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Good, not great

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    Octopath Traveler

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Good, not great

    I am excited that Octopath Traveler is selling well. It is inspired by the games which consistently bombed in English speaking countries or were never localized at all. I understand the need to advertise it as a classic Final Fantasy, and to a certain degree this is true. Elements of the battle system are simplified as you would find in that series, or even more so. Beyond that, however, the game is far more similar to the Saga series. The real disappointment is that it simply isn’t as good as those games in any one area. Everything is done well, but never great.

    The music is easily the strongest component, weaving melodies that are forgettable and yet never annoying. That basic