Square Enix is no stranger to the multiple-protagonist formula. Since the release of Live A Live, the idea has been up for grabs, which makes a series like Octopath Traveler so endearing. Its retro HD-2D aesthetic, turn-based combat and multiple storylines beg any would-be adventurer to dive in and enjoy. However, the formula needed some refinement, which made me excited about Octopath Traveler II.
Without faltering too much on their original concept, Acquire, and Square Enix have put together a JRPG that will captivate you across each of the eight storylines. It’s ultimately an experience packed with nostalgia and adventure that made it difficult to put down.
Octopath Traveler II begins with a choice of picking one of eight protagonists, Osvald, Castti, Temenos, Ochette, Partitio, Agnea, Throné, and Hikari. Your choice dictates your starting position on Solistia, which is comprised of two continents divided by a large sea. While not explicitly important, your starter character will likely be the highest leveled throughout this experience, but each character will join your ranks sooner or later.
Each character has a reason for being on this journey, some greater than others. It took me a while to warm up to Agnea’s quest of spreading joy and becoming famous, but even she becomes an integral part of the overarching narrative. Across each storyline, you learn more about the character’s past and what they face moving forward. It’s unclear in the early chapters, but you get this sense that something isn’t right in this world, which a few character chapters allude to.
The characters are more ragtag than I expected them to be. As they joined, I didn’t think they felt like a party until travel banter revealed their interactions. These are brief conversations between two characters that showcase their relationship. Aside from being light-hearted, you get a better insight into how they bond.
This is further highlighted in the shared story chapters where two characters have similar goals. This was implemented as a direct response to those who didn’t like how removed the characters seemed from a common goal in the first game. Although each character still has their personal journey to complete, the entire adventure comes to a head in the final chapter, which I wasn’t prepared for.
This adventure encourages exploration. Taking time to run off the path will likely reveal treasure or a new point of interest. Towns feel alive and provide a sense of nostalgia to old fans of the genre as you break into people’s houses to look for treasure chests. The world becomes massive as you open up new chapters for each protagonist. There’s no shortage of hidden dungeons, side quests, and towns to get distracted by. Some of these dungeons also contain character-specific EX skills and legendary equipment that greatly aid in some more challenging battles.
While each area has a recommended level for your party, you can travel wherever you want. However, this recommendation sets the pace of the order you take on character chapters. Sadly, as characters join your party, they’ll join at level 1 unless you play through their chapter 1, which acts as a prologue and will likely get them to level 6. Members not in your party will not gain experience, but they can be power-leveled up, and some supporting skills increase EXP earned after fights. Reflecting on this feature, I never felt the need to grind levels, and my party was always well-equipped through casual play.
That said, while each character has a job class, secondary job classes can be equipped, which comes with its own set of abilities. Further, secondary job classes have quests assigned to them, opening new options for players to get the upper hand in combat. Finally, NPCs also offer side-quests, which are likely the most cryptic quests ever delivered by NPCs. Some details of a quest will simply say, “someone stole from me.” or, “I lost an item somewhere.” and so you’re tasked with completing them with vague directions.
However, sometimes you’ll stumble across items that NPCs need, which you’ll be rewarded for. Some quests require you to use Path Actions, which now include two abilities for each character. Depending on whether you’re playing in the day or night, characters can interact with NPCs to steal from them, knock them out, enlist them, or get information from them. Some characters have the same Path Action effect, just a different way of going about it, such as Throné being able to knock someone out and Castti just serving them sleeping powder. Suffice it to say; it’s really easy to get distracted in this game, which will likely take 50 – 80 hours to complete.
The day and night cycle also affects the monsters you fight, making them more difficult at night. However, party members gain buffs at night too, which varies from character to character. It’s a feature I often used when exploring towns and even dungeons, depending on who was in my party.
While combat is a huge part of gameplay, chapters are generally more story focused, usually with a boss encounter to close out the chapter. However, they are each generally short, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour for each chapter. Options to speed up text or autoplay are also available, and it is possible to switch between Japanese and English audio anytime. Most of the combat will occur as you travel from town to town.
Combat is turn-based and similar to other RPGs; players can boost attacks by conserving BP each turn. Enemies are weak to either specific weapon types or elements and have shield points that, when broken, allow players to deal massive damage. The battle speed can be slightly sped up, but encounters rarely overstay their welcome. I will say that the encounter rate is really high in some areas and becomes more prominent when you’re just trying to get somewhere. Luckily, there are unlockable support skills to lower these rates.
Each job gives players access to various support skills as they spend job points on unlocking new abilities. Four support skills can be equipped, and they make a difference in late-game encounters. Bosses have added buffs to test your understanding of the party’s abilities. These encounters lean more into strategy as you plan the perfect time to break their shield and unleash a flurry of attacks.
Each character also has a Latent Power option that builds when taking damage or breaking an enemy. These are unique to the character and add different options to your strategy. I will say that once your party hits level 40, the game takes the gloves off as you make your way through some truly challenging fights. Regardless, I never felt like I was overwhelmed or could progress. In fact, I spent a lot of time deciding whose chapter to take on first since they are all open to you once you add the member to your party.
When it comes to the overall menu design and UI, I feel like this game needs some work. Besides pointing you in a general direction, the onscreen mini-map is useless. Instead, it’s a foggy mess, which caused me to open the menu map to see which direction I should be going. Further, the fast travel options are minimal for much of the game, subjecting you only to be able to fast travel to towns. This issue becomes apparent when you encounter a trial dungeon that requires you to only have one character in your party. So you have to go to the nearest town’s Pub, remove party members and then travel back to the dungeon with only one character.
Given how epic the final chapter is, this is a game you’ll want to finish. However, it isn’t easy to get there when there’s so much left to explore. Right when you think you’ve got all the towns discovered and can focus on clearing chapters, you get a ship and can travel the sea, which houses multiple new dungeons and enemies. Luckily, this is a beautiful game with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. Like the theme of characters, who come from different regions, the music adapts to whatever area of the world you’re at, with changes of instruments and melodies that fit each mood.
Octopath Traveler II is an evolution of this series that doesn’t change the formula of its predecessor but enhances it in almost every way. The characters have their own adventure ahead of them, which eventually becomes a more centralized plot; the battle system highlights strategy through deep character customization and job classes, and exploration and discovery are at the core of the entire experience. There are a few stumbles along the way, but this is an adventure like none other and one I won’t soon forget.
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