Developer: Square Enix & Acquire
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Role-Playing & Adventure
Release Date: July 13, 2018 (Worldwide)
*Disclaimer: We were not able to play Octopath Traveler until a few days after release, hence the late review. We thank you for your patience and we hope you enjoy our review!
When it was first announced, Octopath Traveler turned gamers heads with its odd title and retro-inspired visuals. It promised a story of eight different characters as they go throughout their own journeys in the continent of Orsterra. This ends up being a grand adventure that doesn’t hit all the marks, but was a memorable experience nonetheless.
Octopath Traveler‘s story is interesting, to say the least. It takes place in a large fantasy world of Orsterra and there are dungeons to explore, journeys to go on, and adventures to uncover. The name Octopath Traveler actually comes from the multiple perspectives that you can take on your adventure. There’s a total of eight playable characters scattered throughout the continent, each their own stories and motivations.
The characters include: Cyrus the scholar, that teaches at the Royal Academy seeking constant new knowledge. Ophelia the cleric, from the frost lands who serves the Order of the Flame. H’aanit the hunter, whose sole purpose is to protect her village while her master is away hunting a dreaded beast. Therion the thief, who is looking for his next big opportunity for great riches. Alfyn the healer, who’s on a journey around the continent helping those in need. Primrose the dancer, who’s looking to avenge her father after he was murdered by a mysterious trio of men. Tressa the merchant, who works for her family’s shop, but looks to branch outside of the village. Finally, there’s Olberic the warrior, and he works as the man-at-arms for a local mountain village.
Each of these playable characters have their own unique paths and stories that you’d think would entwine well with each other or create some type of grand narrative adventure. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and while all these characters can perform basic interactions amongst themselves, the way they’re woven together to create a seamless narrative are practically non-existent. Imagine, if you will, all the playable characters in another RPG you love just meeting up and never having substantial dialogue or story beats with one another.
While the combat certainly benefits from these characters all being together, their stories are self-contained and thus the eight-path story presentation feels somewhat misleading. As individual story segments that just take place in the same world, they’re well told and perfectly fine. Primrose’s story happened to be my personal favorite, mainly due to her story following the theme of revenge and grand tragedy. I found myself wanting her to succeed amidst all the tragedy that had befallen her.
When you jump into Octopath Traveler’s campaign, you’ll be presented with the choice of starting your journey as one of the eight playable characters. Each of them come from different corners of the world and their stories are broke up into chapters. The way the campaign plays out is really your choice as you can play with a single character if you’d like to, or run around the entire continent and gather as many of the eight playable characters as you want.
Completing a characters chapter one story arc acts as their introduction to the story. You learn the character’s background, what they want to accomplish on their own adventure, and so on. Typically, this means exploring a section of the world by completing a dungeon, fighting a boss, and learning your characters special ability. Each of the main characters have their own unique ability. Primrose for example, can allure NPC’s to join her party as temporary summons and Tressa can steal money from enemies while in battle.
Going back to the chapters, I found the gameplay structure to feel both linear and branching. This doesn’t make sense, but let me explain. The way the campaign is laid out you have to complete chapter one of a character and then as a player, you can choose to continue chapter two of said character, or go and find another playable character on the world map and start their chapter one. There are some recommended level gates that try to point you in the right direction of gathering more party members, and even then you can still end up being under leveled.
It should be noted that your party size is limited to just four at a time though, so even if you gather all eight characters, complete their chapter ones and proceed on to one of the character’s chapter two, you can still only play as four of the eight playable characters as one half levels up and the other gets left behind. Technically, you can play as just one character, though it would take a lot of grinding to actually meet the recommended levels. You can also play with all eight characters and manage their stats over time, or do what I did and maintain a main party of four that are constantly in sync with each other in terms of level and stats.
To say the structure of Octopath Traveler is convoluted is an understatement, especially when you take into account the underwhelming way the writing of each character was connected, or not connected. The big upside to the gameplay though, is the battle system, because if there’s anything that Square Enix nailed with Octopath Traveler, it’s definitely the battles.
Outside of predetermined boss fights, you’ll run into fights with enemies in random encounters inside of dungeons or on the world map. Battles are presented in a turn-based fashion where the timeline of turns is presented at the top of the screen. Your parties HP and magic are on the right, and enemies statistics are on the left.
What Octopath Traveler does uniquely is adding battle points to your party and shields to your enemies. There’s a yellow dot that gets added to each individual characters action bar after every turn and it can be used to either do multiple physical attacks or buff the power of a magic attack. In total, you can stack up to four of these on a single attack and it decreases the enemies shield points. Enemies have these blue shields with a counter on them and a number of vulnerabilities next to them.
Your goal is to try and break their shield points to zero, and when this happens the enemy is dazed and will be open for stronger critical hits. This ends up giving battles an extra layer of strategy of having to juggle your battle points and knowing when to use them. Should you break down the enemies shield right away or break it down over time, and then unleash one powerful stacked attack? The choice is yours. All of these ideas integrate with the attack patterns and ultimately made for one of my favorite battle systems of any JRPG.
Octopath Traveler runs on Unreal Engine 4 and uses that engine to create a stunning HD 2D presentation. The visuals can be described as a true modern take on classic RPG’s of the past. It uses classic pixel art of the past and then adds in its own modern flair to create something beautiful. You can see the realist ocean waves, extraordinary lighting effects, and captivating landscapes create art across a canvas. In battles, attacks look spectacular with colorful light shows that happen with every magic attack. The sparks and twinkles shine beautifully adding onto the odd, but also awesome retro and modern visual combination.
The soundtrack is absolutely whimsical and captivates the sense of adventure. The main theme is catchy and despite all eight characters having such different backgrounds, the main theme still manages to represent them all perfectly. I especially loved the frost land theme track that slows the pace of the music, but feels very emotional. It can perfectly create the feeling of happiness and sadness at the same time.
Being a JRPG, I was curious to see if I was able to change the voice-actin dialogue from English to Japanese and fortunately you can. I did like the English voice actors, but I preferred the Japanese voice actors. I felt that they captivated the emotions of the characters authentically more often. As for sound effects, they were all well done with things like the sound of wildlife and the ocean waves in the background helping the world to feel more alive.
Overall, I was hoping Octopath Traveler would have successfully woven together the stories of eight unlikely heroes into one grand adventure, and unfortunately, that is not the case. What I can say, is that each character I played through does have an interesting story to tell, even if the interactions between other characters is lackluster. Where Octopath Traveler doesn’t let me down is in everything else. The battle mechanics in combat are easy to get a grasp of and are fun to strategize with. The presentation is breathtaking with sweeping musical scores and graphics to fully immerse yourself into the experience, even with the retro art style. It ultimately ends up being an amazing experience that is only hampered by its decent, but not great story and while it’s not the epic JRPG some may have hoped for, it’s easy to recommend for anyone wanting a long adventure to experience.
The Verdict: 8/10
*Review Key Provided by Nintendo
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This post was written by minusthebrant