Octopath Traveler 2 has everything I could want in a sequel | Hands-on preview

by on February 9, 2023

Despite having played it at this point, I still can’t quite believe Octopath Traveler 2 is real. The first game in the series released back in 2018 as a Switch exclusive, and kick-started the HD-2D art style that’s (quite rightly) universally loved. As well as looking gorgeous, Octopath Traveler had enthralling turn-based combat and a riveting story that placed it firmly at the top of the JRPG mountain. Now the sequel is just around the corner, and I am happy to confirm it’s going to be just as essential as its predecessor.

For this preview I was able to play the first chapter of every character’s story. Similarly to the first game, Octopath Traveler 2 features eight characters who all have their own goals, which can be recruited to your party in whatever order you see fit. Your first decision is choosing one as your protagonist, which is easier said than done because they are all fantastic.

After reading a few blurbs I opted to choose Agnea, and got to find out about her life in the small village she called home, and her dancing aspirations. The backstory of every one of the eight is truly compelling, and they aren’t afraid to take a dark turn or two along the way. There’s poverty, slavery, and false imprisonment packed into even the early hours of Octopath Traveler 2, and before long you’ll care for all these hard done by characters. From the warrior that wants to prevent his brother from leading his clan down a dark path, to the merchant who wants to use his money making talents to raise money for the poor, the fateful eight all have to travel the world for different reasons and end up joining forces to keep each other safe against the various monsters and baddies.

A screenshot of Octopath Traveler II

The combat in Octopath Traveler 2 is just as engaging this time around, with the returning break and boost system really stealing the show in the turn-based battles. Each enemy you face can be hit with attacks it’s weak to in order to break it. This makes them skip their next turn and take extra damage, so finding elements or weapon types that get a foe closer to break and letting rip is the name of the game.

You can break enemies faster by using the boost points you’re given every turn to do multiple attacks at once. Storing these up and knowing the right time to unleash a powerful flurry is key to surviving some of the tougher bosses you encounter, and even in the early hours of the game my party was wiped out when I misjudged when to go on the offense (or foolishly boosted a powerful attack instead of a mass heal for the team).

It’s not all mechanics you’ve seen before, though. New to the combat in Octopath Traveler 2 are Latent Powers. Each character has a totally different one of these powers, which are slowly built up by breaking enemies or taking damage. One party member fills all of their BP instantly with their latent ability, another is able to craft a potion without using up any ingredients, and my lovely dancing protagonist can use her buffs on all party members instead of just one. The Latent Powers always feel satisfying to bring out when a battle isn’t going your way, and they’re the perfect small but satisfying addition to the combat.

A screenshot of Octopath Traveler II

Outside of battle, the other new feature to play around with is the day and night cycle. At the push of a button you can switch the world between day and night, and doing so changes the ferocity of enemies as well as the Path abilities (which are basically out of battle powers) that each of your party members can unleash. For example in the day my boogieing protagonist can allure NPCs to join us in battle for some extra fighting power, but at night she can use her natural charm to get free items from them. There’s quite a lot of overlap with the path abilities, but they’re fun to play around with and will provide you with a ton of extra items and allies if used often.

What I really like about Octopath Traveler 2 above anything else is how open it feels. You get to pick the order you do things in, choose whose story you want to follow first, and can explore dangerous areas anytime you fancy it. I loved getting new characters and dragging them to particularly tough caves for some tricky battles and a shed load of experience, and thanks to the incredibly convenient and unrestricted fast travel, bouncing around the globe is a breeze.

It should almost go without saying, but I can’t talk about my time with Octopath Traveler 2 without mentioning the visuals and soundtrack. The HD-2D art is honestly the best I’ve ever seen, and even on Switch the performance doesn’t miss a beat. Every single battle theme and environmental song is beautiful too, perhaps even more so than the first game.

A screenshot of Octopath Traveler II

There are elements to Octopath Traveler 2 that I can’t speak to yet. The main one of these I’m keen to experiment with is the job system, which allows your characters to gain extra abilities separate to their own and level them up. They were in the first game and I’ve spotted them in the menus, but without diving into later chapters I just can’t say how the building of your characters progresses using the jobs.

If I have a complaint in the sixteen or so hours of the game I played, it’s probably that the random battles can get a bit oppressive. I can’t help but think they feel a little dated nowadays, and the sheer volume of them is just a bit much. I did unlock a skill that reduces their frequency with the very last character I recruited though, so perhaps I was just unlucky.

Octopath Traveler 2 has everything I could want in a sequel to an essential RPG. The stories are so gripping already, the combat still feels original and fresh five years on, and I could listen to the soundtrack and look at those environments all day long. Square Enix clearly knew that this was a series that didn’t need huge changes and massive new features, and have instead refined everything that made the first game great. I cannot wait to play more of it.

Octopath Traveller 2 is coming to Switch, PlayStation, and PC on February 24th. 

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