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Octopath Traveler 2 Preview: More Of The Same, In A Good Way

After three hours, two character intro chapters, and many battles, "Octopath Traveler 2" is shaping up to be the quintessential video game sequel. It keeps what fans loved about the original while simultaneously building on that foundation with interesting new mechanics and technical polish. It might not revolutionize the JRPG genre, but chances are that those looking forward to "Octopath Traveler 2" aren't looking to have their minds blown. If you expected more tactical turn-based battles, engaging characters, and a soundtrack that slaps, you'll be getting exactly that with some nice little surprises on top.

The "Octopath Traveler 2"s demo begins in the exact same way as the original "Octopath Traveler" (which is still on Game Pass). Hover over one of the eight protagonists on the world map and you'll get a preview of their backstory and abilities. The demo limits you to three hours, which was enough to finish Hikari the Warrior's intro chapter and then Partitio the Merchant's with a handful of side quests along the way. One nice thing about the demo is that all this progress will carry over to the full game.

The strength of this approach is that it doesn't take long for the game to introduce new concepts. "Octopath Traveler 2" smartly assumes that you can grasp turn-based combat and exploring towns with little more than a few tutorial pop-ups to guide you. So after about 25 minutes, you're introduced to the expanded Path Actions. Just like in the first game, Path Actions tie thematically into a character's skills and encourage you to seek out certain NPCs for hidden rewards. Now, however, each character has a different Path Action for daytime and nighttime.

It wasn't broke, but they fixed it anyway

The addition of both more Path Actions and a day/night cycle actually makes you want to explore more. In the original game, it seemed easier to not take as much advantage of certain Path Actions as was intended. Sure, Primrose charm townsfolk followed me around to be meat shields — er, allies in battle, that is. But what did Alfyn do again?

In the "Octopath Traveler 2" three hour demo, Path Actions already feel like they have more utility. Partitio can buy secret discounted goods just like Tressa in the first game, but he also gets a passive discount thanks to his haggling skill. Hikari can challenge NPCs to learn their skills, which is way more useful than Olberic's challenge, allowing you to scheme on what broken builds you can craft.

This expansion of character abilities comes out even more in the new Latent Power mechanic. Each character now has a circle that fills throughout combat, and can be activated to draw out special anime-style ultimate moves or table-turning buffs. The new production values help to sell the epic nature of these powerful moments. While "Octopath's" signature 2.5D art style hasn't changed, the camera swivels more to show off the depth of the world. Or to just give a dramatic angle as a character unleashes their fully charged super move. It's a fantastic maturation of this unique visual direction.

One complaint with "Octopath Traveler 2's" technical enhancements is the new cutscene player. You can now fast forward, pause, or autoplay cutscenes. Autoplay seems convenient as you can just sit back and enjoy the endearing voice acting without needing to mash the A button. But on Nintendo Switch, not pressing any buttons will eventually activate the console's rest mode. The screen managed to dim several times mid-cutscene, a harmless but annoying little interaction.

A whole new world

The world of "Octopath Traveler 2" is entirely separate from that of the first game. That means no easter eggs or returning characters, but it also makes room for a mishmash of fascinating new worldbuilding. In the demo, you roll from Hikari's homeland of warring desert states with a feudal Japanese influence to Partitio's Wild West wasteland. Even in this short experience, it's easy to appreciate the variety of communities and ideas on display. Yet somehow it still feels cohesive, and traveling the overworld helped make sense of the transition between two vastly different styles of society and technology.

One thing that did stick out as weird was the voiceover direction. Hikari's homeland was filled with expressive voices like those of anime or most other English-dubbed Japanese games. Not to say it's over the top, everyone does a great job embodying their characters. Then Partitio's section came, and everyone spoke with a Western twang. It's a very endearing choice, but one that raised a question. Why didn't they add more cultural flavor to Hikari's people?

Of course it would be challenging to render a Japanese "accent" to English dialogue without offending a lot of people, but there has to be some room in the middle. Hopefully, the full game does justice to the other cultures referenced in its world. But going forward, there's merit in exploring more varied voice acting choices.

But do they talk to each other?

Perhaps the biggest complaint about "Octopath Traveler" is how the party rarely interacts. They don't participate in each other's cutscenes and never talk to each other apart from the occasional optional skit. That, combined with the hidden nature of the main story, made it so the game never moved beyond feeling like eight separate experiences. So, many fans will wonder: does the party actually interact this time around?

In the demo, Partitio did give Hikari a welcoming speech when they first met. This went much further to explain why they would party up in the first place. But if early reviews are any indication, it's still lacking in the main story. That's disappointing, but not a total loss. "Octopath Traveler 2" still looks to deliver lovable characters with enough minor improvements to warrant revisiting the 2.5D world.