December 20, 2019 at 1:16 PM #1173
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
Eight traveler’s, eight stories… are these tales worth your time?
Ever since the Nintendo Switch launched, it has been pretty successful. It’s easy to see why: you can play this thing on your TV at home like a console, but also just pick it up and play on the go like a handheld. That and it had the normal first-party support with fantastic Zelda and Mario games ready to play on day one.
Still… if you’re anything like me, what you really wanted to see come to the Switch was RPGs. Something more than just ports! Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for Square Enix to answer the popular console’s call with Octopath Traveler. Is it any good though? After spending way too much time with this title (175+ hours… Yeah…) I’m finally ready to go over everything about this game and help you answer that question!
Are eight stories better than one?
One thing that drew my attention to Octopath Traveler right away was the rather unique story set-up it had. Instead of telling a normal story (like most games do), Octopath Traveler has you controlling eight different "travelers" and goes through each of their stories (which is where "Octo" comes from). We’ve seen other games take this approach before (like the Super Famicom title "Live-A-Live") but it’s still fairly unique.
What that means in practice is that you’ll pick one of eight characters to start out as and he (or she) will become your "main character". After finishing their Chapter 1 story, you can explore the world at will, where you’ll meet up with the remaining seven characters and recruit them while playing through their Chapter 1 stories. In the end, each character will end up having four chapters to their story, all told in bite-size chunks that build up over time (that’s about 32 chapters total, with each chapter being roughly an hour long or so, depending on your grinding of course). The game also has dozens of cities to explore and shop in as well as dozens of side quests to pursue.
So despite the segmented stories here, there’s quite a bit of content to Octopath Traveler. When it comes to the writing (and story) quality however… it is really hit and miss. Some of the stories had me yawning over how incredibly generic they were (characters whose biggest challenge is "believing in themselves" or "exploring the world") while others had me absolutely giddy with their darker turns and twists. It really is a mixed bag, story-wise. At worst it is generic but there’s bound to be some characters and stories you’ll enjoy here as well.
One big thing that I can easily see people wanting to know is… "Are these stories connected?". It’s a good question, but you’re honestly going into spoiler-territory here and I can’t post this if we get too far into it! I will say that each character’s story (their main chapters) is completely about them, but among the games dozens (dozens!) of side quests, you may be surprised by what happens. I will also add that the game doesn’t end when you think it does (and that is definitely a "public service announcement).
RPG action, just the way you remember it!
Now we’re getting into the good stuff! First of all, just let me say that if you’ve been looking for a JRPG to scratch that itch (long-time RPG fans know what I’m talking about), this is a pretty good pick. It’s got just about everything you’ve come to except out of a traditional RPG: leveling, party members with different skills, the ability to mix and match skills (and jobs), armor and weapon shops (along with a TON of equipment)… I think you get the point. This is your standard RPG experience through and through.
There’s definitely some unique things here though. The biggest thing about the game play as a whole is how it’s taken the "Bravely Default" fighting system and tweaked it. Every enemy in the game has a particular weakness, whether it be to a certain weapon or spell type. In order to "break" their defenses and really damage them, you need to find that weakness and exploit it (which can lead to a bit of trial-and-error attacking, but every weakness you uncover is permanently learned by your party members on future occasions and there’s a skill that just tells you weaknesses when you use it).
What makes the game play fun though (especially in boss battles) is that once you "break" an enemy they lose their previous and next turn in battle. This has the potential to add a layer of strategy to any encounter, as you can see everyone’s turn order and plan around that with your attacks. You also gain "Boost Points" every round which you can use to do more attacks or add damage to your skills. Combine all that with mixing and matching jobs and job skills and you have a good amount of customization and strategy here.
The final thing I want to touch on about the game play is each character’s individual skills. While each character does start out with a certain job, they also have a special skill that only they can do. For example, the thief, Therion, is the only character that can unlock locked treasure chests out in the world… even if another character takes on the "Thief" sub-job. A bunch of these characters have really interesting abilities, with some of my favorites being H’aanit (a hunter who can recruit monsters to attack with, like Pokemon…) and Alfyn (an apothecary who can mix ingredients to perform various attacks). You’ll use their unique abilities throughout the game often in and out of battle.
