In an age where remakes and retro-inspired projects try recreating what classic games of old felt like, Octopath Traveler II accomplishes something impressive. Despite being rooted in modern design with a host of conveniences, it effortlessly captures the spirit, style, and sense of adventure of the best RPGs from the SNES era, while still innovating and showing there’s life in turn-based battles yet. The feat is even more remarkable, considering Octopath II’s most significant changes are small and subtle.
On the surface, Octopath Traveler II seems like a clone of the original. You pick one of eight adventurers to start with, collect the remaining seven as you go along, and eventually see how their stories connect, albeit somewhat loosely. A series of improvements, including refined storytelling and more complex characters, make Octopath II feel deeper and more exciting, like the fulfillment of what the original game tried to achieve.
Even narrative setup that should be trite have enough nuance to keep them interesting and the characters relatable. Osvald’s is your usual tale of revenge, for example, but he’s so broken inside that he rarely speaks except in internal monologues. The evil facing Ochette, the happy hunter, is an ancient force that threatens to destroy the world – but also deep-rooted racism against her people.
The characters are deeper, but their actions outside battle are still at odds with the world. You can commit robbery with violence against an entire city and face no consequences, among other things, which gives the impression of an RPG playground instead of a living world.
Combat basics also remain the same, though that’s no bad thing. Enemies have weaknesses that, when exploited, reduce their shield points until they break and enter a stunned state. Allies can save boost points and spend them to increase their attack power, and you can mix and match secondary job classes to create powerful hybrid warriors.
While the structure is unchanged, Square Enix made some welcome tweaks to most job classes, including a few new abilities that alter the flow of battle and manage to make combat feel fresh. One of these new improvements is each character’s Latent Power, an ability that augments their other skills in powerful ways. Encounters feel better balanced, with a tense rhythm of smart choices timed right, and they don’t outstay their welcome.
Grinding to raise levels is easier now, thanks to a day and night system, where stronger monsters emerge at night. It’s worth wandering around in the dark anyway, just to see how the world changes.
Octopath II’s map is a significant improvement over the original. Square Enix crammed secrets large and small into almost every corner of the continent, and it’s always worth tracking them down. For every common treasure and restorative item you find, there’s a hidden dungeon, a secret job, or an abandoned village with a fascinating new questline that only appears at night.
Square Enix’s HD-2D visual style has grown as a medium, and the evidence is demonstrated through the game’s highly detailed environments and layers of interest. It’s literally on display as well, as the filter that blurred anything not immediately around you is, thankfully, gone. The result of all this is a gorgeous, rich world that’s truly a joy to explore.
Octopath Traveler II does what an excellent sequel should. Instead of breaking new ground left and right, it improves on the original in nearly every way and feels more confident about the stories it tells. There’s still room for improvement in some of its stiffer areas, but Octopath II is a sterling achievement all around.