Octopath Traveler II Preview – Similar but (a little) different

When Square Enix Project first unveiled Octopath Traveler in Fall 2017, it immediately enchanted me with its distinctive HD 2D graphics and promised to revitalize the forgotten genre of classic turn-based JRPGs. Call me a die-hard purist, but I’ll always prefer rich sprite work to even the most photorealistic polygons. I had to love it regardless of how the experience ultimately turned out.

It was released on the Nintendo Switch a few months later in July 2018 and turned out to be pretty much everything I could have hoped for. Octopath Traveler received near-universal acclaim, although its critics criticized its somewhat derivative and predictable gameplay loop. It proved a credit to the halcyon Super Nintendo and PlayStation games it imitated without ever reaching the same heights itself.

Fast-forward almost five years later, and we’ve been treated to countless beautiful, mesmerizing titles created in the same vein. 2022 brought us both the turn-based strategy game Triangle Strategy and a revamped version of mid-’90s JRPG Live a Live, and since then Square Enix has perfected the HD 2D aesthetic (but tragically not the subtle art of titling).

A long time has passed between drinks in the Octopath universe, and with Octopath Traveler II now in our hands, there’s a newfound sense of pressure that wasn’t quite as evident in its predecessors. We’ve seen what this franchise can achieve, so the most pressing question is how far has the team gone to take it to an even higher level?

Octopath Traveler II Castti
Image Credit: Square Enix via Twinfinite

The moment you boot up Octopath Traveler II, you’re bound to feel a sense of familiarity. The orchestral score and vivid settings are just as whimsical as ever; the latter being a significant upgrade over the original. You probably won’t notice until you put the two side by side, but even with the same artistic direction, the richness of Octopath II’s textures almost makes the first title look washed out by comparison.

From there you know the drill. First, choose one of eight protagonists – yes, their names still start with the word Octopath – and discover the details of their past. Without someone as instantly approachable as Alfyn to jump at me, I chose Partitio purely for its unmatched level of swag. He just so happened to be a country bumpkin, as did the Clearbrook Apothecary, suggesting I’m a certain type.

Without giving too much away, Parti’s story describes his life as the son of a silver miner on the wild frontier, stretching back to his childhood days. The story itself is adequate without necessarily feeling groundbreaking, but again the presentation is just superb. Big events play out with a time-lapse mechanic that’s so damn effective it’s practically hypnotic.

Octopath Traveler II Partitio
Image Credit: Square Enix via Twinfinite

Once you’ve started the real adventure, you’ll dive right back into the flow of the game without a single catch. Octopath’s combat system remains rock solid, highlighted by enemy weaknesses that can be exploited to stun them for the next turn and multiple attacking options that stack when not exploited.

The big innovation here are latent powers, which you can unlock towards the end of each hero’s introductory chapter. Breaking enemies or taking damage fills a meter, and activating the power grants a massive benefit for a single turn. Partitio instantly maximizes his boost points to dish out as many hits as possible, while the dancer Agnea can hit all enemies with attacks that would normally only focus on one. Each of these tricks is interesting and useful, although the speed at which the meter fills can make them a bit overwhelming given their scope.

After Parti thwarted the dastardly villains plaguing his city, it was time to venture to new horizons. Just like the original, you’re free to explore the world map at your leisure, and just like the original, your immediate destinations will likely be the cities where the other playable characters live. As you venture further out, you become vulnerable to being OHKOed by powerful monsters, and you can’t continue the story until you have the relevant character who needs to visit the off-the-beaten-path locations.

Octopath Traveler II Ochette
Image Credit: Square Enix via Twinfinite

If it sounds like I often refer to the first Octopath Traveler, that’s because this game is very committed to the standards it set. It’s a completely standalone story set in another country, but for the most part you’ll be doing more of it. There is a day/night mechanic that swaps the character paths’ actions (negotiations you can engage in with NPCs, such as buying items or asking them for information) while simultaneously changing the roads in the makes twilight hours more dangerous. It’s neat and yet kind of the same, doubling your available activities.

My impression of this game so far has been that it understands what worked and it’s not about reinventing the wheel; For many of us it probably offers exactly what we wanted, which is the same core gameplay, updated and with a new coat of paint.

Skimming Square Enix’s official post on 8 things you need to know about Octopath Traveler II reveals that the key features, even internally, are improvements rather than innovations. They’re all appropriate and welcome, but for the most part it still feels like I’m playing the same game as I was half a decade ago. Point #7, the interaction with the characters, is probably its biggest selling point and one we’ll come back to in the final review.

There’s still a lot more for me to do, and how the narrative develops can be the true barometer of my impression of the game. Once I’ve had a better chance of squeezing the land of Solistia with all it’s worth, I’ll know for sure if it stands up head and shoulders to the journey that took place all those years before.

https://twinfinite.net/2023/02/octopath-traveler-ii-preview-similar-but-a-little-different/ Octopath Traveler II Preview – Similar but (a little) different

Isaiah Colbert

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