Octopath Traveler II builds on its predecessor, once again creating an intertwining story of eight protagonists to create a single narrative that all the players must come together to resolve. The original was lauded for its charming 16-bit presentation and gorgeous soundtrack by Yasunoru Nishiki, and the sequel continues with this lush presentation with new characters, mechanics and quality of life improvements to create an absolute gem of a JRPG experience.
Octopath Traveler II does, sadly, highlight that my backlog has now been officially overtaken by new releases, since the original is sat in my "to play" pile alongside Triangle Tactics and the Voice of Cards. All great games sadly denied me by too many real-world commitments.
However (and despite adding to the dilemma by accidentally deleting the first draft of this review just as I was about to hit "enter") I have found time for this sequel, partly because I decided to nab the Special Edition, and felt duty bound to get my thoughts out for reasons we'll get to later in the review.
But first, let's appreciate the game experience. For those unfamiliar, you'll start by picking a character from the available eight on offer and play through around an hour of their personal story before you're meeting other characters with their own stories to tell. You can choose to play their opening stories too, or just add them to your party, but at least on the first playthrough you'll want to enjoy the rich narrative and extra playtime the former option affords you. They're all great characters too, with their own charm and quirks driving the narrative forward, so spending time with any of them feels like time well spent.
Learning the ropes
While battles are traditional turn-based affairs, the game has a number of mechanics that give it a unique flavour. Firstly, everyone has two skills, and these are distinct between day or night. Femme fatale and thief Throne picks pockets by day and conducts ambushes by night, allowing her to accumulate useful items and gain access to new areas. Hikari can only fight during the day, but buys information at night. Other characters might hunt monsters they can call forth in battle and so forth, but this is a new mechanic for the sequel and the time of day can be triggered manually, saving you the hassle of waiting for the game's internal clock. It's a well thought-through addition to the game which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The time of day can also be triggered when travelling, and nighttime foes are tougher than those encountered during the day, though richer in rewards for defeating them.
While overworld travel is limited to predetermined paths, these do branch to reveal hidden locations, and you'll want to find all the Temples to discover new EX abilities that can aid you in battle. Job classes can also be awarded to each character that come with unique buffs to your stats, so there's lots to experiment with as you find the best fit for both your character and play style.
The power of the aesthetic
Almost any RPG will rise or fall on the strength of its story, but sadly for me I'm a complete magpie when it comes to gaming, and as such I've purchased some truly lovely looking lemons in my time. Thankfully the gorgeous presentation of the game, it's associated artwork and that glorious music are serve a fun, dramatic and genuinely compelling storyline, so if you were lured in by the pixel-art (which looks as good as your memory thinks those 16-bit games did) then you won't be disappointed. This is a game that delivers on its promises and will show you a good time.
Crack open the safe, Muggsy...
So we can safely say the game looks the part, plays sublimely and is destined to be a classic. So should you invest £175 in the Special Edition of the game?
So time was a special edition might get to £130, assuming a figure or two, an artbook or something equally shiny to make it worth the considerable money you're handing over above and beyond the cost of the game itself. Here, we are offered:
- A selection of music from the game on CD
- A full colour artbook featuring promotional images and a couple of 2-page illustrations per character
- 8 plastic character busts with a faux metallic finish
Hm. The game itself is just thrown in the shipping box, which feels a bit cheap (why pay to cut different sized slots in the box for each console variant) and doubly so when you realise Amazon is offering a free Steelbook on pre-orders, and this comes with a standard edition of the game. Ouch.
The music selection is nice enough, but the full CD soundtrack is 6 discs and retails at £50, so we're talking a fraction of that value represented here. The artbook is very nice, but also very short when you consider the page count is double the number of unique illustrations included within, and the plastic busts, while beautifully sculpted, are only plastic. Had they been metal, I could have seen the value, but these are Gashapon level inclusions in a nice box - collectively none of this should elicit a £125 premium on top of the basic game they've carelessly tossed into the shipping box. They really couldn't give us the steelbook too?
And to be clear, this is not a review copy, it's fully paid for from the Square Enix store.
Honestly you're better off picking up the Vinyl soundtrack (still up on the UK store but sold out everywhere else) for £50 and nabbing the Steelbook version from Ebay. This is a wonderful game, but simply not worth the price of entry if you're considering the Special Edition.