When “Project Octopath Traveler” was first unveiled at the Nintendo Switch Reveal Event in late 2016, its visual style left gamers with collective “Ooos and Ahhs.” We knew it would be a title to look out for, but we didn’t know that it would turn out to be a feature title that would end up pioneering the Switch as a go-to destination for JRPGs down the road.
What Is It?
Octopath Traveler is a JRPG that follows the journeys of eight main characters from the continent of Osterra and in turn tells eight individual stories.
There’s Ophilia, an adopted cleric who goes out on a religious pilgrimage in her sister’s stead after their priest father falls ill.
We have Cyrus, a scholar searching for a lost tome in his academy’s archives only to find out he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
Then we have Tressa, a merchant who decides to explore the world while collecting and selling various precious wares.
There’s Olberric, an estranged former knight who sought a new life in a new town before a kidnapping ends up leading him to the man responsible for his once-proud kingdom’s downfall.
Then there’s Primrose, an aristocrat who witnessed her father slain by three men in crow tattoos. Now working as a (exotic) dancer, she sees one of the men at her employer and seeks revenge.
There’s Therion, a skilled thief who couldn’t resist robbing a nearby manor of its family’s riches. Unfortunately, he’s caught and in order to pay for what he’s done, he has to steal heirlooms that were already stolen from the manor.
There’s Alfyn, an apothecary who’s decided to travel the continent to one day be like the apothecary who saved his life as a child.
And last but not least, there’s H’aanit, a huntress from the Woodlands who wonders about the whereabouts of her master after he doesn’t come back from a hunt.
If you’re keen-eyed, you’d notice that the first letter of each character’s name spells OCTOPATH. While it’s cute, it’s pretty trivial and offers pretty much nothing to the story. At the start of the game, you pick one of these characters, and eventually you’ll come across the other seven and learn about their stories chapter by chapter. While you do have the option of picking one character and sticking to their story, it’s not suggested as the game gets pretty grindy and makes it damn near impossible to survive without at least a party of four.
Why Should I Care?
There are a bunch of things that really make Octopath Traveler great, and it’s primarily in its cast, its style of storytelling, and its battle system. These are essentially the three things you need to focus on to make a great RPG, and Square definitely hit them all here.
Aside from the fact that there’s eight main characters, what really sets the plot apart from other RPGs is the fact that at its core, it’s not really about saving the world from anything. Ophilia is on a pilgrimage, Cyrus is simply trying to learn more, Tressa wants to be a successful traveling merchant, Olberric wants to avenge the fallen kingdom he served, Primrose is out for revenge, Therion wants to get out of imprisonment, Alfyn wants to be a good doctor, and H’aanit just wants to save her master. Each of these characters have self-centered, down to earth stories and it really makes you appreciate them more as characters. Sure, you have some with pretty generic plot lines–Ophilia and Olberric, for example, have themes you’ve more than likely seen in other JRPGs but both of them are still very likable (after all, one’s a healer and one’s a warrior… you’ll probably have them both in your ideal party).
In addition to these stories, each of these characters have certain abilities that you can use to interact with in the game’s exploratory moments. Ophilia and Primrose can have NPC’s follow them around and assist them in battles. Cyrus and Alfyn can interact with NPCs to get things like discounts at the Inn or make hidden items visible on the screen. Olberric and H’aanit can fight NPCs, which can be useful to get into buildings characters might be blocking the entrance to. And last but certainly not least, Therion and Tressa can acquire items being held by NPCs–Therion can steal anything, while Tressa can also buy them (…but why buy them instead of steal them)? All these abilities can be extremely useful in various times in the game, and they make it even harder to decide which characters you want in your party.
That said, it does kind of matter who you pick to be your main character because as soon as you pick this character, you won’t be able to change him or her out until you complete that character’s story and while we like every character in the game, you’re sure to have your favorite, and it simply won’t be as enjoyable if your favorite character isn’t your main character. You can also change your main character’s job via regular job shrines scattered across the map.
With that, each character’s stories are divided into four chapters, and you have the option of going through all of them at once (not ideal) or going through all of them piecemeal. For example, I started out with H’aanit (because I have this thing for bows and arrows) and finished her Chapter 1 before eventually running into Therion, Ophilia, and Cyrus and doing each of their first chapters. Talking to each of these characters actually puts you into their story, and the characters you already have form your party of up to four. Once you’ve recruited your fifth member, you can switch party members in any town’s bar. Upon finishing a chapter for a party member, you’ll immediately see where to travel next in order to start that particular character’s next chapter, in addition to the recommended level for that chapter. Again for example, after I finished H’aanit’s Chapter 1, I saw that I had to travel to the southeast in order to start her Chapter 2, with a recommended level of 27.
