Octopath Traveler was a very striking-looking JRPG when it came out. It combined 32-bit aesthetics like sprites with 3D polygonal environments with chunky pixel art and incorporated modern-day post-processing effects like bloom and liberal use of a shallow depth of field. The style was such a hit that it inspired a remake of Live A Live that used this new technique, now dubbed “HD-2D”.
The appeal of the HD-2D style is undeniable, but Octopath Traveler came up short in a few places with its game design and scenarios. Despite its shortcomings, it got ported to Xbox consoles and gamepass.
The premise of eight protagonists who have to work together was not executed as well as one would hope. There is room for improvement and even the pixel art was a bit rough around the edges the first time around. For the sequel, the developers aim to improve every aspect of the first game. Can it be done? Find out in this Octopath Traveler II review!
Octopath Traveler II
Developer: Acquire Corp., Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 24, 2023
Price: $59.99 USD
Like its predecessor, Octopath Traveler II is about eight characters with their own stories and how they eventually meet up and work together. The cast is varied and is seemingly written as inversions of the more archetypical roster of the first. Throné, the thief, is more than just a petty criminal, she is also an abuse victim who dreams of freedom from the oppressive mob family that dictates her life.
Ochette the huntress is an uppity and free-spirited fox girl who is always down for a good bite. It is a doggy-dog world out there and if she doesn’t make the jerky from capturing her quarry, then she can become the jerky for a larger predator. She seeks to save her home from an impending calamity and she can do it with the help of friends and with animals she can capture. Talk about beauty and the beast; she’s both.
Temnos the cleric is the most lackadaisical inquisitor for the church of the sacred flame. The greatest miracle that ever happened was that this disinterested doubter was chosen by the Pontiff. His true talent is his perception and ability to see through lies and how he can’t be duped so easily. He is by far one of the best-written and most complex characters in the game.
Osvald is Octopath Traveler II‘s main mage and is a towering and barrel-chested prisoner, who was once a scholar. His scenario has him seeking revenge for being framed for the murder of his family, forcing him into a fugitive. He is great at analyzing weaknesses but hits like a limp noodle.
Agnea, the dancer, has the most feel-good story of the eight. She dreams big and wants to be a star. She is the most shallow party member in the game, but she can shake her honeypot where it counts.
Hikari contrasts with the warrior from the first game by being a much younger man and is based on a samurai instead of a generic medieval warrior. His quest for redemption after his father is usurped by his brother is a rousing tale of revenge and honor. He also has a girl’s name.
Partitio the brash merchant naively seeks to end poverty around the world. He is an idealistic Bernie-bro who gets mixed up with the brutal criminal underworld and he carries a big stick. His scenario is the most grounded with the fewest fantasy elements and plays out like a quirky mafia dramedy.
It wouldn’t be a good JRPG without a protagonist with memory loss and Castti the apothecary has your back. She may have lost her sense of identity but kept her reflexive memory of being an amazing chemist and healer. Her quest for self-discovery will lead her down a dark path and some surprising elements of body horror too.
Everyone gets a daytime and nighttime ability which has some overlap among the party; like getting into a fight with an NPC, but there are key differences among the cast. When Temnos “interrogates” an NPC, he only has to break their guard, but when Osvald tries to mug someone, it’s a standard solo battle. Some characters don’t get into fights at all like Throné, who can either steal or perform a knock-out.
Countless systems are compounding on each other in Octopath Traveler II and it all makes for a deep and enriching experience. Each party member has utility in battle and everyone has a defined purpose. Latent abilities can make a character completely overcome any weaknesses they may have or serve an indispensable role when forming a strategy to do big damage.
All eight of the protagonists are beautifully fleshed out and sharply written. Picking who, to begin with, isn’t selecting a main hero- rather it is choosing who to start with. Eventually, gamers will have to play through all of their scenarios to progress to the final scenario where everything climaxes.
The stories and characters all have a strong emotional core to connect with. There isn’t a single misfire among them and no matter which order they are played in, each story arc leads to a satisfying conclusion. The tone and subject matter are also more mature and darker than they were in the first Octopath Traveler.
Overall, the writing is very poignant and sharp. There is a theatricality to the entire presentation of Octopath Traveler II; the characters are like small actors in mini-dioramas. Some spotlights appear and pause the action for an internal monologue to be expressed to the audience (the player) and the voice acting is larger than life with exaggerated expressions on the sprites.
One of the major criticisms of the first game that has been addressed is the lack of interaction among the party. It used to be that the travelers would join and never speak to each other again. Now there are full scenes of the cast having heart-to-heart talks and they even comment to each other in battle as well. The party feels more cohesive than ever.
Once players have finished the first chapter of their first selected character, they are set loose in an open-ended world to shape their experience. The guidance given is a suggested level for any other chapters which are noted on the world map. Exploring is exciting and returning to previously visited towns is painless thanks to the fast-travel system.
The turn-based combat is fast-paced and balanced where gamers must stay alert and on their toes. It is also flexible thanks to the BP system where players can charge up any action for more powerful attacks or to improve buffs, debuffs, or healing.
The queue display also gives enough information to anyone to formulate strategies and plans. The possibilities are endless with a cast of eight and a party size of four. It always feels like there is some kind of option even when using a suboptimal party.
Compounded with sub-jobs, there are countless hours to be had when building a party. The developers even took the time and effort to make alternate sprites for the cast when they have a sub-job too. Truly, Octopath Traveler II is one of the most complete and soulful RPGs made in a long time.
The only questionable design choice is the lack of a gun-using class. The game is set in an era that resembles the late 1800s and the lack of guns in some scenarios stood out. Partitio specifically was an awkward case because his story deals with mobsters and everyone uses medieval weapons. Imagine if Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II went around doing hits with a spear- that’s what it looks like in Octopath Traveler II.
Octopath Traveler II could have been just more of the same as its predecessor, but it outdoes it in every way possible. Artistically, it is more refined with better pixel art, and better-drawn sprites with more expression. The characters are not only more fleshed out but are also more creative. The combat is mostly the same, but with latent abilities and smarter balancing, it’s more enjoyable and has more potential.
There is a profound sense that the developers learned a lot of lessons from the criticisms of Octopath Traveler. This sequel addresses every single one of them and at the same time, they got so much more creative with the characters and writing. Octopath Traveler II may not reinvent the wheel, but it is one of the best and most reliable wheels around.
Octopath Traveler II was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Octopath Traveler II is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.