The story takes place in Solistia, a land comprising an eastern and western continent divided by the sea.
It is a bustling era, wherein large vessels navigate busy sea routes and the power of steam gives birth to new technologies. Some people thrill to glamorous stars of the stage and industry, while others are brought to tears by war, plague, and poverty. In this faraway realm, eight travelers hailing from different regions venture forth for their own reasons. Step into their shoes and explore the land as you see fit, using their unique talents to aid you along your journey. Embark on an adventure all your own.
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: PC (Intel i5-9400F, @2.90GHZ, RTX 2060, 16GB RAM)
Also available for: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 5
Cast: Suzie Yeung, Sarah Wiedenheft, Erica Mendez, Alejandro Saab, Jas Patrick, Xanthe Huynh, Jordan Dash Cruz, Howard Wang
Developer: Square Enix, Acquire Corp
Director: Keisuke Miyauchi
Writer: Takashi Hino
Lead Programmer: Yutaka Watanabe
Lead Artist: Mika Iizuka
Coming into Octopath Traveller II as someone that has not played the first nor spent significant time in the classics of the JRPG genre, Octopath Traveller II felt exactly as I imagined the greats felt in their time. A combat system that often felt fresh and engaging despite some requisite grinding, its anthology-esque story and characters that all were individually strong even if they never truly felt like a squad and a whole lot of fun little details in between. Octopath Traveller II is a modern take on that classic JRPG formula. It nails just about everything it sets out to achieve, with flaws hardly distracting from the joy of the experience.
Octopath Traveller II is set up in an entwining anthology style. Each character has its story arc and themes, with small amounts of crossover between the eight characters you control. Individually I found each of the characters to be strong enough, though with how it is structured and separated, you will always prefer some of the characters’ stories over the others. The real weakness in the structure is how your characters do not truly share in the trials and tribulations of each other’s story content. There for the battles but conspicuously absent in the story moments. The game offers up ‘Travel Banter’, an optional and unvoiced button prompt after story moments where another party member might comment on what happened in another’s story. These can be entertaining and help the lack of interaction, but they also feel like they miss the intended mark. Despite the party interaction, each character has an interesting and nuanced story that was satisfying to progress through.
Each character has a first chapter that you can play through when you first encounter them in the world, which takes you away from the party you have assembled and into the set-up of their tale. Thematically these first chapters were often the characters going through some significant upheaval in their lives, causing them to venture out for the first time into the wider world. Hikari is a prince and a warrior exiled from his homeland and must gather his strength and allies to retake it. While Partitio is a merchant who grew up in a bustling wild west town, after the money dries up, he must move on, find something else, and investigate why an old partner double-crossed him and his father. Whilst some of the stories might sound simple enough, each character is given some depth in their depiction and have their nuances. Partitio was raised to have a very capitalist mentality but is constantly challenged with inequality and a desire for prosperity to be shared and not hoarded. Even if some of the stories are not necessarily high stakes, I enjoyed the slice of life and more down-to-earth nature of some of the eight characters. Even the side characters were interesting and well-written, making their mark on the story no matter how short their time was on stage.
Octopath Traveller II is strong not just in its writing but also in everything it presents to you. All the voice actors gave excellent performances and imparted the personality of their characters immediately, whether it was Temenos’s smugness or Agnea’s bubbly friendliness. This is aided by the art style, with the 2D HD style again shining, offering much more emotion and expression than you would have thought possible in pixel art. Octopath Traveller II also utilises a very dynamic camera during some cutscenes, which gives off a very cinematic style. In my first 25 hours alone, I had taken nearly 100 screenshots (something I rarely do) because I was consistently impressed with the visuals that I was being delivered. A throughline for all of these moments is the score done by Yasunori Nishiki, which was consistently excellent and served up each character with a theme well representative of their personality and story.
This excellence in presentation extends the combat system, which hooked me from the start right through the 80+ hours of the experience, thanks to the variety of tools it gives you. Each character has their starting class and can be given a second class throughout the story to supplement their strengths or address their weaknesses. Several secret classes are more powerful but more difficult to find, offering more uniqueness in their gameplay. Before throwing the second classes in the mix, each felt unique and on theme for their goal. The Warrior can deal massive amounts of physical damage and has a high HP pool, while The Apothecary could use inventory items to mix up healing and harmful brews to be hurled at friend and foe. Each character comes with enough utility that I always felt energised by my party choice at any point.
Each enemy you encounter in battle (of which there will be many) has a ‘guard’ level next to their name, which you are challenged to break by finding their weak points. This becomes almost a minigame as you work to deplete this guard, stunning them for a turn and increasing their damage taken to pile on the damage. Considering that their remaining health is kept unclear, this is always the focus. Managing your weapon and magic attacks to knock off their guard point while still being able to unleash devastating attacks was a fascinating tactical conundrum right the way through my playthrough, and breaking their guard never became any less satisfying. This combat loop became quite prolonged during boss battles, whose battles are much longer and make your resource management play a more significant part in the battle.
In between all the story progression and endless battles, Octopath Traveller II sends you to every point of the continents of Solistia. This could feel grindy and annoying, especially as story chapters on the same level are often on the other continent. However, the random battles along the way are a necessary evil as you keep your party of eight levelled up when you can only have four earning experiences at a time. Each zone is fairly quick to zip through, ensuring progress is always felt, and chests are never far off the path, so you’re always finding new gear and items.
Side quests are also peppered into the adventure, which are hugely abstract and give you very little idea of how to solve them and certainly doesn’t give a little marker on the map. They are often solved by each character’s day and night Path Actions. These are thematic to the character’s actions that do sometimes achieve the same goal. Partitio, the merchant, can buy things off any NPC for the right price (often getting items for side quests), while Throne, the thief, can steal these items for free but may fail and ruin her reputation in the town. In contrast, other characters have path actions that can be used in battle, such as several being able to recruit a follower who can join the fray or Hikari who can challenge NPCs to duels and learn new attacks from them to improve his combat repertoire. I loved the thematic nature of this, and even if they were often used in small moments, they are an excellent little addition to Octopath Traveller II.
Everything in Octopath Traveller II coalesces in a way that makes an enjoyable classical style of RPG. The lack of interaction between the eight characters hardly pulls down the low-stakes and individually strong character tales. Pleasing from an audio and visual department, the combat stays challenging yet inviting—a modern take on the classical RPG style that should not be missed.