When you play a JRPG, what are you looking for? Do you desire a grand, overarching story? Immersive character interactions? An engaging battle system turned based or otherwise? Octopath Traveler is a game with two of the three but apparently lacks a very important feature in the early game: interactions among the protagonists.
In most RPGs, you have a set main character. You start the game, and its primary story generally follows a set path with minor side quests to do along the way. As you progress, you gather allies who join you on your quest. From the time they meet until the end of the game, the characters engage in banter, grow together in meaningful ways and overcome the obstacles of the game as a tight and dynamic group. This is designed to make the player care about the group as opposed to the individual while having a realistic sense of comradery. Octopath Traveler, at least in the prologue, lacks that entirely.
When you initially set out, you can choose one of the eight characters. They each have their own background and goals, and their own unique situations put them out on a journey. At least initially, none of the characters have any goals in common at all. After completing the prologue of your chosen character’s story, you can set out in any direction you want. Once you find the first character you wish to recruit, you will encounter the storytelling weakness this analysis is all about.
There Are No Meaningful Interactions Among The Protagonists
(We are going to use Ophilia as the example for this next section.)
You encounter your second character (Ophilia), and she briefly mentions the troubles she is facing. You are given the option to play through the first part of her prologue which is fantastic. It gives a recruited character a lot more meaning than they would have in most games since you get to actively participate in their story up to that point. Then, once the point of Ophilia’s prologue is reached in which you can start battling enemies, it is brought to the present at which point both characters continue together. You are now set on a mission to help Ophilia overcome the Cave of Origin to obtain the sacred lantern for the sacred Kindling ritual.
Once you are together and begin progressing through her story, you will find that every time talking occurs, the screen cuts away briefly to show Ophilia as though she were still alone. She continues her dialogue exactly as she would if (Primrose and Olberic in my case) were not there. There aren’t any interactions among them whatsoever, and Prim and Olberic do not get to participate in Ophilia’s story at all.
It is almost like the story concept in Octopath Traveler is such that each one of the characters only worries about their own issues and just travel together to help each other in combat. There is no group dynamic whatsoever. We don’t get to see how their personalities mix or how they deal with situations together. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter who you start the game with at least during the prologue. The stories unfold in the exact same manner regardless of who is in your party, and you have to go through each person’s story as you recruit them anyway. The only thing which really appears to change is how many people accompany you and the order you recruit them in.
It would be a nightmare to create dialogue variations for every combination of characters.
I understand that there is a perfectly good reason for this storytelling mechanic. After all, it would be a nightmare to concoct dialogue patterns for the massive number of combinations of characters you could have for the introduction to the game. I completely understand that. But, from a purely narrative standpoint, could that be considered anything less than a flaw? When I play an RPG, I love seeing how the characters go through the story together. Whether it is Cloud having to cross dress to save Tifa in Final Fantasy 7 or seeing the group come to terms with the apocalyptic future in Chrono Trigger, I feel like a strong group dynamic is a very important factor in telling a story.
How would the honor-driven Obleric respond to the abusive language used by Helgenish against Primrose? (Something else happens here which would be great to see how Olberic would deal with the situation, but I want to avoid spoilers here.) This is a question which we simply don’t get to have answered on this game. It is something which would be a given in most other RPGs with a singularly focused story, but by having so many different characters each with their own stories to tell and who can be gathered in any order, we miss these key interactions and variations to the plot.
It is just the prologue.
I also understand that this is just the prologue, and perhaps it will change after you have acquired all eight characters. Perhaps by the point you finish the individual plot lines and encounter a common enemy for all the protagonists, their stories will converge and we will finally see them interact. But, if that happens lets say 25 hours into the game, then why would I really care about the group by that point? If they had just been worried about their selves and didn’t talk to each other at all until then, it would be very strange for them to suddenly begin interacting.
While I understand this is just a demo, it is a fact that you can continue your save file seamlessly once the full game is released on July 13th. It is safe to assume that while we may see some gameplay tweaks in a forthcoming patch, the story is very likely in its complete form. I highly doubt this will change after the game comes out.
Please note that despite disappointment I expressed regarding the storytelling strategy in this post, I absolutely loved my time spent with this demo. (Over 11 hours in total!) In addition to this feature, I wrote a first impressions for this game which you can check out here. I found all of the storylines I encountered to be intriguing, the battle system is engaging and interesting, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the full game next month to see where the stories go. But, I do feel that the tales of each of the characters are simply too disjointed to be compelling.
What do you think? Did this stand out to you when you played the demo? Is this storytelling strategy a weak one, or do you feel it doesn’t matter? Let us know your opinions!