Looking back, Octopath Traveler must have played a solid part in convincing someone high up at Square Enix on what it calls the HD-2D art style that it popularised.
A few years later we’ve got a host of games using its visual flair, and now a fully-fledged sequel has arrived to offer up another eight-pronged story to explore. We’ve been able to play each of its characters’ first moments, to check out how it’s shaping up ahead of release.
Octopath Traveler 2
We’ve really enjoyed the opening throes of Octopath Traveler 2, and get the sense that there’s a mountain more story to uncover. At this stage its charming presentation and smooth gameplay has us enthused.
- Lovely retro looks
- Great soundtrack
- Fun range of stories
- A little bit clichéd
- Some voice acting is OTT
A new world
Octopath Traveler 2 might have a conspicuous “2” at the end of it, but Square Enix is setting this up to run like its flagship Final Fantasy series – disconnected entries that don’t share a world or characters, with rare exceptions.
That means that you don’t have to have even sampled the first game to get the most from this new title, which is welcome in a world awash with mammoth RPGs to play.
So, we’re in a new world, meeting eight new archetypal characters, each of whose stories we can follow through to their own conclusions.
For this preview, we were able to play each character’s first chapter through to its conclusion – which generally brings them to the point where they’re out exploring the world and meeting the rest of your party.
Once again, it’s a fun system that is especially enjoyable at the very first moment, where you choose your first character from the eight dotted around the world, checking their blurbs to see what sort of story might be interesting to you first.
Heading off to pick up new members of the party is fun too, with each character’s first chapter taking around an hour to complete – before you know it, you’re 10 hours deep with a full party and keen to see where each story will go.
These tales are pretty clichéd, but they’re sprightly and fully voice-acted in a way that makes them fun to experience nonetheless, with some solid twists. How they tie together will remain to be seen in the full game, but there are a few small occasions early on where multiple characters interact in each others’ stories, which is an interesting idea.
The genre-hopping nature of these stories makes for a fun and diverting tone that lets you switch between tales without worry, even though some of the stories on offer are actually pretty dark (Osvald’s, for example, hinges on the death of his wife and daughter at its outset).
So, Octopath Traveler 2 isn’t ripping up the rulebook established by the first game, and that continues into the gameplay side of things.
This is a classic turn-based RPG, with the few twists it brings to the table repeated from the last game.
You battle with a part of four characters at a time, although more than one of these characters can bring in supporting allies that you can pick and choose for an extra boost.
The enemies you come up against all have weaknesses that you’ll figure out over time or by using skills, and using the right attacks against them will wear down their shield meters alongside their health.
Reduce their shields to zero and you’ll “break” them for a turn, offering up the chance to deal extra damage without any return attacks.
This blends together with a system of boost points that you accumulate over time in a battle and can choose to spend for boosted attacks and skills at opportune moments.
If you manage a battle properly, you’ll be able to find a pattern that lets you unleash a fully-boosted attack on a freshly-broken enemy for the maximum effect, and it’s an engaging extra layer atop a standard battling system.
Modern concessions mean that you can speed the game up in battle, but we found that fights rarely felt like they dragged in the game’s early stages – barring a couple of surprisingly spongy bosses.
Outside of battles, characters also each have a pair of skills they can use in the overworld, one during the day and the other at night. In the case of the thief Throné, for example, this means being able to pickpocket people in daylight or knock them out after dusk.
Other characters can coerce people to join the party temporarily, examine them for extra details, and a range of other options.
It’s a fun system that also incentivises you to use the day-night cycle, which you can advance with the push of the right trigger for incredibly quick time-shifting. We’re assuming and hoping this could make for intriguing puzzles later in the game, too.
Throughout all this storytelling and battling, Octopath Traveler 2 looks really, really pretty – it’s the best-looking of Square Enix’s HD-2D games so far, for our money.
Environments are rich with sprites and detail, and there’s sufficient variety to make for a really nice feeling of progress as you move around the world.
Small touches that aren’t exactly original nonetheless come off as charming, like when you cross water and all your characters follow in a little trail of individual boats.
The soundtrack is appropriately classical, with sweeping music to accompany major moments and some really jazzy battle music to keep the blood pumping.
Voice acting, meanwhile, is a slightly more mixed bag – it’s pretty consistently there for major conversations, which is welcome, and the script isn’t so hackneyed as to grate badly. However, there can be moments where it all gets a little over-the-top, a bit of a pitfall for this genre.
That’s no great issue, though, and playing on Switch we were pretty constantly charmed by Octopath Traveler 2’s look and feel, which is a great takeaway to have for a retro-styled game.
We’re still only early in our eight-forked journey through the world of Octopath Traveler 2, but everything we’ve sampled so far has been exciting and comforting.
If you’re looking out for a sequel that trims away some rough edges and leaves a new, but classic-feeling and looking RPG, then we’re hopeful this could fit the bill when it releases.