When Octopath Traveler started the HD-2D boom, it felt like a dream. The pixelated art styles of Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, Super Mario Bros., and Pokémon shaped some of my favorite childhood moments. During car rides, I’d spend hours shining a flashlight on my Game Boy Color and Advance. The two-dimensional worlds for each title roped me in with ease.
While Mario and Kirby were enjoyable, Pokémon Red cultivated my love for turn-based strategy games when I was five. Capturing monsters was great, but the chance to plan out my moves in real time was addictive. Since then, I found a home in genre-defining RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Persona 5, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but few could scratch that classic itch.
That all changed in 2019. After I heard of Square Enix crafting a retro-inspired turn-based RPG, I rushed out to grab the original Octopath Traveler. I wasn’t alone either. The Nintendo Switch title quickly garnered success, selling over 3 million copies and spawning other HD-2D titles like Triangle Strategy and Live A Live. Four years after the original launched, Octopath Traveler 2 is here. Does the follow-up to the 2019 hit title improve upon its success, or does it bank on nostalgia?
Octopath Traveler 2 is a triumph, not only for Square Enix and the Octopath series but for JRPGs as a whole. This title is one of the best turn-based RPGs in the last decade—on any platform. First-class combat design, an incredible cast with powerful narratives, and a legendary soundtrack are just the tip of the iceberg. Octopath Traveler 2 is a title no JRPG fan should miss.
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Eight Unforgettable Protagonists
In Octopath Traveler 2, there are eight new characters. Each of these new allies takes on the class roles established in the original: Osvald the Scholar, Castti the Apothecary, Ochette the Hunter, Partitio the Merchant, Agnea the Dancer, Throné the Thief, Temenos the Cleric, and Hikari the Warrior are your team for the next 70-90 hours.
Despite having the same classes as the original game, this cast is far more interesting. Each character in Octopath Traveler 2 has a motif or purpose that makes it easy to love them.
What makes the cast so impressive this time is how well they’re written. Square Enix knows many of these classes and roles are prominent in other narratives. Instead of following the beaten path here, they flip the script and make this party something unique.
Temenos is an agnostic priest that discourages blind belief, doubting the church and its teachings. Partitio is an anti-capitalist merchant aiming to share his wealth and eliminate poverty. Throné’s a thief who wants to be free, leaving a life of dishonesty behind. They all deviate from their role in a way that makes them distinct but believable because of their convictions.
Because the entire cast has a unique outlook in their line of work, it influences how they handle each situation and how those around them respond. These unconventional ideologies lead all travelers to journeys unlike those of the original cast.
The travelers have impressive stories, and their voice work is noteworthy. The voice actors nail the feel for their respective characters, injecting emotion into every scene they inhabit.
My favorite voice actors were Jas Patrick as the bombastic but genuine country merchant, Partitio, and the couth, serious tone brought out by Howard Wang as the disgraced prince, Hikari. It’s not just the main cast that sees incredible voice work, as the supporting characters share that skill.
In the first game, only the major moments saw voice acting. Because so many more scenes get voice work in Octopath 2, you hear these intense performances for extended periods on your journey. Having so much dialogue voiced adds emotion to each scene, especially with performances as good as these.
There are only a few moments without voice work, and Square’s extra effort to get this massive game fully voiced is impressive.
2D Turn-Based Beauty
One of the best aspects of the original Octopath Traveler was its nostalgic turn-based combat. In Octopath Traveler 2, the already excellent format is fine-tuned with new tactics, abilities, and overall improvements.
The turn-based system here is simple: players target enemy forces, aiming to hit vulnerabilities. Each hit takes a point from the shield meter, and once that meter hits zero, the foe breaks. Broken enemies take more damage, staying stunned for a full turn. Players can use the BP gauge charges, which stack every turn, to amplify special attacks or add additional regular attacks and break shields faster. Each party member has a different class with unique moves and weapon types, making every ally viable for different situations.
On top of the base class for each character, players can add a Secondary Class to their repertoire. This grants access to new moves and weapon types otherwise unavailable for your allies. Tracking them down in the open world isn’t easy, but that hunt is worth the rewards. With 12 Secondary Classes, there are so many ways to augment your allies for the array of situations you’ll see across this JRPG epic. Several new Secondary Classes debut in Octopath 2, like the Armsmaster, who can use all weapon types to devastating effect via legendary weapons they find hidden across Solistia.
While new features are great, it’s nice to know that the team behind Octopath fine-tuned their core gameplay for the sequel.
The new Game Speed option offers players can hasten combat encounters to power through fights faster. This is an invaluable tool for level grinding or zooming past the part of a boss I’d already learned on my second try.
