|Release Date||July 13, 2018|
The Nintendo Switch has no shortage of role playing games, from extensive JRPG’s like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Disgaea 5 to fan favorites like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Square Enix’s newest addition to that repertoire, Octopath Traveler, proves to be a worthy contender in the ring and a great game in the Nintendo Switch’s library.
Many RPG’s start with a main character, and as that character progresses their own story, more friends come to aid the character on their quest. Taking a turn from this tried-and-true method, Octopath instead gives you the ultimate choice: which of the eight characters will you choose to accompany on their adventure? This is the biggest focal point of the game. Each character has their own defining story, and you can choose to complete them one by one, or start all of their journeys and travel with the traditional party of 4 (out of the 8).
Each character, aside from having their own story, has their own class, available weapons, and signature moves in their arsenal. Will you choose the rouge thief Therion? The the dancer Primrose? The cast-aside warrior Olberic? The choice is quite literally yours, with each combination of characters, or the choice of one character, as you guide them through their life and their story.
In a few simple words, the world of Octopath Traveler is absolutely gorgeous. Mixing the prevalent pixelated graphics of many modern indie titles with effects reminiscent of today’s AAA titles creates an experience never before seen in a video game. The water glistens as the sun travels across the sky, while the same sun filters through the swaying trees in the darkened, misty forests. Even the dust in the desert and snow in the mountains blows in the wind as you run across the landscape. The world simply comes to life before you in realistic movement and existence.
Many paths in the game are either straight lines or simple branching directions, but the small details of the maps almost hide that, adding small areas with treasure off the beaten path, or just the landscape itself. Many of these hidden treasures reminded me of the older Final Fantasy games, with the entrances barely visible behind a tree branch, a darkened corner of the forest, or behind a pile of rock and rubble. Exploring every section of the map felt exciting, just as much as discovering every piece of treasure tucked away.
Much like the landscape, the music of Octopath Traveler is just as appealing. The sound of the forests is foreboding, the towns and villages alive and bustling, the snowy mountains cozy and desolate. The musical scores are robust, but not overpowering when trying to get anything done. While they can be repetitive, the battle music is also dynamic and interesting for the regular enemy battles and the longer boss battles.
Once the world of Octopath Traveler opens up, it’s free for you to explore. Your starting character’s job and skills will help you take in all of Orsterra and it’s people. Therion, a popular starting choice (and my own starting choice), gives the player the ability to steal from enemies, but more importantly, townspeople. These “path actions” allow you to pull Orsterra open at the seams. Want to garner information about a town or a hidden piece of information about an NPC? Both Alfyn and Cyrus have the ability to Inquire or Scrutinize townsfolk, respectively. Ophilia and Primrose can both have a follower NPC for battles or side quests with their Guide and Allure abilities. Whether you take the Noble or the Rogue path also has an effect on how those abilities work. The Noble path will almost always work without fail, while the Rogue path will have a failure percentage. Fail enough times, and your reputation in the town will suffer. The actions you take could have consequences, and while remedying them is simple, each of those actions has weight in the choice to make them.
Interacting with the world in Octopath Traveler can be difficult at times, because certain characters are needed to make certain actions. For example, Therion may not always be able to steal an item from an NPC, but Tressa has the option to purchase it instead. Similarly, only Therion can open thieves’ chests in the world that no other character can open. Without the specific character in your 4-person party, those actions are blocked without a trip to the tavern to switch out your current party. A combination of characters to allow you to do one of each main action can remedy this, but a good character synergy may not always be made up of these cookie-cutter options.
The eight-character dynamic of Octopath Traveler adds an interesting twist on turn-based combat that RPG fans are accustomed to. Each character’s base Job and skills are all different, leading to many different possibilities for your party. Olberic’s high attack power can work well with Ophelia’s natural healing abilities, but wanting to add another Elemental attack character may topple the offensive power of the whole party. Some players might want to focus on elemental attack as their main source of damage, but could be hurt by low defense. The Break system also adds another interesting layer to every battle. Each enemy has a base defensive number, and until the characters deliver that many successful blows with an enemy’s weakness, each attack will be less effective, as well as stunning the enemy for a turn. In addition, each character accumulates a “Battle Power” point per turn, which delivers stronger elemental attacks, or an additional weapon attack per turn.
Finding a balance between attack, defense, elemental damage, and healing is further complicated when you’re allowed to add a second Job to each character. You could play against Therion’s natural Agility and give him the Merchant Job in addition to Thief, or similarly use that Agility as a Dancer. Using these secondary Jobs drastically changes the character dynamic, filling in the weakened gaps or bolstering already strong points.
Later in the game, when many characters are in use and the story has progressed, difficult boss battles challenge all but the strongest parties. High defensive points on enemies require many hits to weaken, but clerics can pack a heavy punch with fewer hits. Choosing which to focus on can be disastrous on one enemy, but may work well on another. Changing out different party members, their Jobs, and even the available Skills can change how you play, and it’s honestly fun to find out what combination works well with your personal play style and the game itself.
Octopath Traveler presents a story not like many other games in the genre. Presented with these eight characters, you have the choice to finish each character separately or complete all of their stories together as you travel. I was very excited for this different method of telling a story (or multiples of them), but I have to admit, after 50 or so hours of gameplay, it started to get very boring and repetitive. In between the normal grind of character leveling and progression, I was now faced with the grind of completing a character’s story in addition to it.
The characters by themselves have very compelling story arcs. One must rediscover their past, another must redeem themselves from their life’s choices. Yet another wants to follow their dreams after a sheltered life. Their emotions are genuine, their actions have impact in what their future holds, and their travels feel meaningful. Most players of the genre would collect all of the characters, which means visiting all of the towns in Orsterra. Each character’s chapter arc is done solo, and you can’t leave town until that chapter is completed. Eight characters with multiple chapters means you’re constantly visiting each town in quick successions, and sometimes completing more than one chapter in one town.
I loved the thought behind the story, but felt very conflicted with the execution. Even though the characters traveled together, there was nothing keeping them together, nothing that felt as if the characters should be together. There was occasional “travel banter” that was completely optional, but felt out of place as what seemed like an NPC conversation with you after completing a quest. If you just do one character’s story, it doesn’t feel as cumbersome, but more than one almost felt like a chore to “complete” the game. While this can be a refreshing departure from the tried-and-true elements of an RPG, it might be too disjointed for some players to really enjoy the writing.
The elusive post-game dungeon does add some redemption to the lacking story during the game, but still didn’t really make up for the hours I spent developing every character to get to that point. As the post-game is much of a secret, I won’t get into much of it here to avoid any potential spoilers.
|Gorgeous visuals||Disjointed story|
|Immersive audio||Expected RPG grind|
|Play style customization|