Octopath Traveler 2’s RPG battle system is one of the greats

Octopath Traveler 2 is typical gaming comfort food. It’s expansive but simple and streamlined, changing virtually nothing that made the original game work. It is nostalgic and figurative; it boils down big, grown-up melodramas to the visual language of children’s games – a few images of animation here, a few flashing pixels there. And it’s luxurious too, wrapping its retro look in lavish visuals and accompanying it with an all-timer of an epic, orchestral score by Yasunori Nishiki.

But as comforting as that is, Octopus 2 also has a surprising amount of bite where it matters. The turn-based combat system returns from the first Octopath, is one of the most refined and strategic iterations of classic Japanese RPG designs you can find. It has an eye for tradition and does not overwhelm the player with complexity, but through a few simple rules sets up a web of cause and effect that will keep you constantly on your toes, even during the most mundane moments.

It works like this: Each enemy has a set of specific weaknesses, either to elemental magical attacks or physical attacks from certain weapons. They also have a defense level, which you can break down by exploiting their weaknesses. When their defense level reaches zero, you break them, stunning them for a turn and dramatically increasing their damage.

Image: Acquire/Square Enix

Meanwhile, the player characters in your party gain four Boost Points for each turn, up to a maximum of five. Up to three of these can be used at once to multiply the number or power of the character’s attacks and skills. You can use BP to quickly break an enemy, or save them to maximize the power of your attacks against a broken enemy.

This is essentially it: Break and Boost. There’s a simple, incredibly satisfying rhythm to this process of tapping BP and using them at the right moment, enhanced by the game’s punchy visuals and sound effects. Beyond that, it brings so many of the game’s other design elements into focus. Team composition, for one: When assembling your team of four from the eight available characters, you need to consider not only the character levels and their traditional roles as caster, healer or tank, but also a good spread of weapon types and elemental attacks that will cover the enemy’s weaknesses, to give you the crucial breaks in the most efficient way possible.

Another is turn order. An often overlooked element of turn-based combat, characters’ speed determines the order in which they make their moves each turn. You will rarely see the future turn order as closely as in Octopath Traveler 2as you consider where to aim attacks, what order to attempt to break your enemies into, when to drop healing, buffing and debuffing, when to deploy Boost, and when to use Break to negate strong boss attacks.

Image: Acquire/Square Enix

There is always something to think about. Even as you scurry around the world map, it’s hard not to get attached to the hooks that Octopus 2‘s battle system offers you and try to optimize your strategy, instead of just spamming basic attacks. Finding a way to unpack the defenses of a bunch of lowly monsters is richly satisfying in its own way; it helps that there’s a generous experience reward for defeating enemies untouched. Meanwhile, the extensive, lengthy and multi-phased boss battles find new challenges that solve puzzles in the battle formula. For example, some bosses summon minions that defend the boss’ weaknesses, locking them in and making the boss difficult or impossible to break until you can clear the minions out of the way.

Octopus 2 wisely opting to leave the first game’s near-perfect combat system almost untouched, remixing the skills of the eight returning character classes rather than doing anything dramatic with the combat superstructure. The game’s overarching day-night cycle, which can be switched at will and affects characters’ Path skills, has a greater effect in the overworld than in combat for most characters (although the increased frequency of random battles at night is a boon for grinding ). The other big addition is Latent Powers, a free-to-use special skill for each class that recharges over time. Some of these just unlock powerful new skills, but the more interesting ones reach into the ticking clockwork of the combat system to give you an extra benefit, such as two actions per turn, a full charge of BP, the ability to use single-target skills on all targets , or vice versa, to focus all damage on one opponent.

Latent powers are a fun addition, but they don’t do much to detract from the beautiful craftsmanship Octopath Travelerits combat design. Here is a system that, through the shifting, complex relationships between a few simple layers, keeps you constantly engaged, changing tactics to keep up with its syncopated rhythms, never settling into too simple a routine. Octopath Traveler 2 is comfort game – but it never lets you get also comfortable.

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