Octopath Traveler 2's High-Octane Prison Break Is an Absolute Must-Play
Frigit Isle lies a four days journey off the coast of the mainland to the east. The only residents are those who either run or are confined in a prison on the Isle. In its entire history, no one has escaped. After serving five years of a lifetime sentence, Osvald hatches a plan to be the first. In the early hours of Octopath Traveler II, Square Enix's ensemble JRPG launching February 24, players will learn the opening tale of eight protagonists. Osvald’s stands out as the highlight for its inventive story that entices the player to stage a prison break and become a free man.
When I was in middle school, I visited my brother in San Francisco. While in the city, I would look out over the bay and see Alcatraz Island, home of the infamous prison. We took a boat over and explored the now-empty cells and halls of what has gone down in history as an inescapable prison. In its nearly 30 years of operation, only three prisoners escaped — though they may not have survived the process.
Now, I’m not saying I know exactly how those prisoners went about escaping after playing Osvald’s opening chapter in Octopath Traveler II, but the adrenaline-pumping events of Frigit Isle feel heavily inspired by the mythos of Alcatraz.
Imprisoned for a crime he claims not to have committed, Osvald lived his life as a scholar but now has turned gruff. The guards on Frigit Isle have literally muzzled him, stripping him of all freedom including the ability to speak.
Octopath Traveler II breaks Osvald’s plan to escape into three subtasks: find an accomplice, get a change of clothes, and figure out a way out of the prison. As in the first Octopath Traveler, these tasks can be accomplished by utilizing Osvald’s unique Path Action, or actions in this case. (Octopath Traveler II gives each protagonist two skills to work with.)
For Osvald, these actions are Scrutinize and Mug. Scrutinize lets you read into a person, gleaning information they might not willingly share, while Mug is pretty self-explanatory. Both are needed to escape Frigit Isle and characterize Osvald as a man on a mission who is equally capable of using brains and brawn.
The game lets you use Path Actions on numerous NPCs throughout the world, and rewards you with secrets. Not all of these are in the form of treasure chests or hidden items, sometimes they come in the form of unexpectedly deep world-building and character work.
I found myself using Scrutinize on every person possible in Frigit Isle, guards and prisoners alike. Prisoners will reveal the crime they are in for and how long they are sentenced. You can find serial arsonists who have a sentence multiple times the length of the average human life. You can also find political dissenters who have been locked up in order to be silenced and forgotten.
Guards reveal their inner thoughts, such as a high-ranking guard who has an anger issue that has led to multiple inmates losing their lives on his watch — all of which were categorized as accidental. One guard started the job in hopes of accomplishing rehabilitation for inmates but now gets off on inflicting pain as often as he can.
All of this is accomplished in short optional text entries, but effectively paints a portrait of a state that uses its power to silence its enemies and that encourages the penal system based on punishment. As far as games engaging with the idea of justice, this is pretty complex.
Over the course of the roughly hour and a half that this introductory chapter occurs you get to go through the beats of any good escape story. Planning, execution, and waiting for something to inevitably go wrong.
This is only the opening of Osvald’s story, but the density of mechanical and narrative excitement packed into the short experiences is enough to keep me interested in pursuing his story, and he is just one of eight that players will get to dive into.