I love when games subvert my expectations in a good way. Upon first blush, Critical Games‘ 8-Bit Adventures 2 looks like it would be a throwaway, jokey, meme-style game, but you would be completely wrong to think that. 8-bit Adventures 2 is a very robust game with engaging characters, a well-written storyline, smooth gameplay, and stellar music. This kind of game reminds jaded oldsters like me why we started playing JRPGs in the first place without bogging us down with the chaff we no longer have patience for.
The Steam page for 8-Bit Adventures 2 directly says, “While it may be a sequel, anyone can jump into this brand new JRPG adventure!” Given that I have zero exposure to the 8-Bit Adventures franchise, I put this selling point to the test. While, yes, 8-Bit Adventures 2 is an enjoyable game that I had little problem getting into and following, it is still a direct sequel to 8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey. I wish I had played the previous game to experience firsthand some of the unique and fascinating worldbuilding the recurring characters reminisce over.
8-Bit Adventures 2‘s story is a well-paced and highly entertaining yarn with likeable yet flawed characters and writing filled with personality. The setup is nothing out of the ordinary, but the plot grew deeper and more engrossing as the game continued. The whole experience happily blends rollicking adventure with some heavy themes like abandonment. I particularly liked how the coming-of-age aspects of the protagonist and antagonist were compared and contrasted. I would honestly love to say more about the story, but I feel that going in blind and without expectations (as I did) will yield the most fulfilling experience.
Yes, some moments in 8-Bit Adventures 2 require a little “hand-wavium” on the player’s part, but what JRPG doesn’t? And, yes, it has its share of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” and meta references to RPGs of yore, but I didn’t find them too overdone. The 30-ish hours I enthusiastically spent on it culminated in a very satisfying ending, though completionists will likely have longer play times given the game’s quantity of side content.
Progression throughout 8-Bit Adventures 2 was smooth, and, despite a few notable difficulty spikes, I found little need to excessively level grind. So long as you fight every enemy you encounter (encounters are visible and don’t respawn unless you ask the save reminder point to do so), you should generally be OK for the bosses. Notice I said, “save reminder point.” See, 8-Bit Adventures 2 allows you to save anywhere and anytime you want, but save reminder points pop up near the end of dungeons to remind you to save, offer optional hints for the upcoming boss battle, or respawn enemies in the dungeon. Some boss battles took several tries to overcome, but challenging-yet-winnable fights like those got me emotionally invested. I exclaimed, “woohoo!” with those well-earned wins. On the other hand, I groaned, “Awww, come on!” whenever bosses pulled stunts on me.
Battles are turn-based, and all characters gain EXP regardless of whether they’re in the active party. The party consists of seven characters, only three of which can battle at a time, and combatants can swap out with no turn penalty. Strategic swapping is essential to victory, especially when you learn multi-character combination skills. Defending is important, too, and players should get friendly with said command. I like that defending restores some HP, like in The Legend of Dragoon, which is important since money can sometimes be scarce and healing items are not cheap.
There is only one difficulty level, and I found it optimally challenging for my tastes. I could not bulldoze my way through the game, nor did I find it overly punishing. The various and uniquely challenging minigame and puzzle sequences interspersed throughout the game to add spice to the otherwise traditional JRPG gameplay struck me. Travel and navigation are what you would expect from a JRPG. I had no real issues navigating overworld, town, and dungeon areas. Explorable areas are neither too convoluted nor insultingly tiny. There were a couple of instances where I wasn’t entirely sure where to go or what to do, but I figured those out with little effort. Play controls for the keyboard and gamepad are remappable. The default settings are usable, but I remapped the gamepad controls to my liking. The game is smoother to play on a gamepad, though playing via a keyboard is doable.
8-Bit Adventures 2 is quite visually appealing, thanks to its vibrant color scheme. The sprite and tile graphics reminded me of late 8-bit and early 16-bit games I played as a child, albeit with a modern flair. The most striking graphics are in the semi-animated cinematic cutscenes that reminded me of the NES classic Ninja Gaiden. In short, this is an attractive game that looks like something titled 8-Bit Adventures 2 should. I cannot imagine this game looking any other way.
And now, the pièce de résistance. The crown jewel of 8-Bit Adventures 2 that elevates it above many of its competitors in the crowded nostalgia-inspired JRPG market. I’m talking about the exquisite soundtrack by Chilean composer Sebastian “Carfonu” Cruz. Carfonu’s lovingly composed chiptune music is an absolute joy to listen to over the long haul. Too many chiptune soundtracks overuse harshly peaky high pitches that become grating after a few minutes, but this soundtrack is slick and smooth. Not only did I find myself playing the game for lengthy stretches at a time, but I spent many of those hours simply loitering in many locations (such as the City of Sounds) to keep hearing the music. Heck, I sometimes just idled during boss battles to enjoy that music. Words can’t express how much I loved 8-Bit Adventures 2‘s soundtrack. You’ll have to play the game and hear the music for yourself.
8-Bit Adventures 2 is the first game I played for 2023, and what a way to start the year of the rabbit! If you enjoy rollicking JRPG adventures, 8-Bit Adventures 2 is worth a look. The game has its flaws, but it gave me a positively enjoyable experience that reminded me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place. A lot of love went into crafting 8-Bit Adventures 2, and I recommend showing some love back and checking out the game for yourself.
Update, February 26th, 2023: After we published this review, Critical Games issued a patch that resolved text speed issues mentioned in our original review. As a result, we have amended some text and scores.