Octopath Traveler is the much anticipated turn-based JRPG that was first announced at the Nintendo Treehouse for the Switch in January 2017. Like many gamers, I grew up playing JRPGs from the Final Fantasy series and longed for the return to traditional turn based 2D combat. Upon seeing the trailer for this game, I was ecstatic to see the revival of the genre I grew up infatuated with. Nearly a year and a half after that, the game was finally released.
Octopath Traveler features eight playable characters, each with their own unique abilities and story. Some of these stories, such as that of Olberic, the disgraced warrior that is seeking redemption or Primrose, the woman who’s father was murdered during her childhood and is out for revenge, follow common tropes in RPGs. Other stories like the tale of Cyrus, the scholar with tunnel vision for finding a book of dark arts stolen from the academy library, aren’t as commonly used. In general these stories are well written. They follow a logical progression through four chapters for each character, but the overall story progression jumps around due to the setup of the chapters.
Octopath Traveler intertwines the journeys of eight different adventurers as they embark on quests with a variety of motivations.
I have three issues I have with the stories. First, the dialogue is often long winded to the point that the talking takes more time than the gameplay. What is interesting is that some of the dialogue is voiced over entirely and some of it only features voices for the first word or two. The second issue I have with the stories is that they are disjointed. Without an excessive amount of level grinding, it is nearly impossible to play the whole story arc for one character straight through. The third issue I have is that each chapter follows a formula; lengthy dialogue session dungeon, boss fight and then finally another lengthy dialogue session. This setup makes the stories somewhat difficult to follow as you have to play through a series of other character’s stories before you can move to the next set of chapters. The lengthy dialogue sessions make the game a little more drawn out than it needed to be. I feel as though less dialogue and a feasible way to follow one character’s story start to finish would have benefited the game.
The combat system in Octopath Traveler has a similar foundation to the systems found in JRPGs of the NES and SNES but with a few enhancements. The enemies in Octopath Traveler all have a shield with a number in it displayed beneath them on the screen. Next to that, there are a series of squares that have a ‘?’ by default, These squares hide the attack types that an enemy is weak to. The number denotes the number of vulnerability attacks the enemy must take before they are dazed through the end of the current round and the following round as well. Once dazed, attacks deal more damage to the enemies. These vulnerabilities are revealed in one of three ways; either by attacking the enemy with the correct weapon or spell type, Cyrus’s ‘Study Foe’ before the first round of combat, or by using the Analyze spell that Cyrus has. Once learned, these vulnerabilities will immediately be revealed the next time you encounter the same enemy.
Another unique combat feature is that every turn the characters build up a battle points. For each battle appoint accrued, characters can either add additional melee attacks or super charge one of their class abilities. This can be very useful in wearing down an enemy’s defense rapidly. Since there are only six melee weapons, and each character only has eight class abilities, there isn’t much variety in attacks that are available. The lack of options for character abilities was a bit of a letdown. There are also a good deal of class abilities that I found to be more or less useless. These include H’aanit’s Beast Lore and Alfyn’s concoction ability. I used each one a handful of times and in general didn’t seem very useful. Several other abilities seemed to really serve little point in using. If the ability didn’t result in making an enemy dazed, it didn’t seem like it was useful.
Where Octopath Traveler really shines is in the aesthetics of the game. The sprites used for the characters is in direct homage to 8-bit and 16-bit JRPGs. The landscapes and the background are more graphically robust. The landscapes are in a diorama style, giving the feeling of a 3D environment. As you move your characters through environments, the perspective of the backgrounds change as well. It gives an immersive feeling that gives the landscapes a depth not seen in traditional JRPGs. In the larger towns, you will see something large, such as a cathedral in the background of town as you enter. Then when you go into the next part of town, the cathedral will be in the area in which you can explore. The amalgamation of the 16-bit sprites with the stunning 2D-HD scenery sounds like it would clash. However, it was executed impeccably. In short, the art style is simply brilliant!
The soundtrack is impressive as well. The music is usually appropriate to the story lines and helps convey the emotions of the scenes. The music for battle scenes also changes with each chapter tier; meaning the song used for battle in all of the first chapters for characters differs from that of the song used in the second chapters and so on. Simply put, the art and music direction in Octopath Traveler is top notch.
The world that Octopath Traveler takes place in is called Orsterra. The world contains several towns that are navigated by small areas in between towns. These areas, as with the dungeons in each chapter are a bit small. As such, they are in pieces so if you are looking for an open world, you will be disappointed. Exploration is not a large part of this game as it is driven to the eight story lines. Apart from the different towns, it is tough to get a feel for the world because the zones are little more than a trail between towns and don’t have much that separates one from the next. There is a desert region, a snow region, a forest region and so on, but none of these regions really have any character. They are also hard transitions from one region to the next with the towns on the edges of each region. An open world would have helped with immersing the player in the world of Orsterra rather than limiting the player to a linear trail from town to town.
Octopath Traveler is a really good game that does a lot of things well but it also has it’s flaws. For someone that is experienced with JRPGs, the limited character classes and abilities may be too pedestrian. That being said, if you are new to JRPGs, this game is a very good place to start in that regard. The story lines can drag out a bit too much and would have benefited from some brevity. The design of the thirty-two chapters seems to fit playing this game in short sessions and would be perfect for someone that takes mass transit to and from work everyday. The art style in this game is spectacular! Despite it’s flaws, Octopath Traveler is a fun game that brings back the nostalgia of classic JRPGs on the SNES such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. This game is well worth playing and makes me look forward to more titles using this engine (with more advanced systems of course) in the future. Octopath Traveler is a solid 4/5 and worth playing for gamers experienced in JRPGs and newcomers as well.