That’s where the grindiness of the game comes in. Even if you go out and recruit your full team of eight and finished all their first chapters in preparation of your main character’s Chapter 2, there’s a solid chance you won’t even be at level 27 yet. Then let’s say you do have your main character at level 27, he or she will still be at least a few levels ahead of everybody else in your party, so the only thing you can do to prepare is grind (and maybe farm caits). This ends up being what’ll either motivate or deter you from moving forward with anybody’s story, and while it does suck that you could hit a wall, the fact that the battle system is solid definitely helps.
The game’s combat system is turn-based, and while it’s much more involved than your standard battle system full of menus, it’s even more surprising that it doesn’t end up feeling like a convoluted mess. Yes, each character has their basic attacks, spells, and ability to use items, but front and center here are your Boost Points (BP) and enemy Shield Points (SP). Characters can use their BP to boost a command–which allows them to hit enemies multiple times, raise their defense, or make certain buffs last longer. At the same time, you have to keep an eye on your enemies’ SP, a counter that shows how many hits to the enemy’s weak point it’ll take to bring down their shield and make them vulnerable to pretty much anything. For example, say you have an enemy with four SP with weaknesses to daggers, swords, and light magic. If you were to hit that enemy twice with a dagger and follow up with a sword and light magic from any of your characters, the enemy’s defense will be down, and they’ll be unable to attack for a full turn. With all this, battles are rarely super short, but there’s still a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction you can get when being done with them, especially with the game’s 32+ boss battles that require some methodical strategy. Our own Patrick Mifflin, for example, won’t stop talking about the fact that he’ll regularly do 32,000 damage using Olberric’s ultimate ability. It’s this kind of stuff that makes a battle system like this all the more satisfying, and to me is reminiscent of properly doing that hacky jump in Super Mario Odyssey–just to draw another parallel.
Now aside from its aforementioned grindiness and the handcuffing you have to your main character, if there’s anything else worth complaining about with Octopath Traveler, it’s the fact that there’s very little interaction with the game’s eight characters. Yes, you have the option of listening to some banter between a couple of the characters from time to time in the game’s exploration segments, but that’s about it. None of these conversations really bleed with the personality they show in their individual stories, and the only time you actually see all eight interact with each other at once is during a post-game quest–which for obvious reasons I won’t go over in this review. That said, this statement to some people might remove this complaint entirely, but that’s just how rock solid Octopath Traveler is. Whether you’re new to the genre or a longtime JRPG veteran, the game has a lot for people to appreciate.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
All you have to do is look at Octopath Traveler and you can easily tell what kind of game it’ll be. It’s an epic title, to say the least, that took me over 86 hours to finally get the credits to roll, which obviously doesn’t even scratch the surface to any longtime JRPG fan.
We’d be remiss to review the game and not comment on the developer’s self-proclaimed “HD-2D” visual style that pays homage to the 16-bit glory days while also using polygonal environments and HD lighting and layering to create the game’s breathtaking overworld. There’s so much depth in this world and so many secrets to uncover, and when you do discover a secret pathway, the satisfaction you get is comparable to Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey–two other Switch instant classics. The desire to look under every nook and cranny in this HD-2D world is very apparent, and the game never ceases to raise my eyebrows when I find something at first naked to the eye. While I still have to give Persona 5 the nod for the most stylistic look in the genre this generation, Octopath Traveler is easily the coolest looking JRPG (or maybe overall game, in general) this year. Every moment in the game looks like it was taken right out of a children’s pop-up book, just with 16-bit sprite action.
Octopath Traveler is simply fantastic in every meaning of the word, and no Switch owner who has a liking for JRPGs should be without this game in their library. The game accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of being a love letter resembling the yesteryear of JRPGs while also pushing the genre forward by telling multiple profound stories and putting together a battle system as deep and engaging as the stories it attempts to tell. It might even be time for Square Enix to look into giving the reins of the RPG division to Tomoya Asano whose production portfolio now includes this game to go along with what he’s done with Bravely Default, Grandia Xtreme, and handful of Final Fantasy titles. The man clearly knows what he’s doing.