|Square Enix, Acquire
|Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC
[Reviewed on Steam]
|February 24, 2023
In many ways, my journey with Octopath Traveler 2 reminds me of the Old Testament story of Jacob marrying Rachel. For those who might not have heard this particular story—found in Genesis chapter 29—let me quickly summarize. The Israelite Patriarch Jacob was working for a man named Laban, who had two daughters: Leah and Rachel. Rachel was beautiful, and Leah…well, she had a good personality. Jacob loved Rachel, and he and Laban made an agreement that if Jacob would work hard for seven years, then Laban would give him Rachel to marry. The seven years came and went, and Jacob was excited to marry Rachel. Imagine his surprise when he woke up the morning after the wedding to find himself married instead to her sister, Leah. Laban, when confronted, said “Hey man, those are the rules of our land. You have to marry the oldest daughter first, then you can work your way down. You should have known these things.” So Jacob, begrudgingly, made another agreement to work for another seven years, at the end of which he married Rachel, whom he loved for the rest of his days.
How does that relate to the topic at hand? Let me again summarize: I am Jacob, the first Octopath Traveler game is Leah, and Octopath Traveler 2 is Rachel: the one I was promised all along, and the one I love.
Alright, enough of that analogy, before things get weird.
Octopath Traveler 2 is both an exemplar sequel and a gem in its own merit. It is both a love letter to classic JRPGs and a promise that innovation in the genre is still alive and well. Its blending of a beautiful soundtrack, compelling writing, and deep, satisfying combat results in a game that is both a joy to play and easy to recommend.
In its themes and its through its story, Octopath Traveler 2 is a spiritually positive game. It does not display man’s depravity and sin for its own sake; rather, it displays the dark to contrast with the light. There is struggle and turmoil in the game, but it is a battle for good. Octopath 2’s stories are about redemption, giving second chances, helping the poor and the hurting, fighting for the truth, and lifting people out of their drudgery with your skills. The characters display patience, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, tenacity, and a desire for improvement, both in their selves and in the world around them. The villains are all selfish, while the heroes are self-less. At one point in my playthrough, I started to become dis-illusioned, because “this game is un-realistic; no one would act this way in real life,” but after consideration, I realized that I didn’t care. This is what people SHOULD act like. I WANT to interact with a world where people want to do right and strive for it, and that’s the world Octopath Traveler 2 gave me.
The main established religion in Solistia revolves around eight deified individuals—one for each class—who long ago bound “the dark one” away with the Sacred Flame. There is a shrine for each god scattered throughout the land that you can visit to unlock a special skill for each class. I found that the spiritual aspects of the game don’t come to the forefront until the post-game, when multiple story threads converge and supernatural terrors try to tear the world asunder. For the main portion of the game, the spiritual aspects are light, outside of two characters: the cleric (duh) and the warrior.
Temenos, the Cleric, started out as a fascinating character to me, because he’s a man of the faith who doesn’t seem to have much faith in anything or anyone, including the gods. As someone who has often identified as a Christian Skeptic, this struck a chord with me. However, I was disappointed with how his story progressed, because it was tropey and a bit too on-the-nose concerning modern sentiments and understandings of organized religions. I wanted to see a journey in which Temenos struggled with both his faith and his enemies and emerged a better person, but instead I got a static character who became less interesting the further the story progressed.
Hikari, the Warrior, is a man from a cursed bloodline. In the midst of battle, bloodlust will cause a demon to lend him immense power (this is tied to Hikari’s Latent Power), but at the cost of the demon trying to take control. Hikari’s story, in direct contrast to Temenos’, is an emotional struggle with self to conquer this demon and to be the person he knows he should be. There are negative spiritual aspects in this story (demons), but there is also a very strong message of inner struggle between a “good” self and a “bad” self, which is as Biblical a theme as any.
There’s not much—only two instances that I can remember—but when it’s there, it slaps you in the face. There’s a very public brothel in one of the major cities; you can go inside and talk to the prostitutes, who offer various levels of…thinly-veiled solicitation. At one point in the story, you have to mug a prostitute for her clothes and then use the disguise to infiltrate an enemy’s lair. There’s also a story point where a side character makes some very pointed sexual metaphors to try to lure one of your characters into a trap.
