JRPGs do bloody hate God. There's that old joke of a JRPG's first quest being to collect chicken eggs, and its final quest tasking you with slaughtering a deity. Five years ago in 2018, Octopath Traveler embodied that distaste for deities, albeit with decidedly less egg collecting to get through first.
Now, Octopath Traveler 2 is still dutifully continuing the mission. Square Enix's 2D-HD JRPG pits eight heroes against the world, each on a quest to right a personal wrong, before uniting together in one big overarching quest to save the world from those evil Gods once more. It's all very standard JRPG stuff between the two games, but there's several aspects that differentiate Octopath Traveler 2 from its predecessor, for better and worse.
The good news is that Octopath Traveler 2 has a new layer to combat, one which seems inconsequential at first but pays off in a huge way. This is 'Latent Power,' a metre for every character which builds up whenever they take or deal damage in combat. When the gauge is full, activate your Latent Power ability to perform an ability that changes between Octopath Traveler 2's eight heroes. One hero's Latent Power might see them able to act twice in one turn, and another's the option to focus hit-all spells down to targeting one enemy.
It's amazing how much of a difference this means for Octopath Traveler 2's battles. The original's combat felt like a bit of a slog at times, a brutal war of attrition where enemies could score numerous turns against your troupe without giving you the chance to answer. With Latent Powers, Octopath Traveler 2 gives you more freedom on your turns to hit home against enemies, or better prepare for an ensuing barrage.
Latent Powers are the perfect accompaniment to the Break and Boost system. The feature - which sees you breaking an enemy's shield by targeting their weaknesses before empowering your own strikes - is back and unchanged in Octopath Traveler 2, but with Latent Powers offering you an added abilities, it doesn't feel like you're throwing caution to the wind and going full desperation mode when you Boost a character.
Another subtle but quietly huge improvement is Octopath Traveler 2's day-night cycle. You're sort of playing God here, able to switch between day and night with a single button press while the game continues. Characters will get new powers at night, while ruffians in towns come out to play, and increasingly dangerous creatures patrol the overworld, compared to the more tranquil daytime.
Switching between day and night in a split second is inspired, a design direction that immediately brings added depth to Octopath Traveler 2's world. Towns change dramatically, with the population shifting around and shops shuttering, inviting you to try your luck finding a person or an item for a quest in the opposite time cycle if you're stumped. Between this and the Latent Powers, Octopath Traveler 2 has taken a confident step forward from the original game, maturing into something more refined with its own innovations.
There are some stumbles, mind. JRPGs do love a well-worn cliché, and Octopath Traveler 2 is no exception. Square Enix's original thrust a grimdark world upon you with characters like the dancer Primrose, repeatedly coerced into sex with an abusive master. "This world is bad and it treats its women badly!" Octopath Traveler repeatedly screamed at its audience through characters like Primrose, and it's a pitfall that Octopath Traveler 2 sadly finds itself in once again.
This time, we've got adventurers like Throne the thief, a young woman abused by her parents in a cult-like organisation of thieves. Octopath Traveler 2's women are dealt a depressing hand, their stories used to assert just how bad and evil this world is. Elsewhere, a male hero's wife and daughter are burned to death off-screen, a brutal way of setting up your standard revenge-focused plot. These aren't to say Octopath Traveler 2's male heroes don't suffer in various sadistic ways, but the way the series treats its women often feels unnecessarily nasty.
Across all of this, Octopath Traveler 2's 2D-HD graphics dazzle like before. What's underneath is a little messier. The new Latent Powers work wonders for making combat feel more thrilling and enjoyable, while the day-night cycle operating on a single button feels like an innovative way for a JRPG to completely switch up its world. It's Octopath Traveler 2's bitterly cynical world, bringing everything to bear against its women, that unfortunately muddies the otherwise clear improvements on the original.