Octopath Traveler 2, like its predecessor, is a throwback to the golden age of the JRPG. It relies on the tried and true formula we were so fond of in the 90s and gives it a modern facelift. One would think that’d result in a relatively niche game, but the original did surprisingly well, and this is more of a good thing.
A changing land
Like the original, Octopath Traveler 2 centers around eight individuals from around the land of Solistia who are forced by circumstance to leave their homes and set out on a journey. Some of the reasons our cast hits the row are rather dire, like Price Hikari of the Ku Clan, who must leave his nation behind in the hope of someday returning to save it. On the opposite hand are characters like Partitio, who has the noble goal of becoming a great merchant so he can end poverty.
Despite sharing similarities with the world of Octopath Traveler, the second entry in the series is an entirely standalone experience. Unlike the original game, which was set against a medieval fantasy theme, Octopath Traveler 2 takes place when much of the world is on the verge of an industrial revolution. It’s a time of robber barons, and around the world, people are making and losing fortunes, and vast ships bring trade to all corners.
One of the central motifs of the game is economic disparity. Much like what happened in our timeline, much of Solistia is transitioning from Feudalism to capitalism. While citizens are freer than they were in theory, in practice, they’re being exploited by the gentry. So, before you start, prepare for a story that’s more politically rooted than the one from the original.
However, because of the game’s structure, there’s a loose feel to the overall narrative. The characters will eventually all meet up and face a common enemy. However, since you can start the game with any story, only a character’s chapters happen to them in chronological order.
So, while the cast buddies up and supports each other as party members, you won’t see much interaction between their stories, especially early in the game. Fortunately, the devs noted that this was a weakness of the original and have somewhat alleviated it by including multi-character Crossed Paths sub-stories that put two party members into the spotlight.
Night and day
Gameplay in Octopath Traveler 2 remains almost identical to the first game. Each of the eight characters has a unique “Path Action,” which gives them an ability they can use on NPCs.
A big change this time around is that each character has two Path Actions, which change depending on the time of day. That’s right, this game has a day-and-night cycle. However, it’s not nearly as obnoxious as it sounds. You can change the time of day with a button press at any time, so you’re not stuck waiting for the sun to rise or fall to move forward.
In addition to affecting what Path Action a character can use, the time of day can affect the environment. Additionally, enemies are more challenging at night but give more XP when defeated.
A visual treat
Like the original, one of the biggest draws for Octopath Traveler 2 is the graphics. The blend of classic sprite work and modern effects is gorgeous, and the devs went all out here. There’s amazing attention to detail that calls to mind the best of the 16 and 32-bit JRPGs and then exceeds them.
In particular, I have to commend the boss sprites. Many of them are reminiscent of something out of a Vanillaware or Arc System Works game and are absolutely beautiful. They cast an imposing shadow on your character and do a great job of conveying the threat of the foe you’re fighting. Even more lighthearted bosses like the scumbag landlord Griff you face in Partitio’s first chapter have a sinister edge.
Of course, the music is also excellent, something we take for granted with a Square Enix production. Yasunori Nishiki returns to compose the soundtrack, and it’s just as good, if not better, than the original.
It’s your turn
My greatest hope for Octopath Traveler 2 is that it would do away with random encounters. I’ve always preferred the way Chrono Trigger handled things because the constant anticipation for the next battle ruins the fun of exploring an area. Instead of drinking in the atmosphere, you’re encouraged to walk the minimum amount of steps to get through an area lest you lose another minute or two to some minor foe. Of course, it doesn’t help that the encounter rate in this game is on the high side, either.
Fortunately, combat is pretty brisk. It still centers around exploiting enemy weaknesses to break their defense and hitting them when their defense is down. Helping speed this along are the new Latent Powers. Once the mechanic is introduced in their story, each character gets a Latent Power gauge that charges up as you break enemies or take damage.
When the gauge is full, you can unleash one of your character’s unique abilities, which in turn can be boosted just like your regular attacks. These Limit Break-esque attacks can turn the title of battle, and you’ll quickly find yourself planning your battle strategy around them.
Octopath Traveler 2 Review: The final verdict
Octopath Traveler 2 is another love letter to Square Enix’s golden years. It’s a greatest hits comprised of mechanics from across several franchises, even if it doesn’t build on the original’s formula too much.