Octopath Traveler 2 is all about combat, so I hope you weren’t expecting a clean bill of health here. However, most of the combat is stylized and pixelated, so it’s not graphic. There is a small amount of pixelated blood in cutscenes on multiple occasions.
Octopath Traveler 2 contains infrequent uses of hell, d**m, b***h, b*****d, and one very random, un-needed use of sl*t.
For multiple gameplay-related reasons, you make constant use of the taverns in each city or town as you explore Octopath Traveler 2. One side quest involves you dealing with a loud drunk in one of the taverns. There are multiple “Travel Banter” conversations that involve your party sitting down for a drink in a tavern.
One “Travel Banter” conversation involves a character teaching your party how to play Poker. One side quest involves you helping a woman whose husband can’t control his gambling addiction.
Miscellaneous Content Thoughts
There is one later chapter in a character’s story that gets very dark and could be disturbing to people, and multiple bosses could be seen as gruesome or grotesque.
Octopath Traveler 2 is an “HD-2D” JRPG from Square Enix, in which the player travels across the land of Solistia, a world of two continents split in twain by an ocean. Solistia is on the brink of a technological revolution, with steam engines and record players and business-minded entrepreneurs flooding the large, bustling, cement-paved cities you visit. The player starts by choosing one of eight characters to be their main character, and sets out to travel the world, meeting others who also have stories to explore and skills to put to use. Ochette is a beastling Hunter whose only desire is to protect her tropical island home from a coming calamity. Castti is an Apothecary who is suffering from amnesia and working to remember her past. Throné is a Thief who wants to escape a life of struggle and blood. Osvald is a Scholar who has been wrongfully imprisoned for a heinous deed he did not commit. Partitio is a peppy, Texas-drawlin’, risk-taking Merchant who just wants to make the world a better place by eliminating poverty through trade. Agnea is a Dancer who wants to be a famous star just like her mother. Temenos is a Cleric who seems to not have much faith or hope in anything, and who loves to do his best Sherlock Holmes impersonation. Hikari is a Warrior striving to regain his lost homeland. Together, you must reach each character’s final chapter and discover the larger threat to the land of Solistia.
The writing in Octopath Traveler 2 is by far the largest and best improvement from the first game. Personally, I found all but two stories in the first Octopath Traveler to be flat and uninteresting, and as a result, I only got as far as completing my main character’s story to say that I had at least “seen credits” on the game. Octopath Traveler 2, on the other hand, was compelling from beginning to end. That’s not to say that all eight stories were fantastic, because there was definitely less impactful writing in some of them. Some stories were intense and dark, and others were light-hearted and wholesome. Some had far-reaching consequences, and others were small, personal stories. Not all story writing was top-tier–most of it was–but I honestly didn’t mind, because all of the stories together struck a good balance while providing variety. I am very confident that ANYONE will be able to find at least one or two stories in Octopath Traveler 2 that resonate with them on a personal level.
Not only do the eight travelers provide heart and flavor to the game, but they also have useful skills that will aid you along your journey. Outside of combat, each traveler has two unique Path Actions that they can perform on any NPC: one Path Action for the day, and one for the night. That’s right, Octopath Traveler 2 has a day/night cycle, and it can be switched between at will. These Path Actions let you steal items from NPCs, draft NPCs to aid you on your journey, engage NPCs in combat, elicit information from NPCs, and more. What you do with these options is up to your ingenuity.
What was, thankfully, left largely unchanged from the first game was the combat. Combat was superb in Octopath Traveler, and it is superb in the sequel. Combat in Octopath Traveler 2 is turn-based combat played in rounds: your party of four against anywhere from one to four enemies at a time. Each enemy has physical or elemental attacks it is weak against, and a number of shield counters. Hitting enemies with an attack they’re weak to does a bit of damage and lowers their shields by one point; get them to zero, and they become vulnerable, which means that for one round they cannot act and they take increased damage from all attacks. Octopath’s combat feels both like a puzzle and a juggling act at times, and solving the puzzle to one-shot a boss is a deeply satisfying experience. Each round, your characters get a Boost Point (BP), which, when cashed in, lets them either attack multiple times or boost the damage of a single attack. Learning the BP system and knowing when to time buffs, attacks, and heals is at times frustrating and punishing, but when you get it, it opens up whole new options and ways to navigate combat. A new addition to Octopath Traveler 2’s combat is that each character now has a Latent Power meter which fills when they break enemy shields or take damage. When the Latent Power meter is full, they gain access to skills that can range from powerful support skills, to letting them act twice in one turn, to giving them entirely new, more powerful attacks. It’s another layer of depth, decision-making, and agency that somehow improves on the stellar combat from the first game.
