Review: Octopath Traveler II

Octopath Traveler was a game that straddled the line between contemporary gaming with classic JRPGs. The graphics were a mix of detailed realistic 3D environments with 16-bit pixel art character sprites. The combat was rooted in traditional turn-based menus but used a Boost system similar to the more recent Bravely Default. It wasn’t the most conventional approach to game design, but was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. As with most successful endeavors there’s hope for a sequel, and after being announced just a few months ago, Octopath Traveler II is finally upon us.

Octopath Traveler II isn’t so much about a singular story but instead about eight different stories. When starting a new game players must choose one of eight characters. The choice made will determine what part of the world the player will begin the game and lock that character into being a permanent party member. This is has a secondary effect in that it determines the most logical order to meet other characters, though players can still choose to recruit the other characters in whatever order they choose. The good news that no matter which character is selected, all eight of them can be recruited and intro story experienced on a single playthrough.

One of the things that makes the eight story approach effective is how small each story is in its scope. These aren’t eight random heroes who coincidentally have the same goal of wiping out a massive evil to save the world, these are people who have personal reasons for striking out into the world to fulfill their own dreams which is much easier to relate to. Agnea wants to leave her small town to become a superstar entertainer. Partitio wants to put an end to poverty and bring prosperity to the world. Osvald wants to break out of jail. Okay, some of these are easier to relate to than others, but the point remains that each character is venturing on this journey for some self reason. Some of them have goals that have a greater impact on the people around them, but ultimately in the grand scheme of the world, their personal motives are inconsequential though significant enough for them to embark on this journey. Once all individual stories and cross path stories are complete, a final chapter will become available.

The eight different heroes have distinct backgrounds and abilities. There is Agnea the Dancer, Castii the Apothecary, Hikari the Warrior, Ochette the Hunter, Osvald the Scholar, Partitio the Merchant, Temenos the Cleric and Throné the Thief. Each character can only equip certain weapons by default and has unique skills. They have their own personalities, and even though they aren’t the most developed or nuanced characters in RPG history, they have their own accents and manner of speech which is a nice touch to add an element of distinct cultures in each of their starting areas. Party makeup does make a difference in battle, but also plays a role in their interactions outside of combat while visiting a town.

Like its predecessor each character has a Path Action that they can take when interacting with NPCs. What’s new to the sequel is each character has two actions, one for daytime and one for night. For example, Throné can steal items from townspeople during the day and at night she can stealthily knock them out. Hikari can challenge people to duels during the day where he can learn new skills if victorious, but at night he loosens the purse strings to bribe people for information. Each character also possesses a unique talent that can be used in battle. Ochette can capture beasts to either unleash their fury in later battles or turn them into useful items. Having Temenos in the party at night will enfeeble any enemies that are encountered.

Each character is restricted to the type of weapon they can equip and what skills they can learn. This can be expanded by equipping secondary jobs that can be discovered throughout the world. Initially each secondary job can only be equipped by one character at time, but by completing Guild tasks the number of characters that can equip a given job will increase. Having a secondary job equipped allows that character to learn and equip new skills and different weapon types which can be useful when trying to build the optimal party for a particular area. Having the right equipment is almost more important than level grinding so making strategic use of the job system can make a huge difference in how challenging an area might be.

The Break and Boost system returns from the original which is a fun mechanic that adds extra strategy to battle. Every round where a character takes an action without using any Boost points they gain one Boost point. Up to three Boost points can be used in a single turn, which either add an extra attack or increase the power of a special attack or spell. Each enemy has a shield by their name with a number that represent their Break points. Attacking them with a weapon type or element they are weak against will lower the number, and when it hits zero they will be stunned for a turn and susceptible to additional damage. Playing around with how to use all the boost points for maximum effectiveness is a large part of battle strategy and well-timed uses of the powerful Latent Power attacks with enemies in Break status can quickly turn the tide of battle against a powerful foe. This reason is why keeping quality equipment around is important, and with eight heroes to arm, saving up the money to properly outfit everyone can get exorbitantly expensive, even with skills possessed by heroes such as Partitio and Agnea that can increase the party’s profit margin. Even outfitting the four heroes that are currently in use in an area can be quite a grind. Battles are turn-based affairs that are spawned through random encounters.

With any sequel one of the first questions most people ask is how it compares to the original. If someone hated Octopath Traveler it’s unlikely that they’ll have interest in this one. Octopath Traveler II is improves on the original but does so without making itself drastically different. It mainly just takes the ideas found in the original and builds on them. The day and night system is a nice addition, having more dangerous monsters emerge after the sun goes down and offering different ways to interact with townspeople. The overall pacing feels better and more interesting. The battle system is exactly what someone would want from a sequel, the same basic idea but expanded on with more strategic options. The different stories for each character are all self contained, but by observing their interactions they do start to feel more like a cohesive unit, where their bonds seem to organically strengthen over the course of their journey. It may not go down as the greatest JRPG story ever told, but it’s still strong enough to hold the player’s interest throughout the entire game, making it easy to become invested in each of the eight’s struggles. Between each character’s story, the multitude of side quests and challenging dungeons there’s no shortage of things to do in Solistia, and uncovering all the activities to do never got old.

Like many other aspects of Octopath Traveler II, the visual style is improved over the original, but not drastically different. The 3D backgrounds are technical improvements over the original and the character sprites continue to look like 16-bit assets that time forgot. It’s an unusual style that blends modern and retro, but for some reason the HD-2D aesthetic works well. The original Octopath Traveler set the bar high with its musical score, and it’s with pleasure to say that the soundtrack in the sequel is just as beautiful and memorable as anyone could have hoped.

Closing Comments:

When compared to the original, Octopath Traveler II is largely more of the same but better. The battle system is just as enjoyable as it was the first time around with additional layers of strategy added. Solistia is a great new world to explore, and the added day and night cycle help make everywhere feel more alive. While at its core it plays like a classic turn-based JRPG, the Break and Boost system helps set it apart from the classics that inspired it. The HD-2D graphic style does a fantastic job in making Octopath Traveler II feel both contemporary and classic with one of the best soundtracks among recent games. It hits the sweet spot where it brings enough elements of contemporary gaming to the classic JRPG format.

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