Before I got to playing this game, the worst thing I’d heard about it is that it’s essentially more of the first game. Seeing as Octopath Traveler is currently my second most played Switch game, with three full playthroughs on it, I was naturally quite pleased with that revelation. I most definitely could and would use more Octopath Traveler.
It’s my joy to state pretty conclusively that Octopath Traveler II does feel pretty much like more of the same from the first game. However, it’s better to think of Octopath Traveler one being a really good draft, with its sequel being more of the proper submitted and published work.
In other words, I put 80+ hours in the game, did almost everything save for fighting the broken superboss (because I wasn’t going to grind my level 80 party to max just for one fight), and loved the game. Though it’s not without its flaws, which I would like to get out of the way first.
I hope you like cutscenes, because this game is loaded with them. I honestly don’t feel like the fact that you sit through massive amounts of story at a time really works against a game, particularly a JRPG. That’s something that we come to expect, and so long as the story is well written (like this one), it’s something that’s almost a pleasure to experience. Good stories keep the audience engaged, and while obviously we want gameplay to be a prime factor in, y’know, playing our video games, sometimes learning about our characters and seeing them grow is just as rewarding and/or entertaining.
No, my issue comes with the decisions made for the beginning chapters.
In Octopath Traveler, you selected your first character out of eight available. Then you played through the opening parts of their story, leveling the character up in what was likely a story specific dungeon, and finished their chapter. You could then go and try chapter 2 if you were insane or overleveled, but it was more likely that you’d go pick up the next of the eight characters, likely whomever was right next to your starting character. Your starting character would then help the new character in their dungeon, which would be slightly tougher because there’s two of you now. This pattern would repeat, until you got to the eighth character, who would still join at level 1, but would now have a full party of seven characters who had gone through their opening chapters.
Octopath Traveler II changes that. Now you can play through the various first chapters (and you absolutely should, or the story is gonna be tricky to follow and you’ll have weak characters), but each time you do, you have just the protagonist for that chapter, who starts at level one. They may get a buddy or two, which is a kind of novel addition, but said buddy is only there to help the truly weak characters, and they don’t really get much of a spotlight.
This does help even out the characters, but it’s an awful way to start a JRPG. It meant that by the twelfth hour into the game, I was playing as level one characters in a beginning dungeon. I didn’t feel like I was making much progress. Additionally, the second chapters are all leveled assuming you beat that first chapter and nothing else. However, you still have to travel to each new character, and that includes going over stretches of land with random encounters.
Which is why my main character was level 30 by the start of her second chapter (keep in mind, I beat the game with her at level 82). It’s woefully unbalanced, and it’s a weird step back in a game that made so many strides forward.
Why Yes, I did Just beat that entire level by myself, why do you ask?
One of the big selling points of this game was that they acknowledged how awkward it was in the first game that none of the narratives of these characters really intersected. There were these long stretches where characters went through their individual stories, and the others are just sort of there to help them beat the various bosses they encounter. They’re never commenting on the story, and they never really seem to have a reason for helping each other out beyond “it’s easier to travel in groups.”
Let me tell you, that’s a rough sell for any adventuring party. Try running a DnD game where everyone has almost no reason to stick together.
But they said they were fixing it. and to their credit, they did. They added in crossover chapters involving a pair of characters doing something together. However, these crossovers didn’t really impact the character’s main storyline, and only the second of the two parts of each crossover even really impacted the larger plot. It feels like a lame attempt at fixing a legitimate criticism. It also creates some truly absurd moments, like when a character is called out for being all alone in their fight when there’s literally three other people of the same level just standing there.
Where’s the Love?
What is with these modern JRPGs and avoiding any and all romance? I’ve played a string of major RPG releases lately, and among them, the only game that had anything approaching romance was Persona 5, and they made the romance almost tacked on (though still well done, because Persona 5 is an amazing game). Both Fire Emblem: Engage and this game seem to avoid it.
And it makes no sense! I’m not saying that every story needs to have romance in it, but in this case you have eight different stories that intersect only a little. To compound things further, there are cross over stories. Why can’t any of those involve two of the eight travelers falling for one another? Or, sparing that, why can’t they have romances built into their storylines? Both the characters above would have plenty of potential for that. They compliment each other well, have their own little adventure, and have both same sex and opposite sex companions in their respective storylines that they connect with.