I haven’t even touched on the game’s soundtrack, which I cannot give enough praise. The OST of the original Octopath Traveler was already one of my all-time favorites, and I cannot believe that Square Enix somehow rivaled–and perhaps even bested–themselves. The soundtrack deeply embodies the feeling of a world of adventure and a world that is advancing technologically, with jazzy nightclub swings and blood-pumping orchestral battle themes and distinctly funky electric guitar and saxophone duets. It sets the mood just as much as the graphics and storytelling, and it does a wonderful job of it.
Square Enix’s debut of the “HD-2D” graphics in the first Octopath Traveler game won them much praise and started a trend in the genre, and Octopath Traveler 2 is a worthy successor graphically. I reviewed the game on PC, and it both performs and presents beautifully, on desktop and on the Steam Deck. Characters and locations are detailed and well-designed pixel art, animations in and out of combat are crisp and flashy, and the “HD-2D” lighting and effects lend depth and contrast to heighten Square Enix’s art design. The game is a treat visually, whether you consume it as a snack or as a five-course meal.
At this point, with 65 hours of play time, I have beaten all stories, collected all the special weapons, beaten all (non-story-related) bosses, learned all jobs and their Divine Skills, and beaten all sidequests but one. I have 27 of 33 Steam Achievements, and I hope to at some point 100% this game. I’ve started into the post-game, but have not finished it. In my First Impressions article for Octopath Traveler 2, I answered three questions that are often asked of a sequel, and I’d like to modify my answers a little based on my (almost) full experience with the game.
Will I like Octopath Traveler 2 if I liked the original game?
As someone who didn’t particularly care for the first game myself, the answer is yes; if you enjoyed the first Octopath Traveler game, then you will thoroughly enjoy Octopath 2. Everything that was good about the first game is just as good, if not better, in the sequel.
Will I like Octopath Traveler 2 if I did NOT like the original game?
My honest answer is, it depends.
If you did not like the original Octopath Traveler because of its combat and its grind, then, as the author Dante once proclaimed, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” The core combat from the first game remains exactly the same, for better or worse, so if that aspect irked you, you’re better off spending your money on other games. Octopath Traveler 2 does handle leveling and grinding better than the first game; it was only once I got to the post-game that I started to feel like I needed to grind for levels. If you just want to enjoy the eight main stories and a bit of side content, then you shouldn’t ever have to grind.
If you did not like the original Octopath Traveler because of its flat, boring, compartmentalized characters and stories, then you should really give the sequel a chance, because the writers at Square Enix have redeemed themselves in a major way. Octopath Traveler 2 has some very well-written, deep stories and characters. The story is by far the best-improved aspect of Octopath Traveler 2, and, as someone who lives or dies on video game stories, I can’t get enough of it.
Will I like Octopath Traveler 2 if I haven’t played the original game? Do I have to play them in order?
To answer the latter question first, no. The two games do not have any inter-related story elements or characters; they’re completely independent of each other, set in different worlds and in different time periods.
The keen-eyed among you might have realized that I haven’t listed any negatives in this review. The truth is, I struggled to find ANY problems with the game until the post-game, and statistically most players will never get that far. For that reason, I feel no hesitation in giving Octopath Traveler 2 a perfect 10/10 rating and a hearty recommendation.
Octopath Traveler 2 is a Game of the Year contender in my eyes: not only because it is an exceptional experience in its own right, but also because it does everything that a good sequel should do. Square Enix has shown that they can take criticism and deliver an improved product, and for that, they should be praised. In the Triple-A gaming space, it feels like that happens far too infrequently. Bravo, and encore!
The Bottom Line
Octopath Traveler 2 is a Game of the Year contender in my eyes: not only because it is an exceptional experience in its own right, but also because it does everything that a good sequel should do.