For all its flaws, I loved the first one Octopate Traveler. The braided story was as ambitious as it was redundant, following eight playable characters around a circular continent on which quests were thrilling until they became hopelessly rotten. While it started off promising, with gripping origin stories for each character, and ramped up as those plots gathered steam side-by-side, it fell apart along the way. The stories became repetitive. The braid came loose.
Still, it represented the best of what I consider a compelling but painfully overlooked format: the “Collection of Short Stories” video game. While most releases live and die through a singular plot told in a single narrative genre (Cyberpunk! Norse Mythology! Greek Epics!), Octopate Traveler threw caution to the wind and floundered into almost all of them. Sure, his design conceits fell into a nice genre – the turn-based JRPG – but his narrative aspirations were all over the map. Messy? Certainly. Nice as hell? Absolute.
I have only recruited five playable characters Octopath Traveler 2, but it’s already clear that developer Acquire wanted to push this variety further in the sequel. I chose Osvald the Scholar as my opening character, and his jailbreak meets revenge from a first chapter is in fact Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo if it took place in the frozen north. However, once I traveled south, I encountered the cleric Temenos, whose role as the courier of the “Sacred Flame” Dark souls written all over it. (As an Inquisitor, he investigates the murder of a church official whose death was linked to rituals involving ancient gods, colossal demonic beasts, and a plot to extinguish that sacred flame.) Turning southwest, I entered the city of New Delstra inside. , a doppelgänger of Paris, complete with catacombs and a jazzy soundtrack, just as a robbery has gone aside. Throné, the potential successor to the leaders of a murderous thieves’ guild, faces no less than five betrayals in the first 20 minutes of her story.
Despite the range of storytelling genres at play, the whole plot already feels tighter than that of its predecessor. Each character investigates their own mystery, or escapes their own debacle, or enacts their own vengeance, but each subsequent chapter in their stories feels fresher than the last. Not only does Acquire jump between gameplay conceits (Temenos’ quests often involve investigations, while Throné’s are more about infiltration), it also deftly balances between storytelling genres. That is very possible Octopate 2, like the first game, will eventually get old. But I’m fully committed to finding out.
I wish this format wasn’t so rare. Last year’s remake of the 1994 JRPG Live alive, despite the stumbling blocks in the final chapters, deftly jumped from Imperial China to Edo Japan to the American Wild West. The time-hopping epic Chrono trigger was a critical and commercial success as early as 1995, further cementing the status of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii and Akira Toriyama. Even the first-person shooter series TimeSplitters mined the short story formula for three games, with a new entry reportedly on the way.
All this is to say that, as with literary short story collections, the format offers developers enough constraints to keep things focused, but enough malleability to get weird. I’m encouraged to see that the formula is already evolving Octopath Traveler 2. And we hope more developers refresh their knowledge Italian Calvino, George Luis Borges, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Jennifer EganAnd Dennis Johnson in the meantime.