Again, I’m not saying a game has to include a romance to be good. Both Fire Emblem: Engage and Octopath Traveler II are good games; I don’t plunk 80+ hours into games I’m not thoroughly enjoying (except Dragon Quest XI that one time). It’s just that it should be a part of a story, particularly if you’re attempting to make stories about life and journeys and paths. Octopath Traveler II in particular leans hard into the idea of different paths leading us places, with the people we meet supporting us. Romance would amplify this.
And despite my often inclinations and statements, I wouldn’t even need this to be a queer romance. Heterosexual romances exist, and are necessary, interesting, and, y’know, pretty easy to write. This feels like this weird attempt to just not have anything like that in a game at all. It’s almost bizarre, and it’s frustrating for players like me, who happen to like a little romance. That goes even further here, where it would have been so easy to get that into the game.
I Spent 80 Hours, and You Can Too!
Most of what is there above is nit-picking. Modern JRPGs in particular have pacing issues because they seem to be aiming for that 80-100 hour length game for whatever reason; the same thing happened in Xenoblade Chronicles and to a lesser extent with Persona 5. When you make a game with a lot of content, it’ll take a lot to get to.
In many ways, Octopath Traveler II perfectly takes what we love about turn based RPGs and the older games and marries that with modern ideas, from the HD-2D graphics, to the engaging soundtracks, to the vast and expansive world. This game even has random encounters, something that most critics, players, and game designers have decried for years now, yet they seem to work here.
It helps that this game really did fix a lot of the issues of its predecessor. Characters feel a lot more powerful than they did in the first game, even from the start. Everyone has some impressive abilities, and at times it almost feels like you have too many options to pick from. It doesn’t feel quite wholly balanced, but I was finding useful abilities and roles for some characters even into the late game.
The story is also a lot better this time around. Yes, there are eight different narratives, but the crossover tales actually do add to the characters’ connections. And the ending is one of the best I’ve seen in a modern JRPG, arguably even better than Persona 5’s. It pulls together the various narratives, ties the characters together in a way that makes sense, and rewards the player for thinking creatively and being observant about the world that they’ve likely spent several dozen hours exploring.
The combat remains engaging. Yes, it’s traditional in many ways: the bad guys are on the left, the heroes in a line on the right. Everyone takes a turn according to speed, and it’s shown on top of with a little line. It’s all pretty familiar to anyone who’s played a turn based JRPG in the last two decades. The bit twist here is the boost/break system, which was introduced in the previous game. It really doesn’t feel like they changed the combat much at all, save for adding what essentially amounts to limit breaks to every character in the form of “latent power.” (that’s what the different colored targets to the right of every character’s name up there are).
These abilities do feel woefully unbalanced though. The priest Temenos gets the wild ability to… break shields regardless of his attacks. That’s it. No list of special, overpowered attacks, no instantly filling up his energy bar, no getting two turns in a row, no being able to use his most powerful abilities with no cost. He just breaks extra shields.
Clearly there needed to be a bit more balancing.
A lot of this is me complaining about minor details because so much of the big picture stuff is amazingly well done. Chapters are perfectly paced, taking around an hour to two hours each. In what’s a truly amazing move, they’ve varied up the chapters. No longer is it following a set pattern of explore the town, use character specific abilities, explore the dungeon, fight a boss. Sometimes it’s just gather information or help people out in a town. Sometimes it plays a minigame. Sometimes the boss of a chapter is the first fight you encounter, and it’s about figuring out what’s going on. They’ve varied things up so perfectly that you never know what you’re getting into.
The world is pretty open almost from the start. No longer are the characters set up in a wheel, with the next chapters being the next spoke out. Mix that with the odd chapter lengths and variations, and it’s just amazing how they managed everything. There’s always multiple things to do, all the way up to the main game. There’s sidequests, secondary quests, temples to find, mini-dungeons to explore, optional bosses to fight.
It’s all just so well done here that I’m being really scattered in this review. That’s because it’s so easy to just rhapsodize about what’s brilliant in the game. However, it’s equally easy to figure out the glaring flaws, hence the initial sections here and why this game is likely going to fall short of a perfect score and likely won’t be my game of the year (it’s feeling like a second go of Triangle Strategy, honestly).
Still, if you’re interested in JRPGs, you should check out Octopath Traveler II. It’s one of the best out there, proving that this can be a series and that the games have some real staying power. It also proves that turn based RPGs have a place in the modern gaming space, and I sincerely hope this series keeps rocking those for many years to come.
9 there’s just too many small annoyances and easy to fix mistakes that hold this game back from being truly perfect, from missing narrative elements to a need for some balancing; it’s excellent and well worth the purchase, but not the mindblowing masterpiece it could be.