Octopath Traveler was a pleasant surprise when it debuted a few years back. Its then-new HD-2D engine was a delight to behold, and the gameplay drew inspiration from some of Square Enix’s most storied franchises: a deep Final Fantasy-style class and customization system mixed with the non-linear exploration and story of the SaGa series with a dash of combat that took cues from Bravely Default. These are great inspirations to draw from, but it resulted in a game that, while excellent, seemed to be struggling for a distinct identity. Perhaps the developers recognized this as well–with Octopath Traveler II, Square Enix seems to be trying to add new gameplay elements that give the franchise a personality of its own. And, for the most part, it has succeeded admirably.

The core of Octopath Traveler II is a traditional, turn-based JRPG with many of the usual gameplay elements: towns and dungeons to explore, objectives to complete, etc. Where most JRPGs present a linear method of progression, however, Octopath Traveler takes a very different approach: You begin the game by selecting a “main” character from eight candidates. This character has their own unique background, story arc, and goals, and will serve as a constant presence throughout your playtime. After an introductory story chapter, you are then free to explore the world to your liking. Eventually, you’ll meet the other seven characters, allowing you to bring them into your party and follow their storylines as well, all culminating in a finale that ties the individual story threads together.

The focus on individual character arcs rather than a huge, high-stakes threat for most of the game’s runtime is refreshing, allowing Octopath Traveler II to tell a variety of intriguing stories that vary wildly in both tone and focus. Some of them are comparatively weaker, but others command and hold your attention and keep you eager for more. Agnea’s star-struck search for fame is notably bland, for instance, while Temenos’ investigation into a murder plot by a religious cult and Throne’s quest to kill the adoptive parents who raised her are excellent stand-outs. My personal favorite questline is the story of Osvald, who I chose as my starting character–a tale of a scholar who plans a Count-of-Monte-Christo-style prison escape and revenge after being framed for the murder of his own family by a scheming colleague.

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