Following on from the critical success of the Bravely series wasn’t going to be an easy task, but in collaboration with Acquire, 2018 saw the release of the HD-2D JRPG Octopath Traveler. Originally released for Switch, this wonderful little title later came to Windows, Stadia (remember that?) and Xbox One. This multi-path JRPG was lauded for its character progression and battle system, but was not perfect by any means. So, with a full sequel in Octopath Traveler 2, how has the shift from Orsterra fared?
Much like the original game, you have eight stories to explore and can do so in any order. These stories range from whirlwind tales of revenge to explorations of amnesia-clouded pasts to characters that are just in it for the adventure, but these tales aren’t as disparate this time around. They interlink with one another at certain points of the overall journey, and result in more than just short conversations between characters. All of the characters have genuine interactions from the beginning, going along with your first chosen character to aid them as well as to fulfill their own objectives.
The majority of Octopath Traveler 2 is typical JRPG fare. You’ll travel to various towns, stealing whatever is held in the little chests in people’s houses, killing every creature and hostile human along the way, all whilst following the stories of your merry band of misfits. The character you initially start with becomes your de facto party leader and determines your starting point, but once you complete chapter 1 of their tale, you’re free to go wherever you wish – if you can withstand the battle level of the areas you traipse through.
When you do inevitably get caught in a battle, it plays out much like you would expect for a good ol’ turn-based JRPG. The enemies once again have shields that need to be broken by hitting them with their weaknesses to temporarily remove their upcoming turns and open them up to greater damage. Also returning is the ability to Boost your characters, either allowing subsequent attacks or increased power to your abilities, and the more difficult boss encounters at key story points.
On the surface, it’s business as usual here for both the JRPG genre and the series, but as you dig down a little, the myriad changes and enhancements start to appear.
One such change to the formula is the ability to set aside all of a character’s story elements for later, and not just from chapters 2 onwards. You can now walk up to the character at their point of origin and recruit them immediately, leaving the beginning of their tale to be picked up later at a tavern. This is excellent for getting a competent team together, but I would still advise doing the openings for each character as they allow you to explore their abilities – the menu explanations of skills are sometimes not quite clear.
More so than its predecessor, each of the individual areas you visit has a large amount to see and do. Not only does exploring every path lead to treasure chests, but also secret dungeons, hidden NPCs and side quests. As a new feature, you have access to little sailing boats from the beginning that allow you to take to the water at small jetties in the world to reach new areas and even more hidden treasures and dungeons.
Then there’s the night and day system, which impacts most things in the game. Your character’s Path Action will change at night, the people in towns will change, and even the combat will become more difficult at night. To use the thief Throné as an example, by day you can steal items from the various NPCs, but by night (if your level is high enough) you can ambush them to instantly knock them out if they’re in your way.
The increased nighttime combat difficulty is an absolute godsend for levelling new characters when you acquire them, as they aren’t auto-levelled for you, and really reduces the monotonous grind that can be found in the genre. This is especially true when you have a character whose passive skill affects night battle enemies with status effects.
The jobs from the first game return, but the system has been greatly expanded, firstly with the introduction of licenses that allow you to use these Jobs as sub-classes, allowing greater flexibility with building your characters. Secondly, there are the new Latent Powers for each character, which each give access to very powerful abilities once their gauge fills through taking damage or breaking foes. There’s no bad time to use these, but correct timing can really turn any battle, either through allowing new strategies or just by sheer increased damage.
Once you add onto this growth in options the variety of choice in what characters you’re even using to begin with, the greater freedom in the order you get each of these eight characters, the increased attack types when you equip each sub-Job and their hidden EX skills too, you get an honestly astounding level of player expression with your party. Other JRPGs obviously allow customisation of your party, but the sheer number of options here is huge.
Octopath Traveler 2 still has its flaws, but I really must start nitpicking to find more than a few. Firstly, as can happen in an ensemble game like this, some of the party members are quite bland. There isn’t a truly weak character like Tressa from the previous game, but the writers are still guilty again of having some characters that don’t go beyond the surface level. Secondly, the side quests are once again unclear in execution, with the side quest menu continuing to be incredibly unhelpful even in finding something as simple as where the quest was picked up.
Visually, Octopath Traveler II shows a clear growth in the use of HD-2D since the first game. There’s more aesthetic flourishes that really set this apart from the original game and Triangle Strategy, whether it’s the dynamic camera movements, flashes of light that happen during battle when using maximum Boost, or the added animations to the sprites in combat. It all contributes to a more epic feel to the experience.
This more grandiose feel is perfectly supported by another stellar soundtrack from Yasunori Nishiki. The returning tracks from the previous game are built upon with new orchestration and the new tracks fit this bombastic atmosphere. Another great audio addition is the expanded voice acting, with far more voiced lines throughout and – tying back to the increased interconnected nature of the characters – even comments made during battle between the party members.