Way back in 2018, Square Enix dropped a game no one was really expecting. Sure, we’d seen the trailers and the clips and the screenshots but until you play something, you never know. That game was Octopath Traveler and it recaptured that old-school SNES Square Enix magic. In the game, you have your choice of eight playable characters and their starting points and the game slowly weaves them all into a tapestry of a storyline that coalesces into an excellent experience. Octopath wowed people and sucked them into a dark and interesting universe…something that Square Enix hadn’t managed for a while.
It’s not like we haven’t anything like this before from Square Enix either. The Romancing SaGa series notably has a similar structure but honestly, they just aren’t as fun. There’s a huge fan base there too, so I’m sure someone is offended but it’s not even like Octopath was particularly innovative. It just layered a new graphics engine (the same one later used in Triangle Strategy – review here) on top of the design elements from Romancing SaGa and then built a new and rather unique combat interface. The script was pretty good too and while it was not always consistently awesome, it was solidly written with a focus on depth of characters and their uniqueness.
Now Square Enix is back with Octopath Traveler II and it’s definitely been worth the five year wait! Kakunoshin Futsuzawa, the writer for the original Octopath Traveler is back and any mistakes made in the first game have definitely been rectified here. The scripting is tighter, the scenario setup is more cohesive and everything about the game has been subtly tightened up for a more intense overall experience with better pacing and flow!
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the series, don’t worry. The two games aren’t directly connected and you can just play Octopath Traveler II without feeling obligated to play the first installment. You should…you absolutely should, but don’t feel like you have to. Regardless, you start with an entirely new set of eight characters in any order you so choose. We started with Temenos, a church inquisitor with some bleak views on religion and just moved clockwise through the cast until joining all eight members of the cast together. Part of the charm of Octopath is meeting each character, being able to decide where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do first, and then simply doing it. The amount of choice here is fantastic and design of the game allows for a significant degree of latitude.
What you’re really here for though is the script. Octopath Traveller II is spectacularly dark both thematically and in the script itself with murder, political intrigue, power struggles, ecological considerations and more all being woven into a plot that mirrors many of the issues in our own world. Usually RPGs just don’t nail the humanity of characters in this way but Octopath Traveler II is a commentary on humanity in all the ways a video game should be. Rich characters put into positions that they don’t want to be in showcase the complexity of the script. As things come together, this feels more structured and intentional than the first game in every way. If you were one of those people that played the first game, you’ll find that each chapter cuts off a little smoother and the chapters blend together a little better than your last experience.
Everything about Octopath Traveler has been slightly improved in part two. That also includes the mechanics. Just like the first game, combat consists primarily of learning the weaknesses of enemies and exploiting them with the Boost/Break system. Each character has up to five Boost points that they can accrue. Normal attacks damage enemies and score you Boost points through combat. You can hit a shoulder button and boost your attacks with them, multiplying the attack by up to five times with boosts. Each enemy has four weaknesses as well and at least one of your characters can hit an enemy with at least one of their weaknesses typically. Boost attacks and weapon or magic weaknesses combined allow you to Break an enemy, stunning them and multiplying the damage they take while stunned.
It sounds pretty complex but it’s a fairly easy system to get the hang of. Veteran players will already be familiar with it of course, but even for new players, while not intuitive, it’s a dynamic and interesting system that you’ll enjoy learning. Octopath II takes things even further here though. In addition to the Boost/Break system, your characters also have a Latent Power which slowly charge through combat, allowing you to release even more powerful attacks or utilize additional abilities. You’ll need them on some of the more challenging boss fights too! Latent Powers add an additional tactical layer to one of the most innovative and fun combat systems in a modern RPG and instead of feeling tacked on, feel like a natural extension of the system. The game smoothly introduces each mechanic as well, so even if this is your first RPG, it’ll feel natural and straightforward.
You characters all have specialties, thieves, fighters, merchants, scholars, and more. Their stories explain their backgrounds, histories, and abilities, but there’s more going on here than that. In addition to primary character abilities, Octopath Traveler II institutes a job system. These have also been a mechanic that Square Enix has been using since the SNES days, way back in Final Fantasy V, but here, things are a bit different. Each character can equip a secondary job and if you manage to find that job’s guild hall, you can acquire additional licenses for that job (up to 3) allowing you to assign it to other characters as well. These jobs provide stats boosts, additional abilities, and even clothing changes, expanding the strategic design of the game even further. There are even four hidden jobs (and if you’re thorough, they’re not all that hidden) that you can find, though only one of each is available.
