In Octopath Traveler 2, adventure usually springs from tragedy. Though Square Enix’s Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) lets you pick from a cast of eight characters to begin your journey with, all with different backgrounds and classes, each have one thing in common: life can be bloody miserable when you’re the protagonist of a JRPG. Take Osvalt, the character I started with. Imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit – killing his wife and child in a house fire – the scholar now plots his escape from a high-security prison to track down his family’s real killer.
After a chapter spent pulling off his prison break, Osvalt washes up on the shores of an icy fishing village. It’s miles away from the next stop in his main quest, which means that as soon as Octopath’s world opens up, his fiery quest for vengeance turns into a smouldering ramble. Once you hit the open road, Octopath Traveler’s world is a wonder: a gorgeous lighting system makes every frame screenshot-worthy, while opportunities for everyday heroisms – fixing a church window, fetching a midwife – breathe life into your journey as you pursue distant main story quests.
For fans of the first Octopath Traveler, this year’s sequel doesn’t just bring new lands to explore: there’s also a day-night cycle to the series that you can toggle between at the press of a button. By day, the wilderness is gorgeous, safer, and boasts a richer soundtrack. Exploring at night casts everything in a different light – the gloom closes in, more monsters are out for your blood, and the area’s score gets stripped back. There are benefits to exploring an area in both lights, least of all to enjoy both sides of Square Enix’s phenomenal soundtrack. Not far into Osvald’s escapades, I stumbled upon a derelict set of stalls that turned into a thriving black market when the sun set. If appealing to your sense of adventure wasn’t enough, each character has a Path ability that changes with the time – by day Osvalt can scrutinise people for juicy knowledge, by night he, er, mugs them.
While galavanting around Solistia, I temporarily put Osvalt’s story on hold to link up with the rest of Octopath‘s cast, who loiter in their home settlements waiting for you to find them. With a bit of wandering, Osvalt found enough travellers to put a party together: indentured thief Throné, cleric-turned-detective Temenos, and cowboy merchant Partitio. Each party member has their own main quest to pursue across Solistia’s split continents, which means Octopath’s early hours are spent drinking in the world’s gorgeous vistas and travelling between settlements, growing your merry troupe of misfits and solving their woes.
With half of Octopath’s main cast in tow, I had the makings of a well-rounded party and the game’s combat began to take shape. Octopath’s turn-based battles are easy to grasp if you have ever played a JRPG before: you spend a few turns prodding your opponent with a variety of attacks to find their weaknesses, then hammer them with said weakness until they’re reduced to numbers in an experience bar.
Like its predecessor, Octopath does play with this formula a little – foes have a number of shields in place that need to be broken with effective attacks to stun them. Your characters don’t get these shields, but they do get a Boost Point each turn – a powerful resource that can be spent making additional attacks or amping up a single powerful ability. There’s a bit of strategy involved here – do you save your Boost Points up to land a supercharged fireball on an enemy when their defences or down, or use them to hack through someone’s shields in a single turn?
At the time of writing, I’ve put nine hours into Octopath Traveler, and it barely feels like I’ve scratched its surface. Though the first Octopath eventually lost me tens of hours in, its sequel feels far more promising and lively than its predecessor. If you’re looking for a concise and focused tale, look elsewhere: Octopath Traveler 2 makes no apologies for its grand, rambling adventure, and so far it doesn’t have any reason to.
Octopath Traveler 2 launches on February 24 for PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC.