After spending 5 hours with the original demo and six hours with the new one, I felt like the time was right to share my thoughts and impressions of this wonderful little, sprite-based JRPG with all of you. Welcome to my Octopath Traveler first impressions!
The visuals are absolutely stunning.
The first thing I would like to discuss is the visual style. Wow, this feels like the true and natural evolution of 16-bit era. Had Final Fantasy remained 2D, this is the visual direction I envision it would have taken. The camera is set at an isometric viewpoint allowing you to clearly see the beautifully rendered environment with 3D assets and highly detailed, HD backgrounds. All of the characters models retain the same style of sprite design as you would have come to expect from the classic JRPGs of yesteryear.
Powered by Unreal Engine 4, as you walk towards and away from objects, a beautiful depth of field effect brings foreground and background elements into and out of focus in a way that keeps your eyes moving as you take in the stunning environments. Light and shadows cascade around your characters as you walk around lamps or other sources of light. The variety of environmental designs just from the small area of a much greater world map was quite pleasing. From a cold, unforgiving snow-covered mountain to a deep, dark bog filled with powerful tribal toads, there seems to be a wonderful variety of places to explore in this game. I am excited to see what else there will be to find in the rest of the massive map once the full game is out!
Speaking of the enemies, there is a little bit of a disconnect between visual styles when you enter a battlefield. The backgrounds are still lush as ever and are nicely blurred out by the aforementioned depth of field. Your characters are still portrayed in the same, traditional 2D sprite as you see on the regular field. However, your enemies are drawn as more fully realized characters with normal physical proportions and are decidedly not sprites. While I love both styles of design, it is a little disjointing to see both on the same screen at once facing each other down.
I really felt like this is the direction I would like to see 2D JRPGs head from here into the future. Square Enix’s HD-2D really hits the mark, and it is a sight to behold. The visuals really hit home for me personally as I grew up playing games like Final Fantasy 4 and 6 as well as Chrono Trigger. If Square Enix finally remade Final Fantasy 6 and it was done in this graphical style, I would be perfectly happy.
The Soundtrack Has 80 Songs And I Believe It
I am a person who never really knows how to discuss the music in a game, but what I can tell you is that I enjoyed what I heard here profusely. Every single area seems to have a different song to accompany it, and each one really fit the emotional theme of the location. When you are in the cold and desolate mountains near Ophilia’s hometown of Flamesgrace, the piano is focused on in a way reminiscent of the entire soundtrack of I am Setsuna which I reviewed for Switchwatch. It is slow and depressing as one might expect in such a location. However, while you are in Flamesgrace, the music flows beautifully with violins brought to the audible forefront. The high-pitched and cheerful piano chords give players an intentional sense of hope, comfort, peace and joy which fits wonderfully with the concept of this being a town of sanctuary.
I found myself humming the music quite often. For a non-music aficionado such as myself, I am always encouraged when this is the case. There is so much great music to listen to here that I could never envision myself turning my Switch on mute while playing.
My only complaint about the audio is a relatively small one. More of a nitpick, really. There are some points in the story aspects of the game where the scenes are fully voice acted and those are great. But, most of the time, characters will be talking during such scenes, and there will just be temporary moments where they may vocally interject by saying the name of the person they are talking to, short phrases or grunts. In my opinion, these don’t add much to the experience, are relatively distracting and just don’t sound good. These by themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is that you can’t turn the voices off for specifically these kinds of scenes. You can turn the voices off entirely, but then you will miss the parts where they are fully voice acted. It would have been nice to have an option to simply turn off the voices for the scenes where the voice acting isn’t 100% committed to.
Eight Stories To Tell
Each one of the eight characters has their own individual motivations and goals. When you start the game, you are able to select any one of the eight and that person will essentially be your main character. They will lead the party while walking around on the map. When you encounter another character, you will have the option to play the first part of their prologue. After that is completed, the timeline jumps back to the present where the new character joins you, and you help them complete the first chapter of their story. Sadly, even if you have multiple party members, the story sequences are still portrayed as though the character is still alone, so you don’t get any of that vital character interaction as you build your party. This to me is the greatest weakness this game faces. I get into this subject in much greater detail in my Octopath Traveler: Eight Main Characters – A Narrative Flaw? feature. Please check that out if you haven’t already.
It really doesn’t seem to matter who you start the game with. In the end, you will see every single story play out exactly as you would regardless of who you started with. Granted this could change in the later chapters of the game, and perhaps the focus shifts more towards your originally chosen character. But, at least for the first two chapters, there is no story-based meaning to whom you start with. The differences seem to stem from the gameplay.
The battle system is meaty and full of strategy.
I absolutely love how the game plays. The battle system is meaty and full of strategy. There is a huge variety of monsters and enemies to take down with each area, and all of them have different weaknesses. By hitting them enough time to reduce the number on the shield icon next to their vulnerability chart, you can put them into break status which stuns them and increases the damage dealt for one turn. As you gather your party members, the options for breaking your enemies increases. Your strategies for breaking various opponents will differ between your playthroughs depending on the order you gather your allies or by who you choose to bring with you once you have all eight.
Something I enjoyed discovering was how the enemies and bosses scale up alongside you as your level and party grows. When you first start, you will get into battle with usually one or two enemies at once, and they are generally the weakest version of that enemy type. The boss will be a challenge but can be felled fairly easily with just your single character with minimal grinding. However, should you try starting the game with someone else then come back to this same area with a party of two or more, you will find that you are facing more, higher-leveled enemies at once. The boss is also generally much more difficult than he was if you started there. It makes sense how it is done, and it is quite rewarding to take down the scaled-up bosses.
A Personal Story Of A Close Call Against A Boss
One of my favorite examples of this was when I fought the boss for Ophilia’s prologue chapter in my second run through the demo. In my first save file, I started with Therion and picked up Ophilia second. I found that the boss was a giant called the Flame Guardian which protected a sacred lantern which Ophilia needed for her quest. During the battle, I found that the boss would summon two fiends which could self-destruct after three turns to deal massive damage to my party. To avoid a certain death, I had to break at least one of then before it could immolate. If both did, I stood no chance. It took a couple tries, but I was able to take the Flame Guardian down.
When I attempted this boss in my second file, my party consisted of Primrose, Olberic and Ophilia. I felt very confident as my levels were high, and I was dealing massive amounts of damage. I had enough of the correct weapon types to break the boss at a decent pace. Things were going well until he summoned his fiends. Except, this time he summoned three, and Ophilia was the only one who could attack their vulnerabilities. I was only able to break one of them by the time the three turns were up, and the two remaining fiends promptly wiped my party out.
When I went back for my rematch, this time I went all out on the big guy. I broke him as frequently as I could and took advantage of every single attack opportunity I had. I managed to keep him from summoning his fiends for quite some time. After whittling down him HP for quite some time, my characters were running low on their SP, but his name was being displayed as a dark orange which indicated he was getting close to death. He finally summoned his minions. I knew that I needed to keep on focusing on the boss for there was no way I could survive the onslaught of self-destructions with my current party.
I managed to put the boss back into break status with the self-destructing enemies set to three turns before the apocalypse would begin. I managed to put the boss into break status here and summoned my allies using Primrose and Ophilia’s abilities. All of my characters had three boost charges except Ophilia who had four, and I laid all of my cards in the table. It was everything or nothing at this point. Should he survive now, I wouldn’t have time to weaken him or stun any of his minions before they laid waste to my whole party. I used all of my most powerful attacks in their fully charged up states, but it was to no avail. The boss had survived, although his HP was now a deep crimson. He was so very close to death. Ophilia had run completely out of SP, and the minions were now just one turn from taking my party and blasting them off again.
Here, I had all but given up hope. Now, all that was really left was chip damage. I could still use Moonlight Waltz with Primrose for some slightly better damage, but neither she nor Olberic had any boosts left. They both did their basic attacks for really minor damage as did my two helpers. Ophilia, who was still a low level since I had only just gotten her and didn’t do level grinding, was dealing just minor damage of at most 20 with her staff. I still had one boost with her remaining. Completely and utterly hopeless that it would do anything, I pressed my boost and used my attack. To my absolute and utter joy, my second attack was met with the lumbering beast and his three minions simultaneously fading to ash as they collapsed under Ophilia’s final attack as though it was meant to be.
The complete elation I felt at toppling this foe was a testament to the careful and well done balancing the developers achieved in this title. The game feels a little easy when you first start and when you get your second ally, but the challenge ramps up significantly from the time you have your third and beyond.For my second file, I managed to get a fourth character for my party (Therion) and through his prologue chapter. I rushed through the game for my second file in order to see how the story and gameplay may have been affected by the time you have your complete party of four. Sadly, your characters still don’t interact with one another whatsoever even once your party is filled out, but the gameplay absolutely becomes more challenging.
My experience with the demo has been a very rewarding, satisfying and enjoyable one. I was delighted by the art style and music. The battle system is refreshingly strategic and makes you feel powerful even when you are getting crushes. Each one of the characters has a story that made me feel invested in them as individuals. My only real complaint is how the characters don’t interact with one another in any meaningful way. The stories are simply too disjointed, and I feel like a lot of potential was lost here by not having your whole party depicted as a whole group helping and supporting each other in overcoming these obstacles. Again, I go into this subject in much greater detail in my other feature on it which you can find here. But, I don’t want to end this on a sour note.
I absolutely love this game. This is one which I can say without a doubt that I will be getting when it launches on July 13th come hell or high water. Look forward to Switchwatch’s full review of Octopath Traveler in the days following its release!