My favorite change lets users see what they’re concocting with the Apothecary without testing every option. I saved dozens of resources in my playthrough thanks to this. Not having to run out and use every batch of chemicals on random enemies is a godsend. Each change here serves a purpose, streamlining gameplay and providing a smoother experience for Octopath veterans and newcomers alike.
However, the most significant change in this entry isn’t a new class or a fast-forward button. The most impactful addition is the new Latent Power system. Latent Powers are ultimate moves unique to each party member you can charge during fights. For instance, Castti can concoct without using supplies, and Partitio fully recharges his BP gauge. These game-changing abilities can get you out of a tight spot and make short work of enemies. It’s a welcome change that adds depth to battles and makes each party member even more distinctive.
Making the most of these extraordinary powers during the game’s boss battles is a must, as each offers a challenge often catered to their corresponding main character.
Boss battles in Octopath Traveler 2 are incredible. The harrowing encounters at the end of each chapter have formidable foes with challenging but fair mechanics. Each boss’s unique move sets and signature attacks kept combat interesting. You’ll never fight two big baddies with the same skill set, which kept me on my toes. Toward the end of the game, I had to wrack my brain on how to outsmart and outplay the most challenging foes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Pair that excellent combat system with a divine soundtrack, and you’ll see why I was sad when each fight ended.
Square Enix’s Unrivaled Audio
What amplifies the entire experience in Octopath Traveler 2 is the legendary OST. If you know Square Enix, you’re aware that they have some of the most popular tracks in gaming. Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts are just two headliners in their catalog. What’s shocking about Octopath 2 is that this soundtrack equals and sometimes surpasses these iconic franchises. It’s not just one song that stands out; it’s the entire set. To say that the first boss theme, Critical Clash II, is one of the best first boss themes ever is no exaggeration. Don’t believe me? Listen to it for yourself.
This is only the first boss battle for one of the eight characters, and the fact that the soundtrack for Octopath Traveler 2 maintains this quality for its entire run is astounding. From cutscenes to character themes and town tunes, Octopath Traveler 2 has it all. There are no misses here, and it’s easily one of my favorite OSTs in years.
Along with the heavenly soundtrack, Octopath Traveler 2 employs euphoric sound effects. The crisp sound design makes every weapon’s attack feel distinct and impactful. That’s not even mentioning the special attacks exclusive to classes and characters. I favored the Merchant class attack, Arrow of Fortune. After firing an arrow, money spills from your foe, pitter-pattering on the floor, and that sound was more pleasing every time I did it. Special moves never get old, and I loved hearing my party members calling out attacks as they let them loose.
Ambient audio is also superb. Tropical towns have birds cawing and wind blowing with serene music whistling through the background, for example. All of these effects join together to create an immersive experience. Thanks to the meticulous audio incorporation, I got lost in nearly every cutscene, event, and town I entered.
The only weak point in Octopath’s sound design was how overbearing attack effects could be when attacking multiple enemies. If you get a critical hit on four enemies simultaneously, you can kiss your eardrums goodbye because this game will aggressively blast through your sound system.
Stories Worth Fighting For
The original Octopath Traveler may have had solid turn-based combat and music, but it also had some serious narrative issues. When I bought the original Octopath Traveler in 2019, I played sporadically, picking it up for 10 hours and leaving for a few months between sessions.
The gaps between playtime were so bad that when I was 25 hours in, I couldn’t even remember most of the main cast’s names. I didn’t resonate most with them until over a dozen hours of play, mainly due to a narrative that took too long to get going.
Octopath Traveler had an aimless beginning that bogged it down. Several of the main characters didn’t have concrete goals driving their adventure. Alfyn, the Apothecary, aimed to use medicine to help people in need with no plan on how to do it. Tressa wanted to build rapport as a merchant but wandered around from town to town, wondering how to make that happen.
Hell, my main character, Cyrus, decided to investigate a missing book from a scholar’s library on a whim. Most stories alluded to exciting events on the horizon, but after 20 hours, the narrative should be more than decent. The promise of something exciting later doesn’t make things interesting now.
These narrative shortcomings aren’t repeated in Octopath Traveler 2. Within moments, the character introductions for Octopath Traveler 2’s cast hooked me. Like the original cast, each character here has an individual motivation, but I found these goals enrapturing from the start. It doesn’t take hours for these stories to get good. They’re excellent from the first scene on.
Hikari’s on a quest to reclaim his kingdom from a newly christened tyrant, while Osvald’s looking for revenge after he’s framed for the murder of his wife and daughter. Ochette’s catching powerful monsters to battle a calamity that strikes her home island every 400 years, and Temenos is investigating the death of a high-ranking church member. The list goes on, and these stories only build intrigue as they progress.
