Adventure beckons. There are vast lands to explore, strange new monsters to hack apart, and a cast of characters you will likely fall in love with by the time their distant credits roll. We’ve all felt it – there’s a certain magic to diving into a new role-playing game (RPG) for the first time and in Octopath Traveler 2, developer Square Enix aims to capture that fresh-faced excitement not once, but eight times.
Octopath Traveler 2‘s concept is simple, yet vast. After picking from one of eight main characters to start your adventure with, you’re set loose in the vast world of Solistia – two continents divided by sea. Your main objective depends on who you selected – go with disgraced scholar Osvald and you’re in for a fiery prison break and quest for vengeance, while cowboy-merchant Partitio just wants to travel the world and make cash.
Octopath‘s real draw is that the seven characters you didn’t pick are still out there in the world, waiting to form a ragtag party of adventurers. Each of Octopath’s eight characters has a story to tell, told across several chapters that have you bouncing between all of Solistia’s vibrant settlements. A big point of criticism in the first game was that each of the game’s protagonists don’t really interact much, and although the sequel addresses this with some side-chapters shared between party members, they are few and far between – my first co-op chapter didn’t crop up until 15 hours into the game.
If that sounds like a lot of time, it is – Octopath is designed to devour your free time. It takes hours to gather all eight protagonists and play through their first chapters (though they’re skippable, if you don’t care about the story), and it’s almost impossible to keep everyone suitably levelled for their demanding chapter stories without resorting to a lot of grinding.
That’s bad news if you’re looking for a race to the credits, but Octopath Traveler 2 is all about the journey, not the destination. Solistia is a vast and gorgeous space that’s purpose-built for rambling, and the sequel introduces a few new features to make that far more fulfilling. The shiniest is a massive visual upgrade – every single area guarantees at least one jaw-dropping vista with gorgeous new lighting – but others are more practical. Spot a pier on your travel, and your party can jump into rowboats to sail along nearby rivers and lakes. Sometimes you can follow a stream to its source to snag some loot, in other cases you can navigate through entire areas without stepping off your boat.
However, it’s Octopath Traveler 2‘s new day and night cycle that shakes things up the most. At the press of a button you can swap between day and night wherever you’re standing, without any loading screens. There are a number of reasons for embracing Octopath‘s 24-hour cycle: the game’s wonderful soundtrack changes depending on the time, and the sequel’s new lighting system means it’s worth seeing areas twice just to marvel at their beauty. On the more practical end, different NPCs come out to loiter at different times, and you’re far more likely to run into random combat encounters at night – which is brilliant for passively grinding up your party to the increasingly high levels their chapters ask for. Like sailing, hopping between the sun and stars offers lots of small innovations that make your travels through Solistia feel far richer and more lifelike.
Even in the relative safety of daylight, combat in Solistia can’t be avoided. Whether you’re travelling down its monster-infested roads or tackling a party member’s story mission in a bustling city, it’s rare to go more than a few minutes without hacking, stabbing or blasting something to bits. If you have ever played a party-based JRPG before (think Final Fantasy or Persona), Octopath Traveler 2‘s turn-based combat is easy to grasp. The general formula involves attacking your enemies with a variety of weapons and magic until you find what they’re weak to, and then using that weakness to wear down their shields. Breaking through a foe’s shielding means they forgo their next turn and take more damage, which means combat is a cycle of wearing enemies down, whaling on them while they’re vulnerable, and repeating.
It’s fairly simple, but a couple of tweaks to the formula keep it feeling fresh. Your party members gain a boost point each turn, which can be spent to make their attacks stronger – whether you use those boosts to wear down an enemy’s shields faster or save them up for an almighty attack when they’re vulnerable is up to you. Octopath Traveler 2 also iterates on the original by giving each of your party members a Latent Power, unique abilities that range from potent enhancements – like getting to attack twice, or channeling area-of-effect abilities into destructive single-target nukes – to all-new moves. It’s not a huge addition, but it makes combat slightly more engaging and gives each party member a bit more of an identity.
While most brawls are over in a handful of turns, the boss fights of each character’s main story missions can be grueling affairs. Between many of them boasting vast pools of health and the fact you can’t actually see what that health is, Octopath‘s boss fights are a blessing and a curse. At times, it’s a frantic rush to keep your party members alive as they weather their foe’s multiple stages and special attacks, trying to juggle last-minute healing without sacrificing damage output. Other times, it can feel like a boss is simply too stubborn to die; outstaying their welcome until the battle devolves into a mundane cycle of hit, heal, repeat. It’s a mixed bag, particularly because most of Octopath‘s bosses are tied to the game’s main chapters, the stakes of which can be a bit dulled when you’re throwing fireballs into the same ugly mug for 20 minutes.
Whether it’s with lengthy boss battles, grinding sprees or distant travels, Octopath Traveler 2 is a constant question of time: how much of it do you want to spend? For those who prefer to sprint to the credits of a game, look elsewhere. For the ramblers who appreciate the scenic route, however, Octopath Traveler 2 is a vibrant delight that’s worth savouring every moment of.
Octopath Traveler 2 launches on February 24 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and PC. This review was played on Nintendo Switch.
Octopath Traveler 2 builds on the first game’s foundations to offer a richer, more fulfilling adventure. Those who found the first game’s slow pacing tedious will find nothing new here, but anyone looking to embark on their next digital adventure can look forward to spending tens of hours immersed in the beautiful world of Solistia and its characters.
- Solistia is an enchanting land to explore, made even better with a gorgeous lighting system
- All eight protagonists have captivating tales to enjoy
- Combat remains engaging even tens of hours into the game
- Your party still doesn’t interact with each other enough
- Each main chapter’s demanding recommended levels makes grinding a necessity at later stages
- Tougher bosses can sometimes feel tedious rather than exciting