Octopath Traveler is a retro-style role-playing game developed by Square Enix and published by Nintendo for the Switch. The RPG offerings from Square Enix recently have usually fallen into one of two categories; either they are ports of their classic back catalogue being brought to modern systems with or without enhancements, or they are graphically impressive titles built around action combat because gamers will not buy turn-based games in Current Year. Well, Octopath Traveler succeeds in being neither of these. It is a turn-based RPG that is graphically impressive and was released in July 2018.
Octopath Traveler follows the Square Enix playbook of the golden days; form a party of up to four character from a cast of eight that consist of various jobs: warrior, priest, mage, thief, hunter, dancer, merchant, and apothecary. At least, one can do this once they have recruited the individual characters into the party. The player starts by picking a singular character who they have to stick with until that characters story has been completed. Until that time, the player can travel to other towns and recruit the other seven characters by beginning their stories. It is difficult to call them ‘heroes’ in Octopath Traveler because there is no epic story involving the fate of the world; instead there are eight individuals who each have their own story and motives for adventuring together.
Take Primrose for example. Motivated by revenge, she seeks the men who murdered her father when she was a child. Raised a dancer, she uses her feminine wiles to convince people to follow her. This is why Primrose gets the unique path ability ‘allure’. She can attempt to recruit people in towns who can then be bought out to fight for the player during combat. Each of the eight have an ability that befits their character and benefits the player both in and out of combat. The opening chapter of each character explains the path ability and its uses. The player must then use this knowledge to solve the side quests dotted around the world. Found someone lost trying to get to their family the next town over? The priest can use her path ability ‘guide’ to have that person join the party temporarily until the family can be found.
As mentioned earlier, Octopath Traveler is a turn-based RPG, but it does borrow inspiration from Bravely Default. Each turn a character takes in combat they gain a battle point. These can be spent to allow that character to make multiple melee strikes, or to boost the damage of any abilities they use that turn. Enemies have a select number of weaknesses from among the weapons and elements found in the game, so upon meeting a new enemy the player must try to discern those weaknesses. Hit those weaknesses enough and the enemy will ‘break’, increasing the damage done by all attacks for the remainder of that turn and the next. This layer of strategy to combat is necessary to fight enemies on the same power level as the party otherwise the player will quickly find themselves overwhelmed or out spell points, the games MP equivalent.
It is for this reason the player needs a balanced party in Octopath Traveler. Though it can be awkward to keep that balance when swapping character in the follow their story. Thankfully each character can equip a sub-job once the shrine to that class has been found in the wild. This increases the options the player has for party formation or trying to keep all forms of attack on hand for targeting weaknesses. New abilities are unlocked for a characters primary or secondary job by spending job point which are earned in combat. Unlocking a number of abilities in a job also gives the character job skills, up to four of which can be equipped to further customise the character.
As there in no single story thread that the player follow through Octopath Traveler it stands to reason that the world is not designed around linear progression either. Each of the eight character start in a different town that forms a central ring of the map. The danger level of each area scales with the number of part members a player is using, so once the player has four, the danger still stay at a constant level. Leave the center ring and the danger start to vary. A little grinding may be in order if player only wish to stick with a core team and not experience all the stories as the minimum level required to tackle a chapter jumps while progressing. Swapping in characters to take in every thread and tackle side quests will keep the party at a level where grinding may not be required at all.
It is this design that makes Octopath Traveler feel like an open world game. Players can chose to head out with only a single character and face fewer enemies with lower levels, or they could pick any number then chose to head north or south for their next destination. There are obvious picks for a balanced party, but each character brings something different to the party. The open world design means that towns will not have new equipment for everyone, or the gear may be worse than those found elsewhere. There are even locations that may seem pointless at first, but are used in a side quest later. It is for these reasons that a player can fast travel to any town they have already visited at any time outside of combat.
Octopath Traveler would be a shadow of itself without the design that went into its graphics. Each character is a 2D sprite in a 3D world designed to look as 2D as possible. The camera is positioned so the party are walking on a nearly flat plane, and the background and foreground are blurred enough to make the area surrounding the part the center of attention. Yet the world still manages to keep 3D aesthetics like shadows and lens flares. All this is done whilst designing open areas that are still able to obscure paths to visible treasure chests. Characters each have high resolution graphics whilst still maintaining their old school design and having different sprites for each subclass in combat. Their is no higher praise for the work that has gone into of Octopath Traveler than to say it is graphically more impressive than anything released on PS4 or XBox so far this year.
Likewise, an enormous amount of work has gone into the music of Octopath Traveler. Almost everything has its own tune. Characters, towns, locations, and even multiple battle themes. Unlike the Persona series which often has a few stand out tracks, Octopath Traveler has almost none; they all are of a high enough quality that they blend in with story or battles. Character are voiced, but story scenes are not fully voice acted. There does not seem to be much reason this. One moment the protagonist can be having a chat with someone and the next scene can see them making stock acknowledgements instead.
There are a few gripes that could be leveled at Octopath Traveler, but they are minor. As there are eight different stories going on, none have an epic feel, because none can change the world too drastically for the others. Keeping the obvious picks in the party means the characters that get less love are lacking in levels when their part of the story comes around. This does not always mean grinding is in order, but even having benched people get a fraction of the experience points would keep the game moving a bit more. Minor moans aside, Octopath Traveler is a standout piece of software and easily falls alongside the likes of Mario and Zelda as reasons to own a Switch. Fans of classic RPGs will feel at home in the nostalgia of the game and newcomers will enjoy the ease at which information is given to them. At forty plus hours for a clear of the main characters story, Octopath Traveler is sure to keep any gamer entertained for many evenings.
Title: Octopath Traveler
Genre: Japanese Role-playing
Developer: Square Enix and Acquire
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 13 July 2018