Octopath Traveler II | Review in progress

Octopath Traveler II | Review in progress

While there is still a scuffle among fans to decree whether the dose of action in Final Fantasy XVI is excessive, far too many players don't seem to notice that there are alternatives for those who prefer JRPGs with a more classic turn-based formula and they are not hard to find. As much as one can object to some choices by Square Enix, it cannot be denied that for several years it has been actively aiming for a parallel offer of titles that celebrate the glories of the past. The first Octopath Traveler was an exemplary title of this trend and at its release (five years ago now) it was, in its small way, revolutionary for its ability to embed a modern gameplay formula in the frame of a retro aesthetic.

Not only that, but it was a game that made me discover the immersion that a JRPG can give when it is loosened from the linearity that has always distinguished the genre. Even if we are not talking about a freedom comparable to that of an open world, the possibility of undertaking the chapters of the protagonists' stories in the preferred order and getting lost in the exploration of the game world have been precious factors of the gaming experience.

Octopath Traveler II takes up this free and immersive formula, and indeed if possible amplifies it. It's a game to savor and take your time, with many things to discover, do and experience, and without you realizing it, time slips around you.

So here, after having played it for more than 60 hours, I began to see the conclusion of the journey on the horizon, without however having reached it yet. I could have rushed story chapters, ignored side quests, optional dungeons, and maybe missed a secret but crucial boss at the end of the adventure (as many did for the predecessor), but it would have been a ruined experience, spoiled by rush to embargo, not authentic and not respectful of the spirit of the game itself. For this reason, below I report my impressions on my "on the road" experience in Octopath Traveler II, referring you to the complete review at a later time, when I have finished the story and be in a position to be able to give a complete and genuine judgment.

Getting lost and finding yourself in Solistia

In its imperfect originality , the original chapter wanted to honor the golden era of 16-bit JRPGs, but still offering an atypical narrative approach. Octopath Traveler II immediately demonstrates that it believes fully in that idea, starting from the same assumptions. There is no main protagonist on a path that branches off along the way, but eight different and disconnected characters who carry on their own personal stories and who join along the way to give each other a hand. The evolution of their individual events will compose the puzzle of a greater threat looming over the land of Solistia.

Compared to the linear structure typical of common JRPGs such as Final Fantasy, where the path is unique and given to the player, Octopath Traveler II leaves us the freedom to choose where to go and the order of characters to add to your party . As anticipated in the report of my first hours of the game, after completing the first chapter of the initial character I spent a few minutes looking at the Solistia map, where the starting places of the other characters are shown, and choose my next stop based on to the distance and class of the component I wanted to add.

Looking at the map and deciding how to proceed quickly became routine after each chapter. Also because for each new goal the game indicates a recommended level of experience to be tackled, so from that indication I calculated a whole personal road map to follow to explore new areas and go through other chapters of the characters to accumulate experience and continue. in an increasingly broad and demanding cycle.

Much of the exploration flavor is undoubtedly due to the phenomenal visual presentation. The HD-2D graphic style is absolutely delightful to look at, and the environment design offers a wealth of memorable glimpses. The style and quality of the two-dimensional sprites is irresistible for anyone who appreciates pixel art and wants to dive into the past.

Appointment at the crossroads

From what I have been able to see so far of the single stories of the protagonists, I have found more variety than in the previous title, where instead the chapter loop it was always the same. The tone and situations of the stories vary quite a bit from character to character, sometimes not even forced fights or bosses are involved. Of course, it must be said that not all the protagonists are interesting or well-written (do yourself a favor and DO NOT start the adventure with Agnea) and in general the clichés spread around, but each in its own way manages to arouse a certain affection for the own personal history.

One of the few, but heaviest, negative sides of the previous chapter was the poor interaction of the protagonists during their respective stories, and unfortunately it is a limitation that Octopath Traveler II has inherited. The fact that the game gives you complete freedom over which characters you recruit and when makes it effectively impossible to predict whether they'll be around during any given story arc. If, for example, you are following the story of the warrior Hikari, it is possible that to accompany him there are two or three companions among the other seven available, or even none; so creating a script that fits into any possible combination is unlikely.

While understanding the objective difficulty, it is impossible to ignore that the effect is a lack of harmony between the characters. Every now and then the game gives us the opportunity to observe optional dialogues between the protagonists, but these are mostly banters, nice skits that are very unrelated to their respective stories.

