Octopath Traveler II Review – An Iterative Improvement

And the best showing of 2D-HD thus far.

The first Octopath Traveler was a great game, but I felt it was often misunderstood. It’s deliciously old school presentation set the scene for the game players wanted it to be – a fresh modern take on the RPG that still managed to look like it came from the golden years of the genre. Underneath it’s shiny veneer was some fantastic gameplay bolstered by a flexible job and party system. Now, Octopath Traveler II attempts to address the criticisms levelled at its predecessor to offer a more intertwined story. And while it’s not necessarily the direction I think the series needed to head in, it offers up more of what players loved five years ago.

The new game takes place in a new continent called Solistia. It’s different to Osterra from the previous game, sporting a much more modern setting. Solistia is in the midst of an industrial and trade revolution, so it feels like a time of great prosperity in the world. The story follows eight characters, each with their own stories and motivations. Some want to be the best in their field, others want to capitalise on the boom in trade. The story eventually converges, but like the original game, it really is all about the individual stories.

octopath traveler ii review

I adored Octopath Traveler but I feel like the concept is already starting to wear a little thin. So much of Octopath Traveler II feels lifted directly from the predecessor to the point that it can feel like  a retread at times. Where the original game lacked meaningful interactions between the party, Octopath Traveler II attempts to remedy this by incorporating new stories that usually intertwine two characters, complete with sub-chapters. While I feel like this is the right direction to move in, there were still moments overall where my main character would just stand there in silence while cutscenes centering on other characters played out.

It would be a logistical nightmare to accurately predict the order players obtain their party members and adjust dialogue and interactions accordingly. But I can’t help but feel that, with a little bit more linearity, a party with synergy at both a story and gameplay level could easily be developed. I admire the attempts to bring things closer together, even if that wasn’t the intention of the original game, but overall it feels like more of a half step towards that goal more than anything else.

octopath traveler ii review hikari

But underneath the plot, there’s a fantastic game here too. Like the original, it’s a turn-based RPG that feels fast paced but still has enough depth to it that makes it fun to master. As mentioned previously, you’ll explore Solistia while following the individual stories of eight characters. The world itself is beautiful – presented in a unique 2D-HD style that the original game pioneered. But is Octopath Traveler II just a typical RPG with a nostalgic look art direction? It’s honestly so much more.

The battle system is just as strong as in the original game. A typical turn-based system with the Break and Boost mechanics returning. Each turn, each character gains a BP, which can then be used to increase your attacks or power in the same turn. Using this system to target an enemy’s weakness can “break” them, stunning them and, if planned correctly, prevent them from attacking and open them up to more damage. It’s hard to explain – and I implore you to try the demo – but it’s a satisfying combat system that rewards those who think about each turn and how they’ll flow into one another.

octopath traveler ii review battle

Octopath Traveler II does introduce a few new aspects to the combat. Latent powers are the most obvious. These are available to each character and are usable after filling a gauge that fills from either taking damage or breaking an enemy. Each power has a different effect, allowing you to focus a group-targeting spell onto a single enemy for extra damage or even buffing your party depending on the time of day. They’re a nice touch that adds an extra layer of strategizing to battle, but they’re also not essential enough that I found myself using them a whole lot.

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A little bit more essential is the robust jobs system that underpins the combat. Each of the playable characters has a primary job that denotes what abilities and weapons they can wield. Secondary jobs can be assigned to fill gaps in that character’s loadout. I’m a huge fan of a good job system in RPGs, and Octopath Traveler II has what I consider to be some genre-best execution of the concept. It’s so much fun to experiment with different combinations to build your perfect party, and almost mandatory to overcome the games later trickier chapters.

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octopath traveler ii review story

Outside of battles, the changes are more obvious. Path actions return, which allow you to interact with NPCs in different ways. You can rob them, convince them to follow you into battle or even bribe them for secrets. It’s always been a cool idea. Octopath Traveler II gives each character two path actions, dependent on the time of day. But in the original game, these actions often came in pairs, with one being superior to the other. One character can steal, for example, while another can still steal but only after battling the person. It felt a bit padded out in the original game, and by almost doubling the path actions in this game, it feels especially so.

I’ve talked a lot about who time of day affects so much in Octopath Traveler II, and that’s one of the cooler new aspects of the game. With the press of a button, the setting you’re in will change from day to night. Some path actions only work depending on the time of day and stronger enemies come out at night to do battle. You’ll even encounter different NPCs at night. It’s a bit gimmicky, but visually impressive to see the world change instantly in front of you. The music changes too – from flourishing orchestral tracks during the day to more subdued and relaxed pieces of the same music at night.

octopath traveler ii review night

Other aspects are introduced that weren’t in the original, though aren’t as game changing as I’d have hoped. The party eventually gains access to a ship that allows them to travel between the two halves of Solistia. The “open sea” aspect of Octopath Traveler II is really just like a glorified world map. I appreciate the variety on offer here, but it feels like it’s being touted as a feature when it’s really something most older RPGs have had in the past.

But speaking of the past, there are times where I felt that Octopath Traveler II was perhaps living too far into it. With the advent of so many other RPGs incorporating time saving measures, there were too manty times where I’d spend so much time in Octopath Traveler II just grinding. Not even grinding to gain levels, mind you, just running between areas to heal at an inn so I could make progress in the story. So much of Octopath Traveler II feels old school your characters who are benched are still needed to be levelled up, especially if you want to tackle the optional final chapters.

It might sound asinine to complain about an RPG having a long runtime. But given how many other games in the genre have included time saving elements like quick battles or fast forward it feels especially egregious. Octopath Traveler II does let you double the battle speed and advance its cutscenes quickly, but these are surface level. The design fundamentals underpinning it, like the aforementioned levelling of benched characters and constant need to heal do not respect the players time.

Without a doubt, though, Octopath Traveler II is the best-looking rendition of 2D-HD yet. Not only does the game leverage the unique style to create a world much more modern than the previous game, but stunning camera work and frame composition leads to some pretty epic moments throughout the story. It all feels a lot higher budget than previously. Other small touches, like adding animations for attacking enemies, makes a great case for 2D-HD as an art direction not losing any of its lustre.

octopath traveler ii review city

And the music. Oh, the music! Yasunori Nishiki returns to compose for Octopath Traveler II and it’s one of the most beautiful soundtracks I’ve ever borne witness (or listened) to. The soundtrack does not disappoint in any aspect. The voice work is similarly pretty strong, with both English and Japanese voice tracks being selectable. Some of the deliveries are still a little bit melodramatic, but otherwise the whole experience feels well produced and presented.

Conclusion
Octopath Traveler II does an earnest job of trying to right the wrongs of its predecessor, making more attempts than ever to integrate the stories of its eight characters. While the result falls slightly short of this promise, Octopath Traveler II offers everything the original did and more. It’s a stellar RPG with a fantastic presentation and mechanically robust gameplay systems that any genre fan shouldn’t miss.
Positives
Strong Battle Flow
Flexible Job and Skill System
Beautiful Use Of 2D-HD
Negatives
Story Not As Intertwined As Expected
Old-School Design Can Lead To Some Tedium
8.5