Time often provides a foundation for things to be improved, and that is a key factor when it comes to sequels for video games. Players expect improvements to be made, new features to be added, and more ways for the experience to surprise them, but in many instances, also for the spirit of the game to remain the same. For Square Enix and Acquire’s Octopath Traveler II, which arrives almost five years after the first game, there is a stark similarity to its role-playing predecessor, setting the stage for both excellent consistency and a rather subtle lack of freshness for the sequel.
As a premise, Octopath Traveler II tasks players to step into the proverbial shoes of the eight leading characters, as well as the paths that lie ahead of them. With no set choice to be made, you have the freedom to kick things off in any order, seeing things from the character’s perspective before folding into the overarching narrative.
On each path, a gorgeous tilt-shifted world awaits, filled with towns and people that you can meet and interact with. The first chapter of every character’s story acts as a great introduction, allowing players to get into a groove for both narrative and gameplay purposes, especially with the character permanently added to the party following the conclusion of said chapter.
When meeting one of the eight characters for the first time in a tale, Octopath Traveler II gives the option of playing through their first chapter or skipping it to add them to the party. The former option is definitely the way to go so that important story beats and a better level of understanding are not missed. For a Japanese RPG, it pays to get invested in both lore and mechanics.
It helps that each of the many chapters found in the stories of the playable characters in the game comes in all flavours, sporting different tones and scopes. Not all characters are made the same, and it shows with the breadth of the stories being told whether it consists of humble beginnings or tales with much more at stake. Crucially, they all feel satisfying to live through to completion, even if they are not always on the same dramatic level.
The heroes and heroines of Octopath Traveler II now come with two special abilities instead, with each tailored to either the day or night. As an example, the thief can utilise the pickpocket ability to obtain items during the day, while at night, it changes to an ambush ability, which incapacitates NPCs and sends them to sleep. The former is a great way to keep your inventory stocked, whereas the latter is a solution that can help overcome obstacles in your way in an unorthodox fashion.
Not all eight of the main characters in the game sport unique abilities, with some repetition to be had. However, it does not make the abilities any less useful and allows players to either double down on a useful skill or have a variety to choose from. Considering that the game allows for the time of day to be changed at any time, the game is able to keep things interesting with its setup and design.
Beyond the towns and character interactions, the party will have to travel between destinations. Rather than rely on an overworld, Octopath Traveler II has players travelling on connected roads instead, where enemies can roam and fights can ensue. The aforementioned day/night cycle also comes into play, with foes being more dangerous at night while rewarding more XP.
The turn-based battle system makes a welcomed return in Octopath Traveler II, allowing tactical decisions to be made for every fight. Enemies all possess various strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to you to find out just what hits them the hardest. Once that knowledge is gained, the fight becomes more about exploiting the weaknesses to set things up for more damaging combos and attacks.
Yet, despite its JRPG roots, it is not always that straightforward when trying to discern these weaknesses. Elements do not always exist on opposite sides, making it essential for players to truly engage in fact-finding attacks before committing, so don’t expect your fire attacks to always work against enemies made of ice. The same goes for boss battles, which can become more prolonged affairs if you wish to fight more efficiently.
At the very least, the game makes it easier for you, displaying known weaknesses permanently once they have been discovered. With Octopath Traveler II really keen on ensuring players are up to the task in certain areas, grinding is unavoidable, and knowing what hurts your foes the most is going to help.
It pays to be over-levelled in the game, and as long as you are entering an area on par with the Danger Level, you should always be able to rely on combat abilities, weaknesses, and other mechanics to get on top of the tougher enemies and bosses.
To sum it all up, Octopath Traveler II comes close to being the ideal sequel. It once again totes that amazing HD-2D aesthetic and style, and continues to build on the successful foundations of the series. The storytelling has also improved, with crafted tales that feel both easier to get into and remain invested in. Yet, the game does lack meaningful surprises in a sense, remaining steadfastly familiar to the 2018 release save for the new tweaks. It doesn’t make Octopath Traveler II any less of a great JRPG; just be sure to check your expectations at the door.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A thoroughly enjoyable JRPG sequel, Octopath Traveler II just feels a tad too familiar to really break through the noise.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 8/10