Octopath Traveler Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: July 13th, 2018

Price as of Article: $59.99 USD, £49.99 GBP

Rating: T – teen

File Size – 2.9 GB

Introduction

Octopath Traveler Break

 

I grew up with the traditional Square RPGs on the NES and SNES. The first one I ever completely played through was (as it was known then in the US) Final Fantasy II, or, more properly, Final Fantasy IV. I was enraptured by the meaningful storytelling, the fantastic character development and the impact had on me when a character I had come to love lost their life. The battle system made me think constantly, and I just couldn’t put it down.

Fast forward to modernity, and I have been encapsulated by the genre and play every RPG I can get my hands on. When I heard about Octopath Traveler and saw the teaser trailer, I knew that it was going to be something special. This will only be the third RPG I have reviewed for Switchwatch with the first two being The Longest 5 Minutes and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I am more than excited to write this, so let’s get into our Octopath Traveler review!

Story
Octopath Traveler Olberic

Each character’s story is focused on them individually.

Octopath Traveler is a game with a bit of a different take on its storytelling strategy. Instead of following one main protagonist with his or her own cast of (usually) seven supporting characters. As the name suggest, in Octopath Traveler, there are eight characters all of whom have their own goals and motivations. At the start of the game, you are able to select any one of them you wish as your “main character”, and you will proceed with their story from a starting point unique to them. This will be the character who leads your party and cannot be switched out.

When you encounter another one of the seven remaining protagonists, you will have the option to play the first part of their prologue. This is kind of a nice way to make each person who joins you on your quest feel important and deep from the moment you meet them. After you finish playing your new ally’s backstory, you are brought back to the present, and the new character joins your party. From here, that character’s first chapter play out with you assisting them in combat. Sadly, even if you have multiple party members, the story sequences are still portrayed as though the character is alone, so you don’t get any of that vital character interaction as you build your party.

Few Interactions Happen Between The Main Cast

It is almost like the story concept in Octopath Traveler is that each one of the characters only worries about their own issues and just travel together to help each other not die in battle. For the lion’s share of the experience, there is no group dynamic whatsoever except in short cutscenes unrelated to the story between chapters. In most RPGs, as your party grows you get to watch them engage in banter, grow together in meaningful ways and overcome the obstacles of the game as a cohesive team. In Octopath Traveler, we don’t get to see how cast’s personalities mix or how they deal with situations together except in short, isolated cut scenes in which some of the characters talk. The stories unfold in the exact same manner regardless of who is in your party with the writing presuming that only one of the protagonists is present. This makes for a very different take on the RPG storytelling strategy, and as such it must be approach with an open mind. But, the fact of the matter is for the lions share of the game, you will not see your characters interacting, and this can be a little off-putting for some.

To me, this seems like an odd narrative choice. The oldest trick in the RPG book is that your party consists of 3-4 characters out of a roster of 7 or 8. You can interchange them as you please, and the dialogue changes accordingly to account for the individuals present in your party. The interchanged characters respond to what the antagonist says in such a way that the opposing side can respond the same way regardless of what was said. This has been done for 30+ years in RPGs, and I don’t see why it wasn’t possible to accomplish here.

While I understand the writers likely wanted to focus on giving each one of the eight travelers the spotlight while you progress through the chapters of their own story, it just comes off as awkward that the rest of the team just disappears at the times the cut scenes unfold. The stories may finally begin to come together in the third act of the game, but by that point, it just seems strange that your group of virtual strangers is finally acting like a team. As the writing currently is, it would not support having multiple protagonists interacting, but with some tweaking to the storytelling strategy, it certainly could have worked.

The Stories Can Be Surprisingly Dark

Octopath Traveler Helgenish

Helgenish is one character who is hard to relate to.

Getting off that topic, the stories for each of the protagonists unfold in chapters. You play chapter one when you initially encounter them, and each character’s story will take you to different parts of the map as you help them to fulfill their goals. The story touches upon some surprisingly dark topics as well. Primrose’s scenario hits hard right out of the gate by telling the story of a young woman seeking vengeance against the ones who killed her father. Taking up the mantle of an exotic dancer, Primrose uses her charm to bide her time while searching for information about the group that killed him. The life Primrose leads is a difficult one as she lives with several other dancers who are abused and degraded by the despicable “Master” of their brothel, Helgenish. The writers of Octopath Traveler really pulled no punches when conceiving this lowlife. He uses foul language, feels he owns the ladies of the house and places no value upon their lives. And this is just a single person you will encounter in the first chapter of one of the eight protagonists’ stories.

Gameplay

Octopath Traveler is a traditional JRPG through and through. You will explore environments on an isometric map reminiscent of Chrono Trigger or Illusion of Gaia except that there are more 3 dimensional design elements implemented into the layout to give a real feeling of depth. You will explore meeting townsfolk, fulfilling side quests and finding items to your heart’s content. Just don’t expect a traditional world map as there is not one here. You can simply follow set roads and paths which will take you between cities and locations of interest.

Field Skills – A.K.A. Path Actions – Allow You To Interact With NPCs In Interesting Ways

Ophilia's Path Action

Each character has a different path action allowing them to interact with NPCs.

Each one of your eight protagonists has a path action to utilize. Some are virtually identical such as Primrose’s and Ophilia’s abilities to invite random NPCs to join your party as summons. Others are somewhat more unique such as Olberic’s abiltiy to challenge anyone to a duel for experience and items or Therion’s very handy ability to pick anyone’s pocket. You will need to experiment and find out which abilities suit your tastes the most or which ones you may need to access some areas or complete some quests.

One issue that is often polarizing with JRPGs is the type of battle system which accompanies it. There is the crowd which prefers purely old-school turn based battles in which each character moves in a predetermined order; there is the crowd which enjoys the more natural pacing of the ATB turn-based battles; finally, there is the crowd which prefers the more action oriented RPG battle system such as what is seen in the Tales of franchise or Ys VIII. Ys VIII was recently reviewed by Jordan, and you can check that out here. In terms of where Octopath Traveler falls on the spectrum, it is absolutely the first one of the three. But, it comes with a neat little twist of its own.

Each Foe Has A Variety of Weaknesses

Octopath Traveler attack

When attacking, you will need to determine your enemies’ weaknesses to take the most effective approach.

Each one of your characters is capable of using different kinds of weapons and abilities each with its own classification type. There is a huge variety of monsters and enemies to take down with each area, and all of them have different weaknesses to the aforementioned weapon or magic classes. By hitting them enough times 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 your options for breaking your enemies increases, so at the start, your strategies for breaking various opponents will differ depending on the order you gather your allies or by who you choose to bring with you once you have all eight. Once you have your entire party, it will largely just depend on who you have with you at any given time.

Boost Mode

Octopath Traveler boost mode

Using boost mode effectively is one of the most important aspect of the battle system.

On the battle screen, you will see an orange dot. Next to it are four blank dots. These are your boost points. You acquire one boost point at the end of each turn. If you have at least one boost point, you can press R to activate it. Entering boost mode is accompanied with an energizing sound effect and a satisfying fiery aura engulfing the hero about to attack. With each boost point you use, the sound effect intensifies and the color of the aura changes. You can boost yourself up to three times. Once you are in boost mode, you can attack with spells or basic attacks. Each boost point you use allows you to attack an additional time for that turn, or if you are using a spell, you will attack once, but its power will be proportionately increased to the number of points you used. After using boost mode, your character will not gain any extra boost points until the end of the next turn, so you will need to carefully determine the best time to use it.

Boost mode adds an immense amount of strategy to the battles you will engage in. For example, when you are in a precarious battle, you will need to judge whether to use up your boost points to place the enemy into break mode to interrupt their attacks, or will you decide to save your boost points until they are already broken to capitalize on their lowered defenses for maximum damage? I absolutely loved this about the game. I felt like the boost system kept be constantly thinking about the best way to use my attacks right from the start of the game. In most RPGs, I would just need to use my basic attacks while perhaps strategizing with magic to boost my stats or inflict status ailments. In Octopath Traveler, every system feels interconnected, and every attack feels important.

Enemies Scale Up Alongside You

Something I enjoyed discovering was how the enemies and bosses scale up alongside you as your levels 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 in most cases can be felled fairly easily with just your single character. However, should you try starting the game with someone else then come back to this same area with a party of two or more, and you will find that you are facing more, higher leveled enemies at once and the boss is generally much more difficult than he would have been if you started there. It makes sense how it is done, and it is quite rewarding to take down the scaled up bosses.

I found the pacing and strategies of the battles to feel engaging and completely enjoyable. Despite being turn based in the most traditional sense possible, the weakness and boost mode systems perfectly compliment one another in a way that makes you feel in control of every conflict if you come prepared. The battles with random enemies sometimes feel a little one-sided at times, but that is something which is common in any RPG. I never felt bored by the battles, and the world is an absolute joy to explore in no small part thanks to the unique visual style delivered by this game.

Audio

A music connoisseur I am not by any means. I played a little trumpet in high school and college, and that was about it. When I lived in China and was trying to learn the language, I became notorious for being too tone deaf to differentiate words in the tonal Chinese language. I’m sure you are beginning to see why the writing the audio section in these reviews almost always leaves me at a loss for words in these reviews. In Octopath Traveler, it does not.

Right from the title screen, I was enthralled by the musical offerings this game presented me. The opening song immediately instills the feeling in the player that they are about to embark on a grand and hopeful adventure. Each character may be overcoming their own struggles, but when I hear this song, I feel like anything is possible. In a way, it evokes similar feelings of wonder that the opening music of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker did in me. The style of music may be different, but the feelings hit the same chords within me.

The Music Is Incredibly Varied And Suits Every Area

For the above video, turn the song to number 17 – The Woodlands for what is being referenced below.

As you explore the world map, you will come across a variety of locals to explore and each area has a different song as far as my untrained ears could tell. What makes it feel special is all of the songs completely encapsulate the emotions the visuals draw out of the player. You might be exploring a dark forest while listening to the leaves of the trees rustling while a babbling brook runs in the distance and birds chirp. All the while, a melancholy tune plays in the background with a piano complimented by a flute melody which may remind you of some music you have heard in the old Disney animate film, Pocahontas. You really feel as though you are contemplatively walking through the wilderness with your allies, and it is in no small part thanks to the phenomenal sound design.

Another excellent example of this is 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. It is slow and depressing while giving the player a real sense of danger. 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.

The music of Octopath Traveler is something which I feel will stick with me for years to come. If you have an opportunity to buy the soundtrack for this game, I would absolutely recommend it. This is certainly the kind of music which one could easily listen to while studying or even while playing other games.

Can’t Turn Off Short Voice Clips

My only complaint about the audio is a relatively small one. Sometimes, the story-heavy scenes of the game are fully voice acted, and these sound phenomenal. The voice acting is generally believable, and I absolutely enjoyed listening to it. However, it is far more common that the characters will just communicate via text boxes, and they will just audibly express their selves by saying a short phrase, a name or even by simply grunting. It just does not sound pleasurable to the ears whatsoever.

While I don’t necessarily mind the presence of such voice clips to accompany the dialogue boxes, it would have been nice to have the option to turn these off for scenes where the voice acting isn’t 100% committed to. You could turn off the voices entirely, but then you will miss the great voice work during the fully voice acted scenes along with their excellent audio clips in battle

Visuals and Performance

*Note: If you read my Octopath Traveler First Impressions feature, then you will have seen this section in its entirety as I felt there was nothing for me to add. If not, then enjoy this as I found the visuals to be one of my favorite aspects of this game!

HD-2D And Depth of Field Effects Are Beautiful

Octopath Traveler Flamesgrace

You will encounter beautiful views in Octopath Traveler.

The graphical style of Octopath Traveler is a rather innovative take on classic, sprite-based RPGs. This really feels like the natural evolution of the 16-bit era. Had Final Fantasy remained 2D, this is the visual direction I envision it would have gone. The game is powered by Unreal Engine 4, and 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.

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.

The Overworld Sprites And Enemy Designs In Battle Clash A Little

The sprites of the protagonists almost don’t mesh with the art style used for the enemies. Still looks great, though!

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. However, this is little more than a nitpick.

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 content.

In terms of performance, I never encountered any glitches, bugs or crashes. To my experience, I am happy to report that this is a well-crafted and stable experience.

*This review was written by Brian Myers for switchwatch.co.uk.

 

Value
Octopath Traveler water

Octopath Traveler has stunning water effects.

What can I say here. You get an RPG that feels like an instant classic with eight individual stories to tell. While you can complete every single one in a single play through, you also have the option to avoid certain story lines for later runs through the game. All in all, you can expect about a 50-hour adventure through to complete the main story and up to 100 hours if you complete the side quests. For a traditional RPG that lets you take on which parts of the story you choose, I would say this is a very fair price for fans of the genre.

Pros

P

Beautiful HD-2D Visuals

P

Stellar Music

P

Engaging Battle System

P

Eight Fleshed-Out Stories

P

Endearing Characters

Cons

P

Minimal Interactions Among The 8 Protagonists