When Square Enix revealed the first Octopath Traveler during the original Nintendo Switch reveal in 2017 (which is now 6 years ago!?), it felt like a new era for the beloved publisher. It introduced us to their new art style dubbed “HD-2D”, a mix of old pixel-style art from the Final Fantasy 6/Chrono Trigger days of RPGs with modern lighting and animations. This all features a gameplay and storytelling style akin to 1994’s Live-a-Live JRPG. With a cast of eight different strangers helping each other on their personal journeys, each quest building the individual and overall narrative more and more. Praised as a beautiful, modern take on a long-beloved genre more-or-less made popular in the west by Square in its days of yore. Now, we have its follow-up, Octopath Traveler II (Octopath Traveler 2). Does it address all the critiques? Did it improve on an already-loved twist? The answers are all a resounding YES.
Octopath Traveler 2 follows the eight individual journeys of eight individual travelers. Each with their own gifts/talents, goals, and needs. From Osvald, the defamed scholar jailed for murdering his own family, to Partitio, a merchant trying to become the best merchant in the lands. From Cassti, an amnesiac apothecary, to Agnea, a dancer trying to make it big and inspire others. Every one of the eight party members has a deep story to tell, delving into their own personal growth or overcoming a near-insurmountable obstacle. As the story unfolds, you assist each one with their issues as a band of travelers lending a helping hand, leading to a group of 8 friends who all believe in each other. And similarly to its predecessors, there is an overarching story being told that will not get revealed until the end about how each of these eight were destined for each other and for their own individual greatness.
The HD-2D style feels like its best iteration yet in this sequel. I played on the Switch OLED, and just about every color popped. The lighting felt more dynamic, the worlds felt more alive, and the turn-based combat felt much flashier. Even the sprites felt more distinct, reminding me of much more detailed sprites from Final Fantasy 6. In a magical sort of way, every aspect of this game looks how I imagined all my games looked back in the day. Even then, this execution feels modern with how dynamic the lighting and world are.
With a function to change the world from night to day at the click of a button, there is no loading screen. It just happens. Seeing the sun or moon swirl around the world with the lighting change from Mid-day to dusk to twilight to night is brilliant. Particularly in caves, is this just a lot of fun to shift between. One cave in particular actually plays on the dynamic lighting to help you traverse through it, and to solve puzzles too. However, this shift also plays on a fantastic evolution from the first game, too.
In the first game, every traveler had a “path action”, an overworld action that let you interact with NPCs to glean information, recruit people to your party, or get their inventory. This has improved dramatically in Octopath Traveler 2, with each character having two path actions. One for the day and one for the night. What I loved about this was it changed the party dynamics to allow for almost any party to get what you want to be done. For instance, Osvald, the scholar, can glean information during the day about the goings on in a city. At night he can mug people, fighting them for everything in their pockets. Or Throné, the thief, can either steal during the day or knock people out at night to get through blocked paths. This cuts back a LOT on having to switch party members to meet specific needs, whereas now, a party can be built and can be stuck to because all you need is right there, depending on the time of day.
As for the combat, it’s a beautiful puzzle game that I couldn’t get enough of. Enemies have weaknesses and a “shield” where if hit with enough weaknesses, they get stunned for a turn. The gameplay quickly turns into a dance of finding the weaknesses, exploiting the weaknesses fast enough, juggling buffs/debuffs, and preventing massive attacks from landing. It doesn’t start out as rough as it sounds, and the build-up to this level of skill and thought is a critical part of the different chapters for each character. Granted, this is also an oversimplification of the combat and mechanics. What really makes fights interesting isn’t just the turn-based attacks and debating what to do based on who goes when. It’s the boost points.
Boost points are gained each turn and add a fun wrinkle to decision-making. They can either add a second attack to a combo. For instance, instead of hitting once with a character’s equipped weapon, they hit for two or more hits leading to more shield being chipped away. Or, they can empower a spell or special attack to do even more damage. So do you use one character’s boost points to break a shield? Or do you save them all for a devastating round when the enemy is staggered to deal as much damage as possible? There is so much variety in the combat alone that I spent a good 10+ hours experimenting just to find the right party, gear, etc, in an age where many aspects for turn-based RPGs feel downplayed or become too easy when additional thought into strategy is weighed. It’s all absolutely necessary, too, to survive the final hours of each character’s last chapters.
The variety and experimentation encouraged in Octopath Traveler 2 basically fixed almost every issue I had with the game as I played. Did a boss or chapter get too difficult? That’s most likely because I don’t have the optimal class/sub-class combination or skills equipped. Am I unable to effectively break a boss’s shields fast enough? I most likely am not using my boost points or skill correctly to get there. Almost every wall I hit was my own fault. There was little unfairness in the difficulty. Instead of just hitting harder, it boiled down to doing better to overcome most obstacles.
Every fight is also enjoyable, thanks to the fantastic music. Orchestral tracks play with every encounter and they all feel epic. Particularly the boss fights and the final chapters’ bosses’ music being different, fitting each character’s story is a beautiful touch. Combined with fully voiced cutscenes and bombastic swelling music, story moments feel much more impactful too. Especially in the final hours of the game, where everything ties together and the travelers give their epic “let’s save the world” speech, I had chills. Music is such an integral part of RPGs, and Octopath Traveler 2‘s soundtrack I’d consider to be a top 10 contender.
My one gripe comes with the dungeons. Just about every chapter has a dungeon you need to go through to get to the chapter’s boss. They can be actual dungeons of a castle, to a rich person’s house, to simple caves. But they’re all quite short or straightforward. There were little to no puzzles to solve to make it through. Each one also had a clear-cut path to make it to the save point and the boss. Any deviation from that path did lead to useful items and equipment, but doing the push through a dungeon twenty-plus times does get boring after a while. It wasn’t the variety that was the issue, it was how to get through them. With some puzzles or added mystery to these dungeons, this game would be perfect.
Octopath Traveler 2 not only iterated or refined, but it also made the Octopath Traveler series a highly anticipated series in my eyes. Just about every issue or gripe from the original game was fixed. All the new additions are welcoming. And the storytelling feels top-tier, making me care for every single one of the eight party members. On its own two feet, Octopath Traveler 2 is a can’t-miss game for any classic turn-based RPG fan and should be considered in the high echelon of this long-beloved genre.
Octopath Traveler 2 is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.
Octopath Traveler 2
Octopath Traveler 2 not only iterated or refined, but it also made the Octopath Traveler series a highly anticipated series in my eyes.