Almost every story has a driving force that spoke to me personally, and while there may be one or two that may not draw you like the rest, you’re sure to find several stories that keep you glued to the screen in Octopath Traveler 2. That investment only grows after meeting the maniacal forces pulling the strings in each story.
Octopath Traveler 2 boasts impressive antagonists that juxtapose the core characters masterfully, standing against them in a way that makes sense. These baddies aren’t fighting to take over the universe or burn the world to the ground (looking at you, Fire Emblem Engage). Instead, they have goals that put them at odds with their respective protag. The objectives of each antagonist feel organic and realistic. I understand why the villains are the way they are and struggle so hard against our group.
The tension between primary and secondary antagonists builds over each character’s five core segments, leading to satisfying fights that make sense for the story in each chapter. It’s not just the significant antagonists that are well-written, as minor villains get ample time to shine too. Whether it’s the greedy landlord robbing Partitio’s hometown or a samurai with an inferiority complex, you’ll feel for each cast member. You may disagree with their methods, but coming to know their struggles puts things into perspective.
The only downside of these brilliant narratives is that all of the other party members are again absent from crucial scenes. Your allies may comment outside cutscenes via side logs, but you won’t find them adding anything to their counterparts’ core stories, which is a shame. It’s like your team went to hide in the corner while each cutscene played out, so seeing them reappear for these side scenes can be a bit jarring. It doesn’t help that these moments are some of the few non-voiced instances in the game, either.
Still, seeing the team talk about what happened in their friend’s narratives was a great addition. These scenes, while without voice acting, capture the personalities and mannerisms of the main cast well. Moments here have a consistent level of polish, showing these extras are not tacked on without attention to detail.
Learning how each ally on your squad sees things helps contrast cast members. You might see Hikari comment on how seeing another’s struggle will help him be a better ruler or hear Osvald denounce the cries of his friends to stop his search for revenge.
While many of these segments are serious, there are also a few lighthearted moments. These scenes won’t push the narrative forward, but they’ll make the cast feel like friends. Partitio getting booted from a bar after trying to sing like Agnea was one of the funniest.
Having these moments, albeit infrequently, adds depth and personality to each character. Optional scenes all give players an extra tidbit about these characters, and over the dozens of hours in Octopath 2, they add up and paint a clearer picture of the team.
Unfortunately, because these skits are optional, you’ll only see these conversations if all required members are in your party. Otherwise, you’ll have to dig through your journal and hope you catch any extras before you move on. Sure, you can still view the clips later, but not seeing them at the right time can deflate their impact.
Though characters don’t interact during their individual stories, Octopath Traveler 2 lets several of them work through a joint narrative known as a Crossed Path. Cross Paths pair two travelers up for a two-part mission. Each traveler joins one of four teams to tackle a problem that impacts both party members.
During Crossed Paths, you’ll learn more about all eight travelers and see them form a bond with their partners. While these events don’t drastically impact the overarching narrative, they let players see the team interact. It’s a nice change of pace that fleshes out the main cast in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Sadly, these new story segments aren’t without issues. The two Crossed Path chapters are spread out over a long time gap. The first chapter of these events opens after completing the first few chapters with all characters, but the second won’t be available until you finish the entire game with all eight travelers.
By the time Crossed Path part two unlocked, I had to try and remember the storyline. Asking your players to wait over 30 hours between segments when you’re juggling eight other narratives isn’t reasonable. I shouldn’t have to sift through a journal because the side plots aren’t cohesive. Hopefully, in the next Octopath game, these moments will return as an event that we can enjoy from start to finish.
An Intertwining Narrative
You’ll love the conjoined story if you thought Crossed Paths were a great addition to this series. Those scenes from the trailers with all eight travelers interacting aren’t just for show. Octopath brings the entire cast together for part of the narrative, and it’s the best part of this whole ride. All eight travelers must work together to complete a common goal during this part of the game.
Your team functions as a unit in battles, cutscenes, and conversations. Seeing all eight party members interact and support one another in the core narrative was terrific. Their journey felt like a group effort, and this quickly became my favorite part of the game.
While I loved playing this part through, it made the rest of the game’s isolated structure all the more frustrating. This moment is the first and only time you see the eight travelers function as a group.
The experience would be more fluid if the party came along during their friends’ stories, participated in the narrative, and influenced conversations. Each traveler could still have their one on one moments with their respective villains, but acknowledging the other party members’ existence feels like a simple request.
Square Enix and the team behind Octopath Traveler 2 proved they have the talent to tell a narrative with all eight of their core characters. I just wish they’d do so throughout the entire game.
