Octopath Traveler II Review – Here I Go Solo Again
Octopath Traveler II for Nintendo Switch
In 2018, the Nintendo Switch was given an exclusive limited-time gift with Octopath Traveler from Square Enix. It boasted a rock-solid combat system, beautiful graphics, a lullaby soundtrack, and countless hours of content. It was and still is one of my favorite games on the hybrid console.
Having spent a considerable amount of time with its successor brings with it many emotions and proves to be a distillation of everything that made the first title good, while still falling short in many ways. Trying to unpack how you feel about it is ultimately a question of what you really want from a sequel, and it’s a question I’m still pondering about the answer to.
First, let’s break down the basics. As hinted at in our preview, Octopath Traveler II is a standalone sequel to yesterday’s smash hit JRPG. You choose one of eight protagonists, travel the continents and assemble the rest of the team, working together in turn-based combat as each character continues their own story chapter by chapter.
These characters are, for the most part, just as solid as the heroes from the original. The animalistic hunter Ochette is particularly endearing, and the clergyman Temenos’ whimsical approach to theology is well written. Of course, some of their motivations are far more compelling than others; Grey-haired scholar Osvald seeks revenge for the murder of his family, while dancer Agnea strives for fame. Why Osvald would please them by joining forces is beyond me (five years in prison left him craving a bit of sparkle?), but we’ll get back to the story’s entanglement later.
Just like Octopath Traveler I – for better or for worse, we’ll refer to this game a lot – each character’s checkpoints are scattered around the map, which makes sense from a gameplay perspective, while the narrative flow gets a bit inconsistent, especially when it’s a one while researching the progress of a specific hero. All eight stories are satisfying in their own way once you get past that hurdle, though they tend to dip into the well of double crosses a little too often. Namely; You will experience many moments cursing your sudden but inevitable betrayal.
The combat system revolves around two main concepts; enemy weaknesses and boost points (BP). Each of the protagonists is equipped with one or two different weapons and a variety of elemental abilities. If you hit an enemy with an attack they are weak for, their shield points will be reduced by one. When this value reaches zero, you will break the enemy, incapacitating them for the next turn and making all your attacks critical for that time.
Trying to guess what an enemy might be weak for is part of the fun, and once you know what they don’t like, you can use those boost points. Each turn you add another BP to your characters (maximum five). These BP allow you to unleash multiple weapon hits in a row, up to four at a time. This allows you to hack through shield points faster, although it takes an extra turn for your BP to refill after use.
New to the formula are Latent Powers; a special ability unique to each character, tied to a meter that fills as they take damage or break enemies. The thief Throné gains another action in the same turn, while the warrior Hikari gains temporary access to a new set of powerful attacks, and so on.
These serve as a welcome addition for the most part, however, there is one distinct gap in value that quickly becomes apparent. Temenos can exploit a weakness with any weapon type, while Agnea can attack any target with her next strike. Considering she can now dish out the overpowered Ruinous Kick to multiple enemies—which, of course, breaks defenses anyway—she usually leaves the cleric in the dust.
The combat system is complex and nuanced, with opportunities to add a secondary class and other such folds to each character, and mastering it is a satisfying, engaging process. This is especially true as you progress through the game, where powerful bosses will test your brain power with their attack patterns.
All of this is presented in the HD 2D visuals that remain enchanting to this day and have reached near perfect levels. Octopath Traveler relied too heavily on focus pulls and a native shadow clipping aesthetic, causing environments to feel somewhat limited in scope, a problem that has been overcome in the years since. The suitably immersive soundtrack, on the other hand, is just as up to the task and still manages to surprise: I wasn’t expecting to hear an electric guitar and saxophone duet in Partitio’s theme, but when it kicked in, I broke my bloody heart out.
The animations are more polished and fluid, and it’s downright invigorating to see a boss character being blasted into a massive, menacing threat once you’ve engaged them in mortal combat. If you want an example of how sprite work should look like, it’s quite simple.