To smooth this limit, the Acquire team has introduced the Crossed Paths, which are essentially extra story chapters involving pairs of characters, missions tailored to them designed precisely to make them interact with each other in a more natural way . From what I've seen so far, the Crossed Paths only manage to plug the underlying problem, given that these fragments of history are quite trivial and too detached from the main events. I hope I can change my mind when I finish them all, hoping that in the final stages of the adventure they bond more closely.

Fighter travelers

Beyond the narrative style and retro-style visual beauty, Octopath Traveler II boasts an absolutely solid gameplay formula, largely inherited from its predecessor , which Acquire limited itself to enriching in a modest and prudent way.

A substantial addition concerns the Travel Actions of the characters, which are now two for each instead of one. These are extra actions that can be performed against NPCs scattered around the world and which basically serve to obtain objects, information or even their active help during battles. I have to say, however, that I found these skills more redundant than anything else, since in practice they translate into different ways to achieve the same things.

For example, objects owned by NPCs can be obtained in four ways: stealthily stealing them with the character of Throné, buying them at the hands of Partitio, "asking" them thanks to Agnea's charm or literally robbing them with Osvald through one-on-one combat. The requirements for doing so change slightly and someone is obviously cheaper than the other, in this case it is better to steal or ask for an item rather than buying it, but there will be cases in which getting it for free may not be possible and therefore one must resort to hard cash. Gathering information sometimes provides discounts in shops or is used to complete side quests, but more often than not, it concerns further hidden objects in the city. However, different approaches that lead to a small circle of results, and honestly I would have preferred them to be more diversified and unique from each other.

Furthermore, the Travel Actions require a great effort of suspension of disbelief, given that they can give life to at least absurd scenes. I happened, for example, to use Osvald to forcibly rob an NPC of his belongings and immediately after talk to him normally to help him in his side mission, complete it and even get me to thank you. Or with Hikari it is possible to challenge and knock unconscious several NPCs in a city without any consequences. The strange thing is that, like the first chapter, the game does indeed have a reputation system, but this only drops if you fail certain Travel Actions. Osvald for example can deduce information from NPCs simply by observing them closely, and such action is determined by a success rate. We therefore find ourselves in the paradoxical situation in which being caught observing an NPC carefully will damage our reputation, while casting spells at him in the middle of a city to take his objects seems to be socially ok.

Even if it is an absolutely secondary part of the gameplay, let's say that Acquire hasn't thought very well about balancing Travel Actions and the reputation system. And as much as certain scenes may end up being unintentionally comical, I hope that for a possible sequel they will pay more attention to it.

Moving on to a more significant aspect of the gameplay, from Octopath Traveler you can expect a fun battle system with a great tactical depth. In case you haven't played the first chapter, the fights are faced by a classic party of up to four characters, each with a different class and with their own personal skills. Each opponent has a specific personal defense value that allows him to take most of the attacks; to inflict decent damage you must therefore break his defense by hitting him in his elemental weaknesses or specific weapon types. Destroying its defense enters Domination mode, in which it is possible to inflict much more damage by taking advantage of the exposed guard, until it is automatically restored on its next turn. In addition, each turn the characters obtain a Power Point which can be used to launch several consecutive physical attacks or enhance spells and special abilities, or which we can accumulate over the course of the turns and then use them en masse perhaps to inflict a devastating blow in the moment of maximum vulnerability of the enemy. The focus of the battle system lies precisely in managing the Power Points in an optimal way in relation to the defense points of the opponents.

In Octopath Traveler II the Latent Powers have been introduced, i.e. personal and different abilities for each character which can prove to be particularly useful, but which can only be used after a special indicator has been loaded, which is loaded inflicting Domination status and taking damage. It is a way to add further spice to the fights and make the characters even more unique, although so far I must say that I have never felt the pressing need to use them in order to defeat the bosses. Perhaps things will change in the final stages of the game or to overcome the more powerful optional bosses.

The game formula is already solid in itself, but it becomes even more multifaceted when you start unlocking the secondary classes, digging up their respective licenses throughout the lands of Solistia. Experimenting and assembling parties with different combinations of sub-classes is really stimulating, also because if well exploited they can allow you to face opponents with a considerable gap in experience level.

Even if it hasn't reached the epilogue, I can already consider my adventure with Octopath Traveler II as significant, which up to now has turned out to be everything I could wish for from a sequel of this type. There are a couple of things inherited from the predecessor that still don't work very well, but in all likelihood fixing them would have required a lot of hacking into the original formula, and I'm not sure I would have preferred that. I am absolutely curious to see how the stories of the eight protagonists will come together in the end of the adventure, so I refer you to the complete review in which I will be able to focus more on the narrative effectiveness and the overall experience of this little gem.

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