I’m calling it early: Octopath Traveler II sports the best soundtrack of 2023. Yes, I’m seriously giving it a personal “Music of the Year” stamp of approval without having heard Tears of the Kingdom or Final Fantasy XVI or any number of serious contenders. Yasunori Nishiki has won my heart with a follow-up soundtrack that I honestly did not believe could top his first foray into game music. But he did it. Somehow, Octopath Traveler II Original Soundtrack is stronger than its predecessor.
I have taken an inordinate amount of time analyzing this soundtrack. That and, of course, just enjoying the on-loop listen of a seven-hour opus. I shared some of my initial thoughts about this soundtrack on our Retro Encounter podcast (Episode 373 – Octopath Traveler II Spoilercast). Of particular note, I learned early in my study of this soundtrack (via the album’s English language liner notes!) that a substantial portion of the soundtrack was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Ocean Way Studios. While not quite as famous as, say, Abbey Road in London, this studio is well-known and celebrated in the spaces of pop, rock, country, and classical music.
I have a personal connection to, and fondness for, Ocean Way, having had opportunity to see it and play demo tracks on a baby grand piano there during my brief stint living there in the early ’00s. In addition to being a great recording space for chamber orchestra and choir, Ocean Way tends to contract with some great studio musicians. And, may I say, Square Enix Music and Yasunori Nishiki struck gold when they decided to do these Ocean Way recordings. The specific pieces of music recorded at Ocean Way include the opening theme (day and night variants), the end credits music, and the eight main field themes (day and night variants).
There is a noticeable difference in how these songs were recorded and mastered: not better or worse, but more open-space — resonant — than the Tokyo studio recordings. This is especially notable in a track like “Toto’haha,” which works as a variant on the “Ochette” character theme. The instruments are mixed slightly louder than the vocals, which works surprisingly well. Toto’haha, an area where the beastlings live in harmony with nature, is musically represented with a song where the human voice is present but *not* dominant. I love that.
The character themes, in point of fact, may be the most critical part of the entire soundtrack. Multiple field and battle themes throughout Octopath Traveler II reuse these motifs. This was also the case with the first Octopath, but I think Nishiki dug even deeper with usage and inventiveness when adapting these themes. “Partitio’s Theme” is undeniably cool, fully embracing positive emotion and not allowing its stand-out guitar and saxophone to be defined by any notion of cringe; it is simply too authentic for such an aspersion. “Temenos’ Theme” fits the persona of this inquisitor cleric perfectly well, with a quirky piece of detective music that immediately summons a Sherlock Holmes aura.
One particularly intriguing character theme is Agnea’s Theme, as it has its own name and essentially serves as Octopath Traveler II‘s theme song (apart from what is now the series main theme). This piece, “Song of Hope,” is a lively vocal track, perfect for the plucky and spirited dancer, a far cry from the first game’s (appropriately) dark and rough Primrose.
While I could go on at length about Octopath Traveler II‘s many town, dungeon, and event themes, I can sufficiently say they are on par with their equals in the first game, with the added note that the inclusion of “Night” versions is what makes this soundtrack weigh in at over six hours, opposed to its predecessor’s four. The “Night” arrangements aren’t phoned-in: they often include thoughtful and intentional changes in instrumentation, tempo, dynamics, mixing, and effects. Given the day/night cycle was one of the key features of this game, the inclusion of special music for both halves of the day/night cycle was paramount and really works well in the game. As a listening experience back-to-back across these six discs, however, it can be a daunting experience. I recommend listening in small chunks.
Finally, I must speak to the battle themes. Yes, they are catchy. They are powerful. They are memorable. But as impressive as many of the standard and boss battle tracks are, the eight variants of the final battle theme (ending each of the eight character stories) are what stand out to me. Weaving the character themes deftly into an intense, epic battle theme is clever, impressive, and in this case, paid off well. The outcomes are all positive. Ten out of ten.
For those unaware, there is also that “actual” final battle. The music for this comes in three variants as the player works through stages of a multi-part battle. “Vide, the Wicked,” “Those Who Hope for the Dawn,” and “Those Who Deny the Dawn” are three variations of the same battle theme. The key that holds these together is the booming, powerful tenor vocalist, who uses an operatic vocal style to deliver an absolutely unforgettable performance. The rock band, orchestral backing, and choir usage throughout these three versions of this final-final battle track are effective in building the set for this vocalist to simply blow the listener away.
In conclusion: I repeat, this is music of the year material. If you invest in only one original soundtrack for the entire year, this is the one you want. As of this writing, Square Enix has been intentional about not making the soundtrack freely available on sites like YouTube (although they did promote some great musicians in this compilation video showcasing multiple covers of the game’s main theme). Whether purchasing as a six-CD set or a digital compilation, I think it’s worth the price of admission. Octopath Traveler II Original Soundtrack, I predict, will stand the test of time.