The surrounding locations are vibrant and fascinating, and some are quite stunning. New Delsta’s layout makes it feel like it should; the glamorous metropolis whose thin facade of opulence belies a seedy underbelly of poverty and crime.
There are also lots of nice little touches scattered throughout. When a character breaks an enemy, the next acting one will thank him or express concern after seeing a comrade take great damage. If you select a fully BP loaded technique, the camera will dynamically slide across the battlefield when unleashed. This game has such a strong personality and will quickly sink into your heart.
However, Octopath’s look and feel was never really the issue. The biggest question is undoubtedly whether the protagonists play a role in each other’s stories, and the unfortunate answer is no, they don’t. As the heroes begin their major story arcs, cutscenes are presented as if they had been traveling alone the whole time. I felt like it was Octopath Traveler’s biggest weakness in 2018, and it’s back to alienate me again.
The actual story, enticing as it is, remains eight anthologies functioning independently, and that’s an absolute disgrace. It’s a consistent theme of Octopath’s design philosophy where you technically could work through a protagonist’s entire story before dealing with the others, but the level cap would make this mundane and impractical.
If we have this superficial barrier of the grind, why can’t we lock subsequent chapters behind the progression of other storylines to weave those stories together? Are these eight people just so disinterested in each other’s lives?
There are post-cutscene dialogue opportunities that you can trigger called the Travel Banter, and they ease the pain somewhat. Listening to the cast bouncing off each other is delightful, I just wish it actually influenced the narrative above. You can go through an entire playthrough without ever bothering to participate in these interactions should you wish.
The feature I was most looking forward to in Octopath Traveler II is the newly introduced Shared Paths, which pairs two of the characters in their own adventures. On paper this is exactly what I wanted, but in practice it turns out to be a bit disappointing.
Each of the shared paths, while entertaining in their own way, are side stories that don’t affect things terribly one way or the other. They’re more akin to extended travel banter than their own chapters, and again, you can choose to skip them entirely. effectively the JRPG version of Anime Filler.
The introduction of Shared Paths was Square Enix’s opportunity to intertwine the lore and eliminate the sense of isolation that plagued the original. Instead they are applied gently – almost shyly – as a nicety rather than a necessity, and once again big plot beats proceed as a monologue rather than an ensemble.
That being said, Octopath Traveler II’s biggest flaw is that it plays way too safe and behaves like an improved version of the game that came before it, rather than a unique, unmissable experience. There are canoes (and later a full galleon) to help you traverse the world’s waterways, and a day/night mechanic that tweaks the gameplay a bit, but ultimately all it adds is a shiny gimmick on the fly otherwise identical structure to the original.
On the one hand, this will probably do the established fan base good; They didn’t mess around with something that worked perfectly from the start and give us more of the same. Critically, however, one can clearly point out the known disadvantages; the narrative, which continues without noticing the travelers who participate, and a somewhat repetitive gameplay loop where they arrive at a town, enter a dungeon, and fight a boss.
Those things have been glossed over – and yes, the Shared Paths are a fun distraction that add an extra dose of camaraderie – ultimately leaving us with a souped-up edition of a game we’ve played before.
In a vacuum, Octopath Traveler II is superior to its predecessor in virtually every way, with improvements across the board. If you were interested in the first one, you will almost certainly love this one too. Praising him in this way is partly underhand, however, as he fails to honor his own legacy in any way, shape or form.
I already liked it in 2018 and sure I will like it in 2022 too. It would be disingenuous not to highly recommend it for JRPG fans or single player gamers in general. But make no mistake; Should a third entry appear, I expect something definitely new and unique. Call it selfish if you must, I just want to see the true latent power this franchise has.
Reviewer: Tony Cocking | Forgive: The Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by the publisher.
- Complex, satisfying combat system.
- Content rich, with options to customize your party.
- Interesting characters and solid storytelling.
- The main storyline still continues independently of other characters.
- Fails to break new ground.
February 24, 2023
Square Enix, purchase
Switch, Playstation 5, Playstation 4, PC
https://twinfinite.net/2023/02/octopath-traveler-ii-review/ Octopath Traveler II Review – Here I Go Solo Again