Brave New World
Along with a new cast, narrative, and improved combat, Octopath Traveler 2 focuses on a new world. The world of Solistia is far more extensive than that of the first game’s world, Orsterra. This vast land has two massive continents, each with cities, venues, and enemies unique to that location. You’ll navigate these maps with each cast member in the narrative.
Along with the massive continents are islands that populate an expansive ocean. To travel to these unknown venues, you’ll gain new methods of travel, with Partitio purchasing a boat that lets the party sail in the open waters of this beautiful world.
The oceans in Solistia are full of secrets, treasures, and enemies. I often ventured off the story path to explore these optional areas, grabbing rare weapons, fighting tough bosses, and finding Secondary Classes. There’s a ton to do outside of the game’s narrative, and after over 90 hours, I’m still finding new things to see on land and in the sea. There are also Endgame activities that can extend your playtime by over a dozen hours if you want to enjoy all Solistia has to offer.
Locales are gorgeous in Octopath Traveler 2. The team at Square Enix has made the world’s many locations feel unique, injecting personality into the atmosphere. With the HD-2D style refined, Square Enix makes places pop with more vibrant colors and detailed designs. I often stopped to admire the beauty as I made my way through each traveler’s chronicle.
Whether I was creeping through ruins full of monsters or strolling through a bustling industrial city, I could tell each map was designed to feel alive. This is the best-looking HD-2D game yet, and I can’t wait to see how Square continues to hone this incredible art style in future entries.
Visuals aren’t the only upgrades afforded to the sequel’s world. Octopath Traveler 2’s map is much improved, making adventuring easy.
Maps with varying difficulty levels plagued exploration in the original Octopath Traveler. If one of your party members had a level 27 mission in a new town, you’d need to fight through a map with level 34 enemies that could easily wipe your party. It was an unnecessary stopgap that actively discouraged surveying the world of Orsterra in the original title. Couple that with the inability to check a map’s Danger Level, and you’ve got a design that punishes players for trying to tour the world.
Thankfully, in Octopath Traveler 2, you won’t have the same issue, as wild areas have a Danger Level to help you gauge which locations are safe for your party and which are too demanding. Higher-level danger zones are relegated to higher-level mission areas.
Thanks to this simple change, I often went out to check new areas far more than I did in the early game of Octopath Traveler.
Masterful Art Design
As I mentioned before, the maps and venues of Octopath Traveler 2 are breathtaking, but the game’s artistic excellence goes beyond that. While the Octopath Traveler series highlights its impressive HD-2D graphics and sprites, there’s more to the incredible art design in this retro-inspired title. Everything from character title cards to boss designs exhibits the passion and talent of Square Enix and the Octopath team.
On top of its eye-catching HD-2D style, Octopath Traveler 2 employs a drawn and painted aesthetic in art cards. These jaw-dropping murals adorn multiple points in the game. No matter how many of these cards I saw, I always stopped to take a screenshot.
Each piece is so damn good it reminds me why Square Enix has some of the most iconic displays in gaming. I can’t imagine sifting through the mountain of masterworks to find a cover for this game. Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt this way, as Square Enix released an additional 16 covers on the Nintendo eShop for download, highlighting how much work went into this game’s presentation.
Outside of the traditional art in Octopath Traveler 2, there are beautiful combat encounters and resplendent enemy designs. Whether they’re standard overworld opponents or an end-of-chapter boss, they all impressed me, with locales often highlighting their majesty.
While all enemy designs impressed me, the bosses were on another level. Each one had a design more intricate than the one before it. There are also multiple forms for most bosses to alternate through during a fight. You’ll see these baddies change their stance for powerful attacks. These mighty foes even have arenas crafted for them, with the minute details in the background calling back to a part of the story. The attention to detail here is almost overwhelming.
Every combat encounter has an elaborate design, not just boss battles. Those are just the icing on the cake. I’m still seeing new arenas and set pieces after nearly 100 hours. I suggest you make sure you’ve got some memory free on your system because you’ll take screenshots nonstop to commemorate this unforgettable journey.
Though a lack of character integration in core narratives does keep this title from masterpiece status, Octopath Traveler 2 is better than the original in every possible way. Improved combat, unforgettable characters, excellent narrative structure, gorgeous visuals, and a legendary soundtrack make this one of the best Square Enix titles in years. For fans of JRPGs, Octopath Traveler 2 is worth the price of admission and then some.
Octopath Traveler 2 is one of the best titles of 2023 thus far and is an instant classic.
|Gorgeous HD-2D visuals||Characters don’t interact during individual stories|
|Enthralling turn-based combat||Crossed Paths segments too spread out|
|Eight incredible characters and stories||Audio mixing can be inconsistent|
|Crossed Paths and True Ending add a joint narrative|
|Phenomenal Voice Acting|
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