‘Octopath Traveler 2’ review: Eight different stories, but not enough connection

Octopath Traveler 2 is a retro-styled RPG, set in another steampunk-esque fantasy world. Square Enix isn’t reinventing the turn-based RPG for this sequel, instead expanding and (mildly) correcting some of the weaker parts of the original. There are new battle dynamics and moves, a well-utilized day-and-night game mechanism, and shared stories that attempt to convey a connection between the eight narratives. But it’s still a casual one. If Final Fantasy XV was about four best buddies going on a road-trip, then Octopath Traveler 2 is more like an Uber Pool rideshare. There might be friendly small talk, but there’s still not enough of a meaningful connection between the eight protagonists.

Octopath Traveler 2

Nintendo

Octopath Traveler 2 doesn’t offer any technical graphical upgrades I need to explain, although there seems to be a little more detail to both the sprites and environments. It’s still a pretty game. Half of the appeal is how games like this coax my memories of 16- and 32-bit games.

Having said that, the team behind this series has realized they can play with the scale a bit more: this is the Nintendo Switch, not a SNES. In some of the opening scenes for Hikari the warrior, characters rush past a crowd of 40 or so fighting in a desert. Developers Acquire and Team Asano have amped up the cinematic cutscenes a little more, too. Cameras will pan out and around your characters, as they brood on cliff faces, or as they’re forced to kill their abusive parents.

OP2 tries, only ever so slightly, to convey the idea that you’re on a collective journey. Once you’ve chosen your main character (who will be ‘locked’ into your party until you complete all five chapters of their story), you’ll bump into other travelers. Then you’ll be given the option to play through their origin story, or circle back to it at the local tavern at a time that’s suitable for you.

Octopath Traveler 2

Nintendo

Occasionally there will be some minor banter elements, called “shared stories” where two characters will share a few scenes together. These often connect stories and offer up some rewards. Still, it’s a little too infrequent – and not enough to get the impression this is a team of heroes helping each other to save the world from various calamities – or become a global dance superstar. (Yes, that’s someone’s aim.)

Osvald, the scholar, starts his journey in prison, accused of killing his wife and child. He’s this game’s defacto black mag,e with an array of elemental attacks. Still, this time, given his gritty backstory, his path actions (abilities and interactions you can make with non-playable characters in towns, and generally any time outside of battles) aren’t your typical black mage traits. One is scrutinize, a risky way of gleaning information from characters, while the other is mug, where you can duel pretty much any NPC you come across, and steal their possessions if you win.

However, with eight characters, many path actions overlap. Castti, an item expert and apothecary, can inquire for the same information you can get from scrutinizing, without any risk – she just has to be a high enough level. Meanwhile, Throné, the thief, can steal during daylight hours, giving the same results of a mugging without the fight.

Alongside those skills, each character also starts with a unique talent, offering battle abilities or passive skills that others won’t be able to use, even after unlocking secondary classes.

Octopath Traveler 2

Nintendo

Like the original, the battle system comes into its own once you can switch around job roles. To do so, however, you’ll need to find the guild for each job to unlock it. Some are easy enough to find – I came across two of the ‘secret’ jobs entirely by accident – while others are eluding me even now, 60 hours into the game, at roughly level 60 across my party. Where are you, hunter guild!?

More effort has been made to tonally differentiate the eight tales of Octopath Traveler 2 compared to its predecessor. With Temenos the cleric, who works as some sort of blasphemy hunter/mystery solver, gets a few scenes where he’s trying to solve crime scene mysteries. It’s not exactly Phoenix Wright, with all the clues there, twinkling away, waiting for you to walk up to them, but it helps to make the chapters feel different to the others.

Partitio, the merchant, likewise, has a story that feels like some whimsical K-drama, as this entrepreneur makes friends of enemies and travels the world striking deals. He gets an oddly bizarre montage of his final deal striking, hopping on ships and visiting a few secondary characters you probably already forgot. The aforementioned Castii starts the game with amnesia (ah that video game classic), and if there’s anything shared across most of the characters, it’s the sense that most of them are unreliable narrators. Rounding out the cast you have Agnea, the dancer, and Ochette, the hunter. (Not all eight will resonate with everyone, will they?)

Even the final chapters for each of the eight characters only results in a few extra banter scenes. I’m playing through the final chapters for each character, and if it’s anything like OP1, this will probably unlock a true final area, dungeon and boss. At this point, I doubt all the themes and story will coalesce into a satisfying conclusion — there’s been some allusions to a ‘shadow’, but that’s true of 90 percent of all RPGs. /I’ll be happy with another challenging boss.

Octopath Traveler 2

Nintendo

The battle dynamics follow the same formula of the last game: you aim to break the enemies’ defenses through applying elemental and weapon weaknesses. Break them, and they’ll stop attacking — or reset the charge-up to their high damage abilities – allowing you to do increased damage, or carefully heal and prepare for the next part of the fight. Once again, you’ll be able to boost attacks as a battle continues, augmenting damage or extending the length of strengthening spells and other boons.

The sequel adds latent powers, a limit-break styled super attack unique to each character. For some, this allows them to handily perform two actions at once, while others will deal augmented damage or supercharge spells and physical attacks. This was how I found my favorite characters and they seemed to stick around the squad longer. (Thank you for your service, Throné.)

Day and night affect the entire game, and thankfully it’s an easy trigger button that you can tap at any time outside of a battle. There are benefits to fighting during night, depending on the characters. Throné and Temenos offer debuffs and buffs at the start of nighttime fights, although it seems like fights are generally tougher than during the day. You will also come across different enemies depending on the time of day. This transition will also move NPCs around the town, or make them disappear entirely. The music also thoughtfully segues between the two states, which is a nice touch. Yet again, OP2 has a polished soundtrack, filled with orchestral bangers and several battle-theme earworms.

OP2 builds on the strengths of the first game, with lots of non-linear options to the story, with enough of a difference between chapters to break it all up. However, there still isn’t quite enough cohesion between the travelers and the tales they weave.

Octopath Traveler 2 launches on Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 and Steam on February 24th.

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