Developer: Critical Games
Publisher: Critical Games
8-Bit Adventures 2 is a retro-inspired JRPG with turn-based battles that heavily focuses on storytelling and character development. It is also one of the best balanced, evenly-paced, and uplifting RPGs I have ever played. As the game’s title suggests, you’ll find yourself in a world that comes to life in beautifully handcrafted 8-Bit style that tickles the minds of genre veterans as much as it can inflict anemoia on newcomers.
The usual suspects?
If there ever was a story that ticks all the right boxes without sounding too cliché, 8-Bit Adventures 2 would be the one. You’re thrown into the game, wearing the metal boots of a hero from the past, as you’re playing one of the characters from 8-Bit Adventures 1. He won’t be the only one having a comeback in part 2, as the rest of the team is joining in as well. That said, not having played part 1 is perfectly fine as the game finds an elegant way to fill you in on the important details.
A new main character, and one I found very likable from the start, is Charlie. Once a street urchin, now a teenager striving for knighthood, who is clearly having a lack of patience but his heart in the right place.
Like you, he hasn’t seen what your hero friends accomplished in 8-Bit Adventures 1 and relies on their stories instead. When Charlie’s best friend, former sort of thievery role-model, now hero-to-look-upon leaves town to save her lover, he wouldn’t let her go alone. They soon discover an anomaly that might threaten not only their mutual friend but the whole world. Charlie and his future companions face all sorts of dangers, leading from place to place without any delay. The team of heroes offers a diverse and varied roster that clearly took some inspiration from genre-classics like Final Fantasy V or Chrono Trigger. Each character has a unique backstory with its own tales of equal joy and sadness.
One of the biggest strengths of 8-Bit Adventures 2 is how easily it combines the planes of RPG-tropes, serious topics and cleverly placed meta-jokes that never ceased to make me chuckle. This kind of self-awareness never overstays its welcome and respects the boundaries of story immersion. Lighthearted on the outside, the game does still know when to quit the banter and strum some darker tones. These make the game feel very mature despite its playful tone and setting. There is something about the pacing in this game that fits me like a glove.
I have yet to find a dull moment, yet to encounter a situation or quest that doesn’t interest me in one way or another. Even if some of the side quests look trivial, they never take too long to finish and offer something of value in return, may it be equipment or a missing piece of a story. To progress, your band of friends traverses the map. The colorful overworld offers room for exploration, especially once you managed to get your hands on an airship, and rewards with hidden chests, dungeons or bosses.
Some fresh paint on an old canvas
The absence of random battles was maybe the first thing I noticed while playing. Many JRPGs-veterans know how it feels to finish three areas of a cave, only to find themselves fighting for hours without any progress storywise. The removal of randoms makes the need for grinding obsolete as normal enemies as well as bosses seem to be balanced around the lowest common denominator. If you still wish to overpower everything by force, there is a cleverly implemented way to do so.
In many areas, you’ll encounter save points. Now, these aren’t necessarily important to keep your progress when things go south as 8-Bit Adventures 2 is very forgiving. You can save everywhere and always restart a battle lost. However, these handy spots grant the option to revive all enemies in the area you just cleared to enjoy even more turn-based battles. Enjoying them is fairly easy as they combine proven groundwork from the past with some modern QoL changes. And besides, they sound so good!
It is possible to swap members in fights, without any delay in turns. This makes sense because everybody has their usage and value. You’ll find buffs, debuffs, tank-abilities and hard-hitting sorceries at your disposal to deal with everything the game throws at you. Normal battles aren’t particulary difficult but they often require more than hitting attack every time. Boss fights are way more challenging and need a strategical approach. This spike in difficulty rarely felt out of place, and I can only remember one fight that made me think the words “a bit unfair” once. Screw you, animated airship wall!
Every character has a unique ultimate ability. To unleash it, a bar at the bottom of the screen slowly fills up whenever you get hit or dish out damage. There is a catch though. All party members use the same bar so once somebody uses his ultimate, the bar is empty for everyone. This doubles down on the idea to strategically using and swapping your party members as much as possible. Also, as known from classics like Suikoden, there is the possibility of performing Combo-Skills. Later in game, these get an upgrade and become Trio-Attacks. They hit hard and look extremely cool and powerful.
It doesn’t need a hard-hitting special move to realize just how good this game looks though. There is a graphics option called “pixel perfect” and I actually couldn’t find better words to describe the whole game. While it could be a game from the NES/SNES-era, there are just enough minor improvements to make it look like the real remaster many of these older titles deserve. Alongside pixel-perfect, there is also an upscale and mixed visual option. Personally I found upscale too blurry but mixed works great if you want a bit more screen to be covered and it does also look great on my Steam Deck.
If visuals aren’t your thing, then the masterfully crafted chiptunes track complementing your every step might be something that catches your attention. The aforementioned battle theme has yet to leave my head for longer than five minutes, but there are other, equally well-executed pieces. When I first entered the foundry, a more steampunky area of the game, I was blown away by the multilayered composition and the pictures it drew in my mind.
Although I find the pacing of the game excellent, I’d wish for some dungeons to be slightly bigger and elaborate. I’m not the biggest fan of puzzles but Critical Games could have upped the difficulty just a tiny bit. There are really interesting mechanics in place like a cave that forces you to fight in torchlight unless you’re fine with fighting against black silhouettes and decreased hit chance. I’m also against the idea of recycling the same ideas over and over again but this time I’d actually love to see myself struggle a bit more often.
The options menu actually feels like it came from the past and doesn’t offer that many things to change. I mean – am I the only person on this planet who enjoys changing the colors of the dialogue window? The biggest catch however might be some performance issues on the Steam Deck. Playing on Valve’s handheld works fine but comes at the cost of, sometimes very obvious, frame rate drops. It runs perfectly fine on PC though and even though there were issues, I still favored playing it on my Steam Deck.
8-Bit Adventures 2 is a glorious tribute to the classics of a time that is sometimes referred to as the golden era of RPGs. It is meticulously crafted, with its gorgeous pixel art and amazing sound design, and equally satisfies the needs of genre veterans and newbies alike. How? It uses a well-rounded turn-based battle system that doesn’t punish experimentation, as swapping heroes is free and every party member receives xp. Combat doesn’t happen randomly, but if you wish to level up beyond what I’d call the balanced story curve, you’re free to do so.
The story itself is linear and simplified but offers entertaining dialogue, character development and bonding between your party members. No joke, and RPG-trope is left untouched, and yet I never felt like playing a game that doesn’t empathize with its characters when things get serious. The cast is relatable, wholesome, and easy to fall in love with. There is no denying that I called my wizard Grumpy for a reason but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good pal.
It might be a bit early to call this “my game of the year 2023,” but it is definitely one of the best JRPGs I have ever played. The pacing never made me think like I didn’t know what to do or where to go. It made me smile whenever I booted the game up, and has only left me wanting for more. Clearly, a lot of passion but also craftsmanship went into this project, and I very much applaud and thank Critical Games for this instant classic in a genre that needed exactly this: some fresh paint on an old, but beautiful, canvas.