Connect with the top gaming leaders in Los Angeles at GamesBeat Summit 2023 from May 22-23. Register here.
RPGs – more specifically those from Square Enix – are having a nostalgic moment. Forgoing the graphics and gameplay trappings of modern games, such as Dragon Age: Inquisition or Persona 5, Square Enix has released several games similar to the RPGs of yesteryear. These are the games with sprite art, turn-based combat, and deep stories told in text boxes. One of their first ventures into this throwback genre was 2018’s Octopath Traveler.
Now the sequel, Octopath Traveler II, is out. And it begs the question: How do you improve on the original while still holding on to the vision of an old-school RPG? The answer lies in the subtle differences and the gameplay tweaks. OT2 builds on the original in small ways, rather than major changes, and what we’ve got is a game that’s an upgrade in most respects, though it’s still not quite its own entity.
Octopath Traveler II, despite being a sequel, follows a new cast of eight characters in a new world with new problems. They are:
- Osvald, a scholar bent on revenge after being framed for the murder of his family.
- Castti, an amnesiac pharmacist searching for her true identity.
- Throne, a career thief bent on killing the abusive masters who control her.
- Ochette, a beastly hunter bent on preventing impending doom.
- Partitio, a merchant who wants to save his poor hometown.
- Agnea, a dancer who wants to become rich and famous.
- Temenos, a cleric who wants to solve a series of mysterious murders.
- Hikari, a samurai out to help the nation that banished him
As the above suggests, each character has its own story, with the first one you play acting as the point person for the party in all non-specific interactions. I chose Temenos (because I always have a murder mystery to solve) and later experienced the stories of the other characters when he encountered them.
A golden light: What’s nice about it
The new octet of heroes is a diverse bunch, in that among them you can find any story you want to play. Agnea’s story of becoming a dancer is simple and straightforward, while Throne’s story of freeing herself from the control of her abusive handlers is dark and complex. Each story unfolds in a somewhat organic fashion, with each character progressing individually as the party visits the locations where each chapter takes place.
I won’t go into too much detail about the overarching story for the sake of spoilers, but I appreciate that as it unfolds, aspects of each character’s story become intertwined. It makes the party feel like they’re meant to do what they do, rather than a random group of characters thrown together by chance. I also appreciate that none of them are princes or legendary heroes – they are working class people with problems. It helps keep the game from feeling too melodramatic like some of the others I could mention (*cough* Triangle Strategy).
As with the previous game, Octopath Traveler II is absolutely stunning. Perhaps the sprite art mixed with 3D backgrounds isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. And it’s not just the background art either – the character sprites are well done too. One of the highlights of the game is during boss battles, when the boss character gets bigger, more detailed artwork. Then you know you’re in for a good time.
I also liked the voice acting in this game a bit more than the last one. Perhaps this is because I primarily played as Temenos, who has a puckish streak I didn’t expect for a cleric detective and a voice to match. But while neither game had terrible voice acting, I liked the voices in the sequel a bit more. Even the NPCs have personality and color.
The job system from the first Octopath Traveler has also returned, where characters can get secondary jobs in addition to their main job. A welcome change in OT2 is that you get secondary jobs by getting guild licenses, and multiple characters can have the same secondary job. This opens up more gameplay possibilities and combat options.
Battle tweaks and social encounters
Combat is about what you’d expect from a turn-based RPG, but with a few extra bells and whistles to keep things interesting. The break and boost system from the first game returns, with the side able to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses to breach their defenses and use a boost point to unleash multiple or enhanced attacks in a single turn. Players have their own skills — which they can deploy using Skill Points (SP) — and access to multiple weapon types for some variety.
In addition to their SP and boost points, OT2’s characters also have a meter that fills up as the battle progresses. Once it is full, they can unleash their “latent power”, an ultimate ability that grants various combat enhancements. For example, Throné can move twice in one turn, while Agnea can use single-use abilities on multiple enemies. These make the gameplay more interesting, if not particularly challenging, and are one of the most interesting new mechanics in the game.
In addition to their combat crackers, each character in OT2 has their own social skills that they can use on NPCs in the world. Ochette can challenge townspeople to battles, while Throne can steal from them. Some of these skills come with risks: if you fail, townspeople won’t like you very much. Some are superfluous: Castti’s Inquire, Osvald’s Scrutinize, and Hikari’s Bribe all serve the same purpose: to get information out of someone. But at least it gives you some options.
Octopath Traveler II introduces a day-night cycle, one of the major departures from the original game. This affects certain combat skills, but seems to have an even greater effect on social skills. Each character has separate abilities for day and night, meaning if you need an ability during the day and it’s nighttime in the game, you just press a button and it instantly switches. It’s fun to mix and match skills at any time to see what works best for you in a given situation.
The dark aspects: What’s not to like about it
That said, I can’t help feeling that many of the things I praise OT2 for are the same things I could say about the original Octopath Traveler. The sequel isn’t particularly inventive – and it doesn’t have to be. But the first game certainly wasn’t perfect, and it’s a bit disappointing that the developers didn’t really build much from the ground up.
One of the problems with Octopath Traveler was the lack of group interaction. For a game literally named after its group of characters, each rarely acknowledged that the other party members existed. OT2 tries to fix this by adding “Crossed Paths”, short episodes where two characters team up to go on a mission together. In theory, this solves the problem, except there are only four such episodes and each party member in exactly one.
I first saw The Crossed Path with Throné and Temenos, because they were my first characters. I was delighted – until I realized that neither of them would have a similar mission to the other party members. If you wanted to see Agnea team up with Ochette? Or Osvald with Hikari? No, forget it. I understand there’s a lot going on in this game already, but that’s my point. This is an RPG – they should be big. I don’t think adding a few more team-up missions would cause the cup to overflow.
There’s also a bit of a boring grind problem – again, not unlike in the first game. Once I completed Throne’s first chapter and connected her to the party, I scanned the map to see where it was, and the map helpfully informed me that the recommended level for that mission was 16. For reference, Throne was level 7 at the time. And the best way to get to that level? Random encounters. It’s not exactly unusual for an RPG, but it still feels like a chore.
A beautiful world with a beautiful promise
When it’s at its best – and for the most part it is – Octopath Traveler II is a fantastic RPG that offers straightforward challenges with recognizable heroes and easy-to-learn mechanics. There’s a simple joy to the combat and gameplay mechanics, especially as the characters become more powerful. It’s still a joy to watch and the protagonists’ stories are varied and complex.
The main issue I have with OT2 is its similarities to its predecessor. It’s a fun and excellent example of the genre, but doesn’t go beyond that. I suppose there are worse sins a game could commit than not feeling much different from its great predecessor. But if Octopath Traveler wasn’t your thing, Octopath Traveler II probably won’t either.
Square Enix has given us a copy of this game for review. Octopath Traveler II is currently available on Nintendo Switch.
GamesBeat’s credo in covering the gaming industry is “where passion meets business”. What does this mean? We want to tell you how important the news is to you — not only as a decision maker in a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you’re reading our articles, listening to our podcasts, or watching our videos, GamesBeat helps you learn about and have fun with the industry. Discover our Briefings.