Octopath Traveler II Impressions
Surpassing the original in nearly every way
Look, I'm going to shoot straight with this impression piece: I adore Octopath Traveler. From the moment I saw it many years ago being showcased at some one-off Nintendo Direct to the time I spent weeks grinding it out in early college, everything about that game is so very special to me. As you might expect, I was extremely pleased to learn Octopath Traveler would be receiving a well-deserved sequel: Octopath Traveler II. I've had the game for about a week and I've devoted nearly every moment of my free time to it. I'm happy to admit it accomplishes everything Octopath Traveler set out to achieve and so much more.
It was a bit baffling seeing many reviews drop for this game stating that it's more of the same - well of course it is, it's a sequel. So much of what Octopath Traveler did, it did right, like the superb class system and the gorgeous HD-2D visuals. Octopath Traveler II satisfyingly retained much of what made the first game great, so yeah, it's going to feel same-y. But to say that it's hardly worth a sequel simply isn't true; there is a litany of features that make this game warranted.
Octopath Traveler had a wonderfully deep class system that gave players the ability to freely customize their characters with mix-and-match abilities. Here's an example: take the Scholar class, throw it on the Dancer, and now you've got a dancer mage. Octopath Traveler II continues this trend of party malleability while also offering new folds to the mix, like additional subclasses.
While acquiring jobs, you are granted licenses, which allow you to share classes with other party members. Do tasks for your class guild and you'll unlock an additional license, allowing you to share that job with an additional party member. A class you can get early on, the Engineer, is unique due to the fact that you have to find parts around the map to unlock new abilities. While I've yet to come across more subclasses, the original game featured four powerful endgame classes, so I know Octopath Traveler II has more in store.
Eight Stories, One Journey
In this sequel, you're playing the stories of eight new travelers on an entirely new continent. They share the same classes as the previous game but many abilities have been changed to make them feel fresh. These new travelers also boast grander and, many times, darker stories than the travelers in the original game. Many of the stories are heart-throbbing in some regard, and a few host fairly light, fluffy plotlines; meanwhile, others are dramatic and dangerous. Octopath Traveler was a mixed bag of eight varying storylines and the sequel does the same. I have no issue with this, as it's quite literally in the name of the game.
Ultimately, this is a strength of Octopath Traveler that was carried over from the original, as it earnestly plays up the series' main shtick: eight unique travelers on separate but equal journeys. A few of the travelers in the original game didn't catch my interest but I feel as if every character I've played in this game has had a stellar introduction. My favorite currently is Osvald, the Scholar who has been thrown into a frigid ice prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering his family. His first chapter, as you might expect, involves a prison break, and it's very good.
Crossed Paths is the sequel's answer to the burning criticism of the original's lack of party cohesion, featuring two characters instead of one. While I've yet to embark on any of these journeys just yet, the mere notion of it is exciting as someone who wanted more party cohesion and character cross-over in Octopath Traveler. To be fair, there is still room for Octopath Traveler II to grow when it comes to character interactions and party dialogue - it is a bit jarring when one of your characters is silent while the other asks to join your journey. There is also an awkward air in the room when party members aren't acknowledged during intense story moments. If anything, this is my biggest complaint with the game, and something I'd love to see improved upon.
Don't Fix What Isn't Broken
Combat is very much the same as the original Octopath Traveler (which is not a fault, as there was really little wrong with the first's gameplay). Enemies have either weapon or elemental weaknesses (oftentimes both) and it's up to you to trial-and-error your way through attacking until you eliminate enough of their shield points to initiate a Break. At this point, you deal as much damage as you can in two turns, and then continue on. It's an addicting gameplay system that is as intuitive as it is visually appealing. Octopath Traveler II enhances the combat camera and pans inward to really give powerful attacks the punchy feel they deserve.
Latent Powers, the sequel's version of an "ultimate ability," additionally offers an extra layer to the already delicious slice of cake that is Octopath's combat system. These powers are unlocked after completing the first chapter of a character's story and have the powerful potential to turn the tides of a battle. Castti the Apothecary's Latent Power, for example, allows her to create a concoction with various ingredients without actually consuming them. The result? A unique ability to whip up some immense buffs for your team with rare and powerful ingredients - free of cost.
Beyond the exceptional blend of modern-day graphics and the 16-bit pixel look, Octopath Traveler II looks much nicer on more modern hardware. The original game was released exclusively on the Nintendo Switch before its eventual port to Xbox and PC, so the look was in some ways hampered by that hardware. I'm playing the game on the PlayStation 5 and the visuals couldn't be any closer to the definition of eye candy. HD-2D truly does revel in high framerates and ultra-high-definition resolutions; each environment in Octopath Traveler II feels even more beautiful than ever thanks to this.
Whether you're gazing off at the sparkling ocean, crawling through a decrepit cavern, or waltzing down the streets of an urban city center, you're going to be saying "wow" quite often while the gorgeous pixels stimulate your vision. Explorable environments are much more diverse this time around as well, offering up verticality and traversable water through the usage of boats. These small changes go a long way in making Octopath Traveler II's overworld feel less like fancily decorated hallways and more naturally developed. I particularly love it when JRPGs do their best to make the overworld explorability worthwhile, largely due to the fact that many of them forsake adventure in the name of combat. While Octopath Traveler II is no pioneer of dungeon-crawling (see Persona 5's palaces) it does enough to make exploration fun and rewarding.
Bundled with these striking visuals is another stellar soundtrack from Yasunori Nishiki, the composer behind the first game. Octopath Traveler's orchestral grandiose lends itself well to the theme of eight exhilarating adventures and I'm glad that this wasn't pivoted from in the sequel. Battle tracks are nothing short of elating, while town tracks range from sleepy and coddling to bustling and active. Music is more subjective than anything but I've had many of Octopath Traveler's tracks on my Spotify playlist for years - believe me when I say the sequel is going to shake things up for me.
Above anything, Octopath Traveler II harbors all the good from its predecessor while innovating nearly everything that could've been improved upon. Team Asano, the lovely studio behind these HD-2D marvels, earned its keep with its release of the original game. This time around, Square Enix let the team run free with what is clearly a much more generous budget and way more creative freedom. With answers to many of the criticisms of the original Octopath Traveler, Octopath Traveler II has been everything I wanted it to be and so much more, and I can't wait to dedicate the next month of my life to this JRPG beauty.
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