All in all, Octopath Traveler is pretty much your standard JRPG experience, with a battle system inspired by (but better than) Bravely Default, with hints of strategic game play and character customization sprinkled throughout. A darn good recipe for any JRPG fan.
Just like a story book?
Another thing that drew my attention to Octopath before it came out (other than the words "new RPG for the Switch") was definitely its art style. Octopath Traveler is, of course, a 2D reminiscent of the 16-bit style that so many indie RPGs try to replicate, but it also has a papercraft/storybook aspect about it that makes it stand out quite a bit (almost like a pop-out storybook… which the developer definitely knows because their collector’s edition for the game includes a pop-out storybook!).
Distinct visual style aside, this game was definitely inspired by the 2D classics from back in the day, and if you still enjoy how games like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI look, you’ll be just fine with Octopath Traveler. The world you explore has a ton of variety to it, and you’re bound to see the majority of it as well (since each character begins in a different city, spread across the world map). Many of the areas you’ll explore have fantastic panoramic views and just feature top-notch sprite artwork as a whole.
All in all, this is a great looking game (even if the "pop-out" art style makes some forest sections a pain by having trees block your path), with a lot of variety and a ton of areas (and towns) to explore.
The sounds of tranquility!
And now we’ve come to the audio portion of the review, and like everything else so far, the soundtrack in this game is very solid. It’s got a full orchestra and is obviously inspired by classic RPG soundtracks of the past, but has several tracks that are just plain catchy. The battle music is quite good and switches up as you play through the game (although "Battle II" is by far my favorite battle track). The entire soundtrack is quite good, but definitely more suited towards exploration and more calming songs in general (for example, each area has it’s own soundtrack, as well as each city). Some of my favorite tracks in the game (so you can check them out) were that "Battle II" track, "Enveloped in Kindness" (although they over-play this), "My Quiet Forest Home" and "Victor’s Hollow, Jewel of the Forest" (my absolute favorite track).
The game also has limited voice acting. The entire script isn’t voiced, but a majority of the important cut-scenes are, and when they are they are done well. I really enjoyed Tressa’s voice actress the most (she’s just so… cheery and youthful!). All in all, the audio throughout the game is solid, with several catchy tracks scattered throughout the game (and it’s just perfect for background study music). Not bad at all!
It’s the journey that matters the most, right?
Being an RPG, there’s potential here for you to spend a LOT of time playing through the game (all based around how many side quests you go out of your way for and how much you like to grind). You can easily spend 40-60 hours with this title if you wish. However, once you’ve done everything there is to do in the game… there’s really little reason to play through it again (you’ll definitely get your money’s worth though!).
With how the game’s story is structured, you’ll also likely play through everyone’s stories as well, which also forces you to try everyone throughout the game. Granted, you are going to naturally prefer some party members over others, but getting to play around with everyone is nice.
One thing I’ll point out is that while the game does have a lot of side quests, they only rarely lead you to new areas and are mainly "fetch quests" that often depend on your party member’s abilities. Due to how many side quests there are though (there’s seriously a ton…), there are still quite a few that lead you to dungeons and occasionally super-bosses throughout the game. There’s also an end-game dungeon area that the game really doesn’t tell you about, so if you’re a completionist be sure to check for that before you beat the game!
At the end of the day, there’s a reason everyone is (or was?) abuzz about Octopath Traveler (and why it’s sold one million units in a month): it’s a solid, enjoyable RPG. Is it the best RPG ever? Not by a long shot, as the story can be rather cliche at times, the game play can definitely get repetitive and some of the audio can be forgettable (there’s a lot of relaxing "exploration" music here). But those "low points" are still quite solid (this score feels like it should be an 8.5, honestly) and that’s definitely me at my most "nit-picking-est" (totally a word).
With all of that said… if you’re an old-school RPG fan, you’re really going to want to pick up Octopath Traveler. The stories are solid (even with the occasional cliche thrown in), the game play is fairly tactical with a bunch of customization options, there’s some great audio here, the game looks fantastic and maybe most importantly you are definitely getting some great bang for your buck. Go ahead and get lost in the journey… you won’t regret it! Have fun and keep playing!
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
Product Release: Octopath Traveler (US, 07/13/18)
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