In early 2017, Square Enix revealed Project Octopath Traveler, which seemed to be an homage to the retro turn-based games of a bygone era. Many, including me, were dazzled by the look of the game’s tilt-shift graphics that combined 2D pixel art sprites with 3D environments. Clearly, the folks at Square Enix were fans of it too, as their “HD-2D” style has been used in a myriad of games such as Triangle Strategy, Live A Liveand the upcoming Dragon Quest III remake.
Nearly five years after the release of Octopath TravelerSquare Enix has come back to the series with Octopath Traveler II (well, unless you’re one of the eight people who played the mobile game). Make no mistake, this one’s a completely different octet of travelers and takes place in a whole new setting. So if you’re a first-time traveler, don’t worry if you didn’t play the predecessor. Now, of course, the big question is, how good is it compared to the first game? After having sunk in tens of hours and mourning every moment wasted not playing Octopath Traveler III can tell you that it’s extremely good and is more than a few steps ahead of the original.
II Times the Fun
There’s a lot of emphasis on the “II” part of Octopath Traveler II, given that everything seems to have doubled. For starters, the world of Solistia comprises two continents, rather than a single continent in the previous game. This time around as well, the eight playable characters are scattered across the map and you’ll have to pick one to start with. From there on out, you can choose to continue along the path of the character you’ve chosen, or you can head towards the remaining travelers and have them accompany you on your journey.
The same job classes are there to choose from as the original, but there’s a stark contrast between some of their goals. While one of them wants to bring smiles to people’s faces with their dancing, the other plans to exact revenge for the murder of their wife and daughter after spending 1,879 days in prison. There’s quite a range of characters to choose from for sure. Some of the characters’ tales do feel a bit clichéd at times, but there are also moments when you’ll feel moved by their stories. The voice work lends a hand in doing so, as it feels loftier and more impactful during key moments, not just for the main eight but also for bosses, NPCs, and the like.
This time around, the characters feel a lot more fleshed out. The sprite work is much more detailed, with a number of additional gestures and animation sequences as well as more detailed proportions. I started my journey with Agnea, and her being a skilled dancer, I noticed she has a bit of grace in the way she runs compared to the remaining seven. The enemy sprites also have a lot more movement to them than before.
It’s obvious that Square Enix has learned a lot from making more HD-2D games as there are quite a few creative changes they’ve made in Octopath Traveler II. For starters, the colors aren’t as washed out anymore (a relief for my poor eyes) as they were in the first game. The camerawork has become a lot more dynamic, as it pans in a lot more directions now during cutscenes, and will even swerve behind you in battle as you pull off a x4 attack. There’s even a way of moving across bodies of water, as each character gets their own tiny boat when they’re near a pier.
A huge addition that former fans will be happy to hear about is that the eight travelers interact with each other much more than they did in the original. In addition to the travel banter, there are now chapters called “Crossed Paths,” a special story event between two characters from the octet. Additionally, characters interact a bit more organically with each even in battle, as one of them might complement an attack pulled off by the party member before them. It certainly is nice to see characters bond with each other instead of just existing around one another.
All In A Day’s (And Night’s) Work
Perhaps my favorite addition to Octopath Traveler II, even over the interactivity between the octet, are the day and night cycles. The time of day can be changed with a press of a button, and a few things change when you go from day to night, not just in terms of the visuals but also the actual mechanics.
If you’re in a town during the night you might find a few musicians busking out in the street, or even folks who’ve gone to the tavern after a long day of work. The soundtrack will shift to a “night” version of the track playing during the day, and it’s not simply a slowed-down version, it’s an entirely different track. So there are almost twice as many tracks to obsess over in this game, and god, are there some tracks that go hard.
As you’d expect, stronger enemies come out during the night, so if you want to do some grinding, traveling during the night is for you. Apart from that, there’s another bit of brilliance to Octopath Traveler II‘s day and night cycles, and that lies within the Path Actions. Path Actions are special skills that each of the eight has in Octopath, and they’re back in the Octopath Traveler II, but now they’re twofold. Characters have a certain Path Action during the day, as well as a different one during the night. So for Hikari, a warrior prince from the Ku clan, can challenge people to duels during the day to gain their skills, but during the night he can bribe people to glean information from them.
Sometimes you might find that you’re too under-leveled to perform a certain Path Action on someone, and in this case, it’s a good idea to come back to them later. And here’s where I have a bone to pick with Octopath Traveler II. There are a lot of places you’ll want to come back to later, whether that’s to charm a rich lady into giving you her necklace or be able to proceed to the next area without dying in one hit. Being able to put markers on the map would be a huge help, but Octopath Traveler II has a pretty lackluster world map as far as JRPGs go. It’s the only gripe I have with the game, and honestly, it can be overlooked given how well-polished it is in every other aspect.
The combat isn’t all too different from the first game, but it’s still extremely enjoyable nonetheless, as Octopath has some great mechanics which change up the usual turn-based formula. Finding out an enemy’s weakness to use it against them, and breaking their shield to stun is always a satisfying experience. Boost points make a return and allow you to make multiple hits in a single turn as you save them up. A new addition in Octopath Traveler II is Latent Powers, unique powers that the octet has access to once the Latent Power gauge fills up.
One thing that I’ve always liked about Octopath’s turn-based combat is that it encourages you to make efficient choices in battle as it rewards doing so. If you manage to get through an encounter without taking a hit, you’ll be rewarded with bonus EXP and money. That carries on to Octopath Traveler II to my delight, and it’s definitely something I’d like to see in more turn-based games. What I was hoping wouldn’t make a return were the random encounters, but I guess it’s ok to suffer a little when you’re playing a game that looks this good.
Although the difference between the first installment and the second one isn’t exactly day and night (hah), Octopath Traveler II outdoes its predecessor and adds a lot of things that were missing in the first one. It feels a lot more of a grander journey, especially with all the characters having a bit more camaraderie between them. There’s twice as much to explore now, and you’ll find that you’ve just barely scratched the surface within 15 hours of the game. A demo is also available to play up to the first three hours for a single character.
TechRaptor reviewed Octopath Traveler II on Nintendo Switch with a copy received by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.