Octopath Traveler was a delightful surprise. Taking cues from Bravely Default, it was an incredibly well-made turn-based JRPG in the style of the classics like Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei, with a myriad of modern twists that kept things feeling fresh. From the outset, it’s clear that its sequel seeks to build on the first game’s successes while carving out an identity of its own.
One of the original’s more middling aspects was its sprawling cast and the inconsistency of their individual stories, a flaw the sequel has sought to correct. This time, each story is gripping from the start, ranging from exciting tales of betrayal to softer and fluffier adventures that lighten the mood. This makes Octopath Traveler 2 a varied experience – one moment you’re playing through a western-style parody of the American gold rush, and the next, you’re working through crime scenes straight out of a primetime television show.
This can cause a little narrative discordance, but the overall journey is more than competent at making you feel invested. Characters are all enjoyable to varying extents, with some fantastic voice talent and snappy writing behind them. The dark and moody Osvald will be very interesting to most thanks to his grim backstory and the fact that he’s a scholar who mugs people, while the intrigue of Castti’s amnesia storyline will have you making theories about her from the outset. My favourite is Temenos, a cleric who defies classic tropes and is sassy, sharp-tongued, and very enjoyable to play as.
Octopath Traveler 2 feels like a substantial upgrade, adding new mechanics where appropriate and improving upon those that worked before. You can now switch between daytime and nighttime at the press of a button, with characters having different overworld abilities (called path actions) depending on the time of day. For example, Throné the thief can pickpocket during the day, but has the ability to knock people clean out at night, while Osvald has the supreme power of gossip during the day and mugs people at night. I found this to be a nice way to encourage experimentation with your team composition while adding some much-needed variety to the tasks asked of you during story quests. One unfortunate hangover is the continued presence of a reputation system, whereby failing at using certain path actions too many times prevents you from using path actions at all until you pay a bartender the RPG equivalent of an indulgence. It’s very annoying and encourages save scumming.
It also leads to a minor frustration when you don’t have the right skills to hand – for example, if you need to get an item from an NPC who only shows up at night and you don’t have Osvald or Agnea with you, it’s a shameful trip back to the bar to collect them. This is just a small quibble, though. Far more grating is the fact that the path actions have no impact on the NPCs’ attitudes toward you. You can mug a person, setting them on fire in the process, to obtain a treasured memento to sell for easy profit. Moments later, you can talk to the NPC to hear their standard spiel about their loved one being lost at war, or whatever it was. It feels incredibly dissonant that mugging someone or beating them up for information doesn’t lower your reputation while failing at being a seedy little gossip will.
Combat is a highlight, as you’d expect from Octopath Traveler. Battles centre around finding and exploiting weaknesses to break enemies and disrupt their patterns, and the combat is easy to get used to and difficult to master. You quickly work out the best times to play defensively and when to pivot to the offensive – eventually, battles feel like satisfying puzzles, with you spacing your breaks out to take advantage of hard-hitting attacks that’ll take out entire packs at once. The bosses provide considerable challenge, even early on, and force you to learn how to take advantage of the system’s quirks and come up with novel strategies. While the characters all have the same jobs as those seen in the first game, there are small but significant differences setting them apart, avoiding any feelings of lazy repetition.
The presentation is utterly delicious. Environments are immaculately detailed, the animations so flamboyant, and the sprites packed with personality. Every pixel feels deliberately placed, making even the long walks between towns a joy. Complementing this is the soundtrack, which is similarly gorgeous. Some of the more recognisable tracks from the first game are back for round two, and new additions don’t slip on quality either. This is easily the most stunning 2D-HD game I’ve played and it’s great to see it move away from Nintendo Switch exclusivity, allowing it to strut its stuff on PlayStations. I’m consistently blown away by each new vista and environment I encounter and the atmospheres the game creates.
Octopath Traveler 2’s first few hours are remarkably familiar. After experiencing the first chapter, you’re set loose on the world to meet the other characters in whatever order you choose, take on side quests, and decide which of the many second chapters you want to take on next – all things we did in the first game. Despite this, it doesn’t feel like much of a retread. The characters are fresh, it presents a whole new world to explore, and the explicitly shared aspects, such as the same pantheon of gods and set of jobs, do great work building a consistent series identity. Whether or not this quality is sustained throughout has yet to be seen, but right now it’s dripping with promise.
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