When I ask people for their thoughts on the original Octopath Traveler, opinions are varied, but seem to flow in a broadly positive direction. Gorgeous visuals, breathtaking music, engaging battles, and an overarching charm — that’s what folks tell me. And I concur. Yet even as this praise is heaped, it’s often followed with a rather damning caveat: that Octopath Traveler overstays its welcome, and players seldom seem to stick with it the whole way through.
There are several reasons for this, but they share a common thread. I’m told that its charm can’t hold it together, that the magic of the HD-2D engine flickers and fades. All the more frequently, there are gripes galore toward the tedium of its repetitive storytelling structure. Eight characters. Four chapters apiece. And that’s a wrap.
It’s too dull an approach to hold one’s attention for dozens of hours, and worst of all, the sense of repetition is heightened exponentially because the protagonists of Octopath Traveler almost never speak with each other in any capacity. There’s no growth between them, only on their lonesome, and none of the supporting NPCs in their respective stories remotely covered the bill for that costly creative decision.
While I nevertheless adore that game, I am not blind to its flaws. Thus, it pleases it me greatly to report that Octopath Traveler II improves upon its predecessor’s problems in every regard. The result is a damn good role-playing game.
To be clear, Octopath Traveler II also follows eight protagonists — all new, mind you, and in a wonderful new setting at that. And to address the elephant in the room straight away, no, the protagonists do not interact with each other during their stories. Well, there are notably cheaper-looking little banter sequences — some are pretty good, really — but no, Hikari is never going to point at the villain in someone else’s arc and say “I will fight you.” He’ll just sort of be there when the fight begins. It’s as awkward as ever.
So, wait. I said this sequel improves in every regard. But then I spent a paragraph reflecting on its continuing structural dilemma. What gives? Two words: Crossed Paths. These are separate missions that team the playable characters up in pairs, giving them some shared screen time that’s far more impressive than those unvoiced skits. You may decide that’s not enough for you, but then, Square Enix has more where that came from. After every protagonist’s individual plot chapters are finished, and the Crossed Paths are concluded as well, there exists a final chapter that ties it all together.
This final chapter is not like the side quest from the first game. It goes well beyond that. It’s meaty. It’s thoughtful. It’s emotional. Best of all, it takes advantage of one of Octopath Traveler II‘s best kept secrets — that several of its stories meaningfully intertwine in ways that simply must be addressed by its narrative before the credits roll. To say more would ruin a very good thing, but I got what I wanted from this approach and then some. They saved the best for last.
I could, hypothetically, use the word ‘beyond’ as a catch-all for every other aspect of Octopath Traveler II and end this review right here. That’d be silly, of course; I haven’t even mentioned the battle system! But I could.
For players who have experienced the original, every aspect will feel simultaneously familiar and refined. Take the story pacing. Each character path’s supporting cast is vivid, lively, and helps to carry the momentum throughout their several chapters. Speaking of chapters, not everything follows the old ‘eight times four’ formula. There are surprises. Clever ones. Most importantly, that magical feeling that hits so many Octopath Traveler first-timers for a bit before gradually fading away? Not once does that magic fizzle and evaporate here.
The scripts do vary in quality between the octuplet of travelers, but even the weaker stories have their moments, and the writers managed to delight me in creative new ways even in the final moments of each journey.
What’s more, Octopath Traveler II takes the first game’s ‘Path Actions’ — every character has a special something they can do with NPCs, like stealing, dueling, and so forth — and weaves these Path Actions into the story in profound ways.
The joy of waltzing into a new town (and boy, are there some jaw-droppingly beautiful towns in this game) and reading codex-like blurbs about dozens of people, followed of course by robbing them all blind, is not only intact in Team Asano’s latest offering; it’s doubled by the addition of a night-and-day system that gives everyone two Path Actions. You can change the time at your leisure, so Square’s essentially given us double the town exploration.
Just be prepared for some startling things as you have your apothecary character Castti ‘Inquire’ about these people’s lives. Whereas Octopath Traveler had a few NPC profiles, Octopath Traveler II has more than I can count. Some are poignant. Others are hilarious. And some, by golly, well and truly terrified me.
There’s an abundance of content in Octopath Traveler II. ‘Content’ has become a rather stigmatic word in certain gaming circles, and I totally understand why. The concept of ‘content for content’s sake’, of big publishers shouting from marketing loudspeakers that their games will last ‘x’ number of hours, as if the quality therein won’t vary wildly if their games are padded to oblivion and back with rote busywork.
When I say content in this particular context, I mean it in a more positive light. I did not expect Octopath Traveler II to feature so many side quests. Solistia, the world this game in which the game is set, is bursting at the seams with optional dungeons filled with secret bosses upon which to test your party’s mettle. The treasure’s more than worth the trip, too.
Even the myriad of routes connecting settlements are better now. The graphics are much improved, lending greater immersion. That’s good, because there’s more to keep an eye out for. Some will sound familiar to Octopath vets; all eight core job classes have a hidden shrine somewhere in the world where a special ability can be learned, and there are extra job classes to be found as well. But there’s more out there along the frontier, travelers.
Combat remains flashy, intuitive, and fun to mess around with. The synergy between class setups can get pretty snazzy once you’ve found a job’s guild and taken on special missions to acquire further licenses. These licenses allow you to have a higher number of characters tap into a given job, so if you want four Scholars in your party for some elemental mayhem, you can do it.
The characters’ primary jobs won’t change, and their primaries all have something that is uniquely theirs (generally in the form of a new battle mechanic called ‘latent powers’), so everyone still shines in their own right. This, in addition to a significant expansion in the number of buffs, debuffs, and usable items in Octopath Traveler II, affords the designers ample chance not only to improve and expand upon what your party can do, but what the enemies can do as well. Several late-game clashes require a genuine measure of strategy to survive.
It’s all backed up by a soundtrack that not only meets the original title’s incredibly high bar, but surpasses it. The characters’ main themes will lodge themselves into your brain and refuse to let you go. the over-world tracks are groovy, and the boss tracks are outstanding. Keep your eyes peeled while on your travels, because you might just find a way to access an in-game music player.
Is there still some room for improvement, should a third mainline Octopath ever arrive? Yes. Dungeon design is only slightly less linear now. Further protagonist story integration would be welcome. Enemy artwork is great, but a more diverse bestiary would be nice.
All told, though, Octopath Traveler II is a monumental achievement. I look forward to seeing what other players think of this game almost as much as I have enjoyed the game firsthand. I’m curious to see if my perspective — that this is one of those ‘Assassin’s Creed to Assassins Creed 2‘ moments in gaming history, where the sequel blows away the prequel — ends up an anomaly, and the reception is not quite so strong. Regardless, I think at least some folks who dropped the first game midway will eagerly see this through to the finish line.
I went in expecting a good game. I came out with an early Game of the Year front-runner in mind. Fine work, Square.
Disclaimer: Review code for Octopath Traveler II was provided by the publisher Square Enix.