Finally, there’s the day and night system. A the touch of a button, you can switch between day and night in Octopath Traveler II, whether you’re in the field or in a town. Out in the field, this means stronger, nastier enemies pop up and encounter rates rise. If you’re grinding along, don’t ignore this function! In town, people have different things to say at night or might be standing in different places, affording you access to previously unreachable areas. Between open choices for how to proceed, complex job options that allow you to overpower your characters, and the ability to shift the enemy power dynamics in the field on the fly, there is a ridiculous amount of player agency here and you can play the game pretty much any way you’d like!
It’s time to talk about the visuals in Octopath Traveler II. Unsurprisingly, they’re simply beautiful. If you hate pixel art, you probably haven’t even bothered to read this review and this isn’t the game for you, but for those of us that love it, the Octopath engine has some of the best pixel art around. The 3D/2D look of the engine is simply luscious and the blur used to soften the edges of the pixels makes everything seem rich and deep. Square Enix really upped the bar with this engine and it’s no wonder that it’s been featured in four games now including Octopath Traveler II. The depth-of-field effects are really fantastic and this time around, the Boost/Break effects, latent abilities and magic attacks look more visually complex and stunning as well. Everything is similar to the first Octopath Traveler in that the engine hasn’t changed, but it’s clear that the subtle details and transitions have been improved here and the camera work is slightly better as well. Everything about the graphic design screams top tier quality and even the simplest parts of the UI are polished and well-made.
Naturally, the sound is also spectacular here. Octopath Traveler II features a rich, orchestrated soundtrack and haunting melodies throughout. While the music is often a bit dramatic, it fits with the darker and more intense themes of the story and lightens appropriately at the fluffier bits. This is honestly a soundtrack worth owning. But sound doesn’t stop there. Octopath Traveler II is also full of excellent voice work as all the major character scenes are fully voiced. This isn’t an average voice job either. The voice actors have added significant range and depth to the characters to match the plot and the voice work pulls you deeper into the story effectively. It’s not often that the script of a game is matched by its voice work but Octopath Traveler II manages it and without it, the game would be lesser. This is easily some of the best voice work around and it’ll knock your socks off.
You’d think a game like Octopath Traveler II wouldn’t run smoothly on an ‘underpowered’ system like the Switch, but you’d be wrong. Load times are minimal here as well, and there are no glitches, crashes, loading issues or other problems. Square Enix has managed to optimize Octopath Traveler so well, you’d almost think you were playing it on an old ROM cartridge for the SNES! Of course there’s a bit of loading here and there, but it’s not much and on a system that’s known for long load times, that’s impressive with a game of this quality! The game plays just as smoothly in undocked modes as well, and if it looks slightly less impressive, well, it’s on a smaller screen. Honestly, unless you’re analyzing footage of the game in detail, you’d never notice the difference and it certainly won’t impact your experience to play undocked for this excellent RPG.
All in all, Octopath Traveler II is an absolute delight to play with a complex and nuanced script, interesting characters with outstanding voice work, truly exciting and compelling mechanics that permeate every portion of the game, and a fun factor much higher than your average role playing game. If you think that’s overselling, you’d be wrong as Square Enix has honestly knocked it out of the park with Octopath Traveler II. If you want to do everything there is to do in the game, you’re in for a long haul too, you’re looking at a solid 65 hours or so to wrap everything up and if you’re a hardcore completionist, you can feasibly add almost double to that! There’s a ton of content here, some incredible world building, and a heck of a lot of value. This is a AAA title and it’s the standard $60 but you’ll get so much more than that out of Octopath Traveler II in gameplay that this honestly a no-brainer. Octopath Traveler II should be in every single RPG fan’s collection, period.
This review is based on a digital copy of Octopath Traveler II provided by the publisher. It was played on a Nintendo Switch in both docked and undocked modes and played equally well on both. Octopath Traveler II is also available on PS4/PS5 and PC on Steam.