It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been unhappy with the direction of the Final Fantasy franchise. As a fan from back in the NES days, I feel like since around Final Fantasy 12, the series is only Final Fantasy in name; the franchise’s ongoing evolution has pushed it in directions that leave it all but unrecognizable to oldsters like me. But as much as I like to whine and complain about what Square Enix has done with the Final Fantasy series, it’s not like players like me - who came up with classic Super Nintendo RPGs - have been completely abandoned by the publisher.
Just because current Final Fantasy games play more like Devil May Cry than Chrono Trigger does not mean that Square Enix has given up on making games that echo the greats from the past. You just have to know where to look. The Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler franchises (and even Voice of Cards) are just sitting there, waiting to be picked up and loved by players like me who prefer menu-based combat in beautiful sprite-drawn open worlds over whatever “revolutionary” linear 3D newness the FF franchise is pushing on us. (Don’t get me wrong, I still hate-play Final Fantasy games, and I always will.)
Interestingly, while I’m all in on the three mainline Bravely Default titles, I bounced off the first Octopath Traveler game. Something about the eight-pronged narrative nature of the game just didn’t click with me. It felt too formless, and I wasn’t clear where to start. I didn’t understand the format of the game, and felt like I was missing out on something no matter which characters I was playing with. I just didn’t get it, and eventually bounced off.
While I only played the first half of the original game, and Octopath Traveler II doesn’t seem all that different to me, for whatever reason I really locked in on this newer title, merrily pushing through all eight storylines over the course of a couple of weeks. Is this game better than the last one? That’s a bit of a shrug as far as I’m concerned, but I can say that the writing seems tighter and more relatable, and that made the game as a whole work better for me.
Like the first game, Octopath Traveler II again focuses on eight disparate, seemingly unconnected characters. You can pick any of the eight to start with, but understand that whichever one you pick is going to be in you your party for the duration, so go with someone with a class that speaks to you.
With your first character, you push out into the world, wandering from town to town, solving little quests and eventually meeting up with the rest of the cast. Each character has their own backstory, which sends them out into the world to wander on a four-chapter quest. How you tackle those 32 chapters, and in which order, is entirely up to you. Discovering how the characters come together, and the ways in which their quests eventually overlap is part of the fun of the game.
This aspect of Octopath Traveler II is the biggest differentiator between it and its predecessor. In the first title, I found the structure of the game bewildering, and the story for the original character I picked wasn’t strong enough to push me out into the world enough to complete the game. I lost focus, and eventually lost interest. Not so in this sequel. In fact, I found this group of characters and their backstories far more engaging, to the point where – while I had my favorites – I couldn’t pick a single character that I didn’t enjoy on some level.
The combat in Octopath Traveler will feel immediately familiar to JRPG fans, with a few fun additions. Like the first game, the combat in Octopath Traveler II revolves around revealing an enemy’s weaknesses and then exploiting them. Once a weakness is known, it is displayed under the enemy sprite, allowing the player to quickly reference it and make the appropriate moves needed to “break” the enemy – essentially stunning them for a turn and rendering them more susceptible to damage.
The basic Attack/Item/Skill options are available, but players are also able to bank additional points with each round which, when used, exponentially improve whatever action they are taking. This dynamic feels like a somewhat simplified version of the brave/default mechanic from Bravely Default, but it is a little simpler to manage. Players familiar with how Limit Breaks work will be right at home. Each character also has a unique combat ability that slowly charges, known as Latent Powers. These aren’t game changers, but they can be kinda handy in a pinch. These do things like letting characters attack twice, or instantly fill their gauge with points.
Of course, with leveling your various characters, you will eventually find yourself overpowered for some areas you are traversing, able to just spam the “Attack” button to quickly defeat foes. But don’t get soft and lose sight of the intricacies of the battle system; you will need every power, item, and ability at your disposal for Octopath Traveler’s spectacular boss fights. Honestly, I can’t recall being as challenged by JRPG boss fights since the PS1 version of Final Fantasy VII; these fights are that complex and demanding. There were points in the game where I actually had to sit my controller down and think about what I was going to next.
The 2DHD graphics in Octopath Traveler II are of course amazing. Though I’ve become accustomed to this graphical style, I was reminded of just how great these games look when my ten-year-old daughter walked into the room and started commenting on how it “looks like it is in 3D, but it isn’t”. She was impressed, and then I was impressed all over again.
Its funny how one little tweak can make all the difference in a franchise. With strengthened writing, every other fantastic aspect of Octopath Traveler clicked into place for me. This is an amazing game, and old-school JRPG fans that haven’t already jumped on board should really consider doing so. I know that I’m a little late to the party on this one, but hey, better late than never. I’m now an Octopath convert, and can happily say that this is one of my new favorite franchises. It took me a while to get here, but – as they say - it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
By strengthening the writing and characters, Square Enix has brought every other aspect of Octopath Traveler snapping into focus with this second entry. Beautiful, engaging, and challenging, Octopath Traveler feels like a classic JRPG, in all the best ways. This is a huge, and hugely rewarding, game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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