January 8, 2020 at 9:17 AM #1174
Rating: 4.0 – Great
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Octopath Traveler is a turn-based RPG featuring a job class system from the developers behind the Bravely series. Like that series, Octopath Traveler blends retro and modern styles to create a game that feels like an old JRPG classic with the benefit of rose-tinted nostalgia glasses. I’ve played many turn-based RPGs, including the Bravely series, and adore job class systems.
Eight Tales and some Tagalongs:
Octopath Traveler has a unique way of presenting the story compared to most RPGs. At the beginning, one of the eight player characters is chosen. This character will be considered the leader for the party, and is permanently part of the active battle team for the majority of the game. From there, the story is presented as eight short stories with each divided into chapters. Breaks occur following the completion of a chapter, allowing you to travel to other cities to start up a new chapter, or give breathing room to complete quests or optional dungeons.
The individual character stories are compelling given how little time we spend with each one. There is plenty of variety between them with darker tales of revenge and light-hearted tales of self-discovery. Since each is stand alone, the dramatic shifts in tone between each tale is not a problem. In fact, it gives something to appeal to all tastes. I enjoyed these bite-sized tales for what they had to offer, and liked all the protagonists when they took the spotlight.
However, there is one obvious problem with such storytelling. Since character recruitment is optional, each story is presented like the protagonist is alone. Sometimes, having a party alongside them to join in the fights doesn’t break the immersion. Why would it matter too much if one person or four is going to explore a cave to look for herbs? There are other times where the disconnect is glaringly obvious and a bit of a distraction. I’m sure that carriage can squeeze in a few more people who will just turn invisible and stealthily listen in on a personal conversation. Recruitment for new characters in their first chapter is usually abrupt and occasionally nonsensical, but it is glossed over quickly.
To try to compensate for the lack of interaction during the main story, character skits play out following important events in a chapter. These are brief conversations between the current protagonist and their active party members. They range from insightful commentary on the recent situation to playful teasing. Additional skits are eventually unlocked at taverns. While these give some much-needed bonding, they also draw attention to the fact that these characters are all lurking off-screen in a story that doesn’t support them.
These breaks in logic didn’t destroy my immersion, but they did make the game feel more disjointed, like the story was written without allies in mind. Strange, for a party-based RPG to feel like the stories don’t support having a team. While the main story is effectively a bunch of separate character arcs, there is an event that supposedly ties them all together. I found that event was even more awkwardly handled than the character interaction.
Achy, Breaky Battles:
The battle system has a lot of working parts that somehow blend together perfectly to create a fun experience. Attacks are split into six weapon types and six elemental magic types. Each enemy has weaknesses to one or more of these types. If their weakness is targeted enough times, their shield will break and they will not only lose their remaining turns for that round and the following one, their defense will be lowered, leaving them more susceptible to all damage. Once their shield goes back up, the process repeats itself. it’s tempting to want to break them as often as possible, but sometimes it’s best to time breaks to interrupt their special moves. In this way, a good amount of strategy can be built just on this system. But that’s not all.
Each party member has a boost meter that will add one orb per turn. This can be used to boost the power of any move two to four times its normal effectiveness. Normal attacks will gain additional hits to break shields faster. Both offensive and healing magic will increase in power. Status boosts or negative ailments will last more turns. Using boost wisely can turn the tide of battle strongly in your favor.
To better stack the odds, secondary job classes can be equipped to each party member. There are limitations. Every character has a fixed primary class, which is important to consider when figuring out a complementary secondary class. Each secondary class can only be equipped to one character at a time. Aside from the hassle of trying to change out party members and making sure to de-equip their class first, this didn’t bother me. In fact, I found this forced me to be more creative in my set-up, instead of just relying on more straight-forward classes. Fortunately, JP earned through battle is put into a pool that can be used to buy skills for whatever classes a character is currently equipping. So, I can equip a warrior with cleric as a sub-class, buy up all the skills to gain access to that class’s passives, and then equip him with a different sub-class. This really frees up my strategy, since I don’t have to have undesirable classes equipped to a character to learn the passives for that class. There were many times when it would’ve been tedious to grind up job classes if this hadn’t been the case. A character can equip four passive skills at a time, choosing from a list of everything they’ve earned. This gives the option to create really powerful characters, although certain passives might find their way onto everyone, since there are some that are clearly superior to others.
Outside of battle, there is still plenty to do. Each character is given a path action. These can be divided into four main types: acquiring items, learning new information, dueling, and inviting someone to join the party. There is a noble and rogue version of each type, and these eight actions are split between the eight protagonists. Path actions open up more ways to explore and complete side quests. Items can be purchased or stolen directly from the anyone to add to one’s personal collection or to use for a quest. New details about people or events can be learned. Troublesome door blockers can be knocked unconscious. People can be led to a new location or join in temporarily during battle. While there aren’t many quests that make creative use of path actions, they do provide some light role-playing opportunities.
Quests are numerous enough to allow for plenty of optional content, but not so prolific as to be overwhelming. While I think many will enjoy that some quests offer more than one solution, the fact that the quests don’t hold your hand might be less appealing to those used to a map providing a step-by-step guide to completion. The quest log doesn’t provide much information other than a quest giver’s general location, and a relevant piece of dialogue. After acclimating to this approach, I didn’t mind it, especially since the quests are simple and don’t have many steps. They also do a good job of providing at least a little story to them, making them feel more substantial than the fluff quests found in other games.
Dungeons are generally short and straightforward, with side paths leading to treasure. Some of these side paths are cleverly hidden, and the mini-map in the corner of the screen is more like a radar for points of interest. Considering that the encounters are random, rather than possessing on-screen enemies, I prefer this approach for this game. If the dungeons were large and complex, the encounter rate might’ve gotten annoying. There is a passive skill that turns down the encounter rate for those who don’t like fighting much or want fewer interruptions while exploring.
Pixel Pictures of Light:
Those who love retro pixel art will be delighted with the graphics in this game. The character sprites aren’t terribly expressive, but they are very detailed. They blend surprisingly well with the more modern backgrounds. The lighting is ethereal, the water is gorgeous, and the weather effects make the world feel vibrant and alive. The monster sprites in battle, and especially the bosses, look incredible.
The Actors and the Orchestra:
Story scenes play out like those from a play, and the actors play their parts accordingly. While the accents in a certain town were jarring and awkward at first, they grew on me to become charming in their own way. Otherwise, the acting was all well done.
Sound effects did an excellent job in creating ambience in the field and intensity during battle. They were nothing compared to the wonderful soundtrack. Character themes distinguish themselves with different primary instruments, and carry over into unique intros to boss fights during their chapters. Town and dungeon music suit their locations perfectly, and I could listen to the battle music for hours. That’s a good thing, given how long some of these battles can last.
The Journey is its own Reward:
I played for over 75 hours and did all the quests, optional bosses, and character chapters. There isn’t a New Game Plus, and there doesn’t appear to be much incentive to replay the game when everything can be accomplished in one playthrough. Even so, there is plenty of content in a single playthrough to entertain for dozens of hours.
Should you travel the roads of Osterra?
Octopath Traveler’s story presentation might be unorthodox, but each tale is worth hearing for its own merit. Combat is strategic, and the world is relatively open and immersive. Those who love older RPGs and don’t mind a somewhat formulaic form of story progression will find a lot to enjoy here. However, this won’t change the mind of anyone who has never been a fan of turn-based RPGs.
Rating: 4.0 – Great
Product Release: Octopath Traveler (US, 07/13/18)
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