find and is more effective on Toriko.  The nanny bot is easier to use to keep Toriko stable (and it’s still weird).  The Monster Houses are survivable rather than near certain death.  The items and weapons are much more plentiful, giving you a decent chance to survive longer.  And there are some changes too.  New Mystery Rooms show up and grant boons to the player, giving new items, allowing you to tinker with your weapons, and more.  Boss fights are more prevalent and while not challenging per se, provide a more frequent shift from the standard loop. 

Building Toriko’s terrarium is even expanded.  You can tinker with the humidity and temperature to control growth rates for seeds now, and the plethora of items available means that you can modify and design to your heart’s content.  They all show up earlier too, giving you plenty of time to fool around with the multi-layered design program.  It’s honestly more fun than ever to design a cool terrarium and easier to do so.  It feels like there’s more purpose to the terrarium aspects of the game than there were before and that’s a good thing. 

The visuals are also a bit improved here.  The first Void Terrarium looked great.  It’s got a unique aesthetic that sucks the player into its crazy apocalyptic world with an odd sort of beauty.  Void Terrarium 2 manages to take that same design and improve it, adding more depth and background complexity to the procedural dungeons, cleaning up the already great visuals ever so slightly, and tinkering around with 16 bit graphics in the flashback sequences.  The UI is just as clean and well-designed as before and this is a strangely beautiful game to begin with.  The sound is well-done here (again just like the first game) and the background music is subtle and compelling.  There’s really not a thing wrong anywhere.  Void Terrarium 2 is the perfect sequel to a uniquely fascinating game. 

It’s not often that a sequel surpasses the original game in basically every way and still preserves what makes the original unique and wonderful.  But somehow, Void Terrarium 2 manages to do just that.  Everything that was great about the first game is still here, only magnified.  Sure, it takes a bit to get going and you need to be prepared for a bit of repetition, especially at first, but it’s like NIS took every tiny comment made about the original game and tried to iron out any potential issues, making a smooth and engaging game that keeps you coming back.  It’s clear from playing Void Terrarium 2 that this was a labor of love for the developers and keeping the basic formula of the original game intact was a bold choice that works well and never really gets stale.  We’ve seen it all before but it’s like seeing it with new eyes and that takes some serious design skills.  At $40, Void Terrarium 2 isn’t going to break the bank or anything either.  This is a reasonably priced game that will give you a solid 40+ hours of complex, engaging gameplay and you can’t ask more than that! 

This review of void* tRrLM2(); //Void Terrarium 2 is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.  It was played on a Nintendo Switch in both docked and undocked modes and played equally well on both.  void* tRrLM2(); //Void Terrarium 2 is also available for PS4 and PS5.