I am not immune to hype. In fact, I’m just as susceptible as the next guy (if not more so). I have, however, built up a bit of a tolerance to certain generally hype-worthy elements within video games.
The first is retro visuals. Yes, I remember the 1980s and the 1990s and, yes, that was a golden age of gaming, but that doesn’t mean we need to be stuck there. The second of these notable exceptions can be summed up in just two words: Final Fantasy. Sure, that franchise has become a veritable yardstick of the traditional RPG genre, but I’ve come to understand that the series simply ain’t my thing. And that’s ok.
With all that said, please believe me when I state that Octopath Traveler, the brand new Square Enix RPG releasing this week on Nintendo Switch, is indeed an epic RPG cut from the same cloth as Final Fantasy, one sporting throwback 16-bit graphics to boot. And it is utterly amazing.
Eight Is Enough
As the name suggests, Octopath Traveler boasts an eight-deep roster of playable characters, each with his or her own story. The order in which you recruit these players is up to you, which obviously influences (and is, in turn, influenced by) your play-style.
I, for example, began with Therion the thief, a master rogue set on a mission to rescue pilfered artifacts and save his reputation. Next, he was joined by H’aanit the hunter, whose bow and leopard companion make her the only one capable of rescuing her lost master, and Ophelia the cleric, who took on her sister’s ceremonial burden.
There’s also Cyrus the scholar, Tressa the merchant, Olberic the warrior, and Alfyn the apothecary. Still, despite their sometimes-sordid pasts and personal motivations, none can hold a candle to Primrose the dancer. Though born into a wealthy family, her father was slain by a trio of assassins and she was reduced to exploiting her feminine wiles just to survive. Now she’s on a mission of revenge.
Know Your Role
Each traveler has, in addition to varying physical attacks and spells, a specialty skill that shapes the game on and off the field of battle. Olberic’s “Challenge” and H’aanit’s “Provoke” function similarly, goading an unsuspecting would-be enemy into a duel. In fact, each character seems to have another with a comparable slant.
Cryus can “Scrutinize” for clues and Alfyn can “Inquire” for tips during regular NPC conversations. Tressa can “Purchase” goods not normally available while Therion can “Steal” from unsuspecting rubes. Lastly, Ophelia can “Guide” NPCs from town to town, summoning them to aid her in combat, while Primrose’s “Allure” simply charms others to her aid.
While not outright analogs, these similarities do give you some leverage with regard to your adventuring party’s makeup early on. And, while you’ll likely want to see how each tale plays out, it lets you lean on your favorites without completely hobbling your squad.
Gimme a Break
Octopath Traveler doesn’t stray too far with regard to the RPG combat recipe. There are random encounters—lots of random encounters—as well as more pitched boss battles, all of which are carried out by opposing sides taking turns on the battlefield.
The catch is that different enemy types have different weaknesses. It pays to mix it up when encountering a new foe, having different characters probe the monster with varying weapons and elemental attacks. Why? Because exploiting newfound weaknesses wears down an enemy’s Shield Points, which, once exhausted, puts it into a stunned “Break” state. With its guard down, you and yours can pummel the creature with impunity. (If you have H’aanit in your party, this also makes monsters easier to catch and add to her roster of summonable creatures.)
The other significant tweak, however, borrows from another notable Square Enix property. OT‘s Boost system functions rather like the titular mechanic from 3DS standout Bravely Default (and its stellar sequel). Each round, your party members gain Boost Points. Using the right trigger, these can be stacked for a single fierce attack or lifesaving healing spell.
Everywhere You Go, There You Are
The land of Orsterra is big, beautiful, and vibrant, with cleverly used blur effects in the fore- and background helping to provide a sense of movement and scale. Add to this a dash of modern dynamic lighting and a healthy dose of anthemic music, and you’ve got a world worthy or your undivided attention.
But, like most lovely things, there’s also an underlying element of danger. This is expressed numerically each time you enter a new grove or desert outside the comfy confines of the more civilized cities and towns, thus helping you decide how to most safely proceed from one narrative hook to the next.
In typical RPG style, all this exploration and its related combat nets you experience (in the form of Job Points) which can be used to expand each traveler’s skillset. Special shrines can also unlock secondary jobs for your party members, allowing you to mix and match skills while simultaneously expanding each character’s role within the group.
You Can’t Get There From Here
Octopath Traveler isn’t all wine and roses. In truth, I only have one real gripe. Sure, there’s the requisite level grinding to power up your party, and you can expect to get trounced a few times early on as you explore both the expanding map and the combat system, but the thing that routinely frustrated me was the map.
The world map, like everything else in OT, looks great. It’s big and bold, with multiple biomes from coastal beaches to frozen mountains. Waypoints like major cities and the individual travelers’ chapter missions are clearly marked, but making your way to these destinations can be a chore.
There are (seemingly) obvious routes, paths between points on the map, but they aren’t always easy to follow. You may note your party’s position and the relative location of the desired objective—say, a town to the east—and foolhardily think that traveling due east will get you there.
Instead, I eventually began to realize that the game’s numerous signposts were the only sure way to get where you’re going without lots of fruitless backtracking and the occasional bout of “screw it, let’s try again” fast-travel to the closest safe city center.
Take note, though, that I am famously bad at navigating. So your miles may certainly vary.
It’s All About the Journey
Still, even when I got lost, found myself in the middle of an abundance of random encounters, and lost my way between points A and B, I still enjoyed Octopath Traveler. Such an obvious amount of care and creativity went into the production of this title that it’s genuinely a wonder to behold.
Sometimes the storytelling comes off as a little generic, a wee bit hackneyed, as is often the case with JRPGs, but it never feels like a chore. And with a world so broad and beautiful, with a score so inspired and sweeping, you’re apt to enjoy yourself, whether piecing together the disparate tales of your travelers or simply losing yourself in the joy of discovery and the thrill of combat.
In summation, if you’re looking for a gorgeous, enjoyable console RPG that you can take along in your work bag, Octopath Traveler can surely show you the way.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America