Initial release date: February 24, 2023
Developers: Square Enix, Acquire
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
Series: Octopath Traveler
Genres: Role-playing video game, Adventure game
Publisher: Square Enix
Composer: Yasunori Nishiki
"Review Copy Provided By Square-Enix"
Octopath Traveler II is a sequel that manages to enhance almost everything while retaining the original game's core, making it a rare gem. The game creators comprehended what made the first game so captivating to players and built upon that with a clear goal of surpassing players' expectations. Moreover, the sequel streamlines the game's mechanics to make it more user-friendly for those who didn't enjoy the original game. As someone who enjoyed the first game, I'm surprised by how much Octopath Traveler II has made massive strides to improve itself over the first game!
Once you complete the introduction chapter of your chosen character, you'll have complete freedom to explore the game's open world to your heart's content. While starting with specific characters may impose certain limitations, it's wise to recruit at least four of the total eight characters. However, the sequence and approach to recruit characters are entirely up to you, which is the game's primary allure. The world of Octopath II is one of my favorites in recent years, and exploring it entirely could easily consume over 50-60 hours of gameplay; a feat of which I surpassed as I've spent 90 hours playing this game!
The original game was a classic, old-school experience that followed a traditional structure, with minimal story provided in the first dozen or so hours and extensive grinding required. While I enjoyed it, I know many players did not. One of the game's flaws was the lack of a cohesive story that tied the characters together, and some chapters felt unnecessarily long. In Octopath Traveler II, the chapters rarely exceed two hours in length, and each chapter feels densely packed with story beats, which kept me invested from beginning to end. While the stories may not be groundbreaking, they are well-written and frequently surprised me with their direction. The game often delves into the darker aspects of humanity without resorting to cartoonish oversimplifications. The villains are genuinely evil, especially in Throné's story, and the game explores nuanced situations related to them.
Despite my enjoyment of the story, the real strength of Octopath II lies in its gameplay. Everything has been adjusted or tweaked just enough to make it work seamlessly this time around. The game mechanics are similar to the first game, with path actions that boil down to four approaches: acquiring items, learning about a person, recruiting them, or knocking them unconscious. Each character has access to two of these actions, which vary depending on the time of day. For instance, Throné can steal items during the day and ambush people at night. Temenos can recruit characters and interrogate them. Hikari can challenge NPCs to a fight to gain new abilities and bribe them to learn more about them. A new addition is a button that allows you to switch freely between the time of day, which can be used to vary the monsters you encounter in the overworld.
Octopath Traveler is designed to be a game that emphasizes player freedom and an open structure, which may deviate from the traditional approach of a unified JRPG party with a shared goal. The game's eight individual characters with their own distinct storylines require certain concessions to fit this vision, which may impact character dynamics. However, the sequel Octopath Traveler II continues this approach, which I believe is the right direction to take. I think the game's identity should not be compromised to meet certain expectations that it does not aim to fulfill. If players prefer a linear, story-driven, party-centric RPG, there are many other options available. To address this aspect of Octopath, the decision was made to pair each of the eight protagonists with another character and give each pair an ongoing side story. While I do not think these paired stories are necessarily better than the individual main story paths, they are charming and showcase the cast working together to solve problems. Furthermore, these side stories are optional for players who do not wish to pursue them.
Additionally, the game’s difficulty spikes can feel quite extreme at times, with some boss battles feeling almost impossible without a lot of grinding or a specific strategy. While I appreciate a good challenge, there were moments where I felt like the difficulty curve was a bit too steep. Another minor gripe I had was with the visuals. While the pixel art is beautiful and detailed, the 3D environments can feel a bit flat and uninteresting. It's not a major issue, but it did stand out to me at times. It's great to that the combat system in Octopath Traveler II is enjoyable and has been improved from the original. The use of the Bravely Default-inspired mechanic and the enemy break system seems like it adds depth and strategy to the battles. It's also good to know that there are ways to naturally level up your characters through exploration, even if the level gating can be a bit of a grind. As for the lack of passive EXP share, it may be outdated, but it also encourages players to rotate their party members and try out different combinations, which can be a fun challenge. Overall, it sounds like Octopath Traveler II offers a lot of content and freedom for players, while staying true to its unique identity.
In my experience, the Switch version of Octopath Traveler II is in a much better state than the previous game. Although I was initially disappointed by the lack of graphics options compared to Triangle Strategy on Switch, I found that the single option for graphic intensity didn't have much impact. However, after spending plenty of time with the game, I realized that the toned-down visual effects and expanded color palette were significant improvements. The game looks fantastic, and it seems like the developers took inspiration from the diverse aesthetics of the recent Live A Live remake. While sprites can be a bit blurry in handheld mode, it's no worse than Triangle Strategy, and I feel that it's cleaner than the original Octopath Traveler. Overall, playing the game on Switch should be a satisfying experience for those who don't have access to more powerful consoles or PCs.
Octopath Traveler II is a confident sequel that builds on what made the original game successful. The cast, combat, and exploration are all enjoyable, and the game is bigger and better than its predecessor. There's no need to elaborate on why the game is excellent; it's simply a well-executed improvement on a flawed yet enjoyable concept. It's one of the better Square Enix games in recent memory, and I highly recommend checking out the demo. The game also features one of my favorite open worlds in a video game, combining retro throwback elements with modern innovation to create a remarkable achievement.