Not every sequel needs to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes simple refinement does the job just fine. For every game that mixes things up, like Breath of the Wild, there’s another like A Link Between Worlds that takes a more subtly iterative approach to the standard formula. After playing through the first few hours of Octopath Traveler II, it’s quite clear to us that Square Enix's latest HD-2D project is more in line with the latter. Everything that you loved about 2018's original Octopath Traveler is here and arguably better than ever, while some of the things that you didn’t like about it may have been tweaked or adjusted.

All of the original eight classes have made their return again, but they’ve each been lightly reworked both narratively and mechanically to give you something that feels new. For example, the Scholar class still stars a magic-casting professor, but where Cyrus was a suave academic on a quest to track down a missing library book, Osvald is a bitter and broken prison convict on a single-minded mission to avenge his family’s murder. Here and there, you can see some similarities between the two, but Osvald is a whole different beast.

Such similarities and differences further extend to the skills each class uses. Agnea the Dancer, for example, can still use most of the same buffs that made Primrose such a potent support member, but new skills like the ability to move another team member’s action up in the timeline give her some interesting and new strategic utility.

Meanwhile, the story remains largely decentralized, and we’re quite curious to see how the fanbase reacts to this unique structure for its second time around. The developers have gone to noticeable efforts to build a greater sense of party cohesion and introduce more organic and plentiful instances of party interaction, yet this is still very much a braided narrative about eight individuals pursuing their own agendas and plotlines.

Based on what we’ve seen thus far, it feels like this kind of storytelling is working well and that the plots are generally more engaging than they were in the previous entry, but bear in mind that we were also huge fans of the polarizing story of the original game. At minimum, we expect people will be just as split over Octopath Traveler II’s narrative as they were with the first.

One of our favorite new additions has been the introduction of a day-night cycle, which has more of an effect than you may think. Some environments will change dramatically between the two, such as quiet ruins along the path of a country road turning into a bustling black market when night falls. The day and night changes affect battles, too, with stronger enemies coming out once the sun sets to make grinding easier, while some characters receive helpful passive buffs that only trigger during nighttime. The differences between day and night aren’t major, then, but we’re definitely reminded of the Zelda series’ recurring ‘dark world’ mechanic here. So far, it feels like a welcome change that has added new depth to the adventure.

Another benefit of the day-night cycle is that it doubles the number of gorgeous environments for you to gawk at due to the excellent art style on display. Octopath Traveler was quite the looker when it came out, but this new release clearly reflects all the lessons that Square learned through the development of other HD-2D titles in the interim and the maturation of that technology. New lighting and particle effects help to imbue the spritework with an extra dose of realism while a more dynamic camera allows for interesting cinematic touches. Watching the camera dramatically swing out just before you crack off a big boost attack never gets old.

So far, we’ve been very impressed with what we’ve experienced of Octopath Traveler II. The combat has more depth, the graphics got a nice bump, and the class system has shown signs of some key changes that we’re eager to explore further. This is Octopath Traveler on steroids, and we think fans of the original will — for the most part — be delighted by what the team has put together here.

Yet at the same time, there are times where it feels like Octopath Traveler II plays things a little too safe and follows too closely in its predecessor’s footsteps. It’s not a bad thing to double down on what works, but it remains to be seen how far Octopath Traveler II will go in establishing its own identity, as the early hours can sometimes feel quite familiar.

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Image: Square Enix

At any rate, Octopath Traveler II is at least comparable to the original in terms of production quality; it seems like it’s generally better at doing what the original game set out to do, but we’ll share our final judgment on that front with you soon enough.