If You’ve Got Game Pass, Please, You Have To Play This Wonderful RPG

If You’ve Got Game Pass, Please, You Have To Play This Wonderful RPG

In an age when so many new games are trying to recapture the greatness of old classics, it’s hard to find the ones that actually live up to their inspirations. For RPG enjoyers it’s often about finding something as good as the 90’s era of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series. However, in that case, the best imitation of those classics comes from none other than Square Enix itself in the form of the Octopath Traveler games. Now with Octopath Traveler II on Xbox Game Pass, subscribers have no excuse not to play one of the best retro-inspired RPGs out there.

Octopath Traveler II is an expansive turn-based RPG with a fascinating cast of characters and world to explore. It almost feels like a game from an alternate timeline where Square Enix never progressed past the mechanics and visuals of Final Fantasy VI and just refined that formula, producing Octopath Traveler II. And to get it out of the way, no, you don’t need to play the first Octopath Traveler. You shouldn’t, despite it also being available on Xbox Game Pass. It’s not that it’s a bad game, it’s just that Octopath Traveler II is a more refined title that improves upon its predecessor in every way.

Image: Square Enix

The basic set-up is that you’re presented with a map of the game’s world, Solistia, which spans two major continents divided by a large ocean, with eight different characters placed on it (hence the “Octo” in the title). You choose one to begin the game as and quickly start unraveling each party member’s story till they eventually intertwine into a grand web.

Each of the eight protagonists falls into a traditional archetype defined by their job. There is Throne the thief, Agnea the dancer, Hikari the warrior, and on and on. Each one’s job defines the tone of their narrative, with Throne’s, for instance, involving heists, betrayal, and revenge in Solistia’s crime world. The ability to swap between characters and pursue their narratives however you see fit leads to a wonderful balance. Some stories may be emotionally and mechanically intensive, but you can always follow it up with something silly, such as Agnea’s charming journey to become a famous performer in the big city. All these clashing tones meld together remarkably well and evoke the tonal shifts of classic Final Fantasy adventures.

The job archetypes of each character also inform their mechanical abilities. Inside of combat, each character will have special attacks and skills you’d expect for a thief, a mage or whatever that character’s job happens to be. The turn-based system of Octopath Traveler II is so much deeper than those in competing retro-inspired RPGs in recent memory (I’m looking at you, Sea of Stars) and feels like the best evolution of the Active Time Battle system I’ve ever played. It revolves around two specific features, boosting and breaking. Combat occurs in a turn order represented on the screen. By attacking an enemy’s weakness, they can be broken, pushing them to the back of the turn order. You can also use special attacks called boosts which can be done by spending boost points that accrue every turn. This boost and break system turns into a strategic game of knowing when to build up your boost and when to unleash a strong attack in tandem with breaking the enemy to keep them from attacking as much as possible. This is best shown off during the game’s intense boss battles that require you to be at your best at all times.

Image: Square Enix

But the unique twist of Octopath Traveler II is that you can also use skills outside of combat. Many of the game’s quests require you to complete mechanical puzzles only specific characters can solve. That might involve using Throne’s steal ability to lift a key, or Hikari’s combat prowess to knock out guards and sneak past. With a day and night cycle, Octopath Traveler II also gives each character different skills for different times of day, so players need to experiment with not just their party makeup but also the time of day to solve specific problems.

As a vast, dozens-of-hours-long, retro-inspired RPG, there is a lot to see and get lost in while playing Octopath Traveler II. It’s a game best enjoyed at your own pace, which is why it’s so nice that the story is separated into chapters that are each just an hour or two long. All the while, the game’s gorgeous HD-2D visuals and phenomenal score are there to give your eyes and ears a feast. As far as nostalgia plays in gaming go, this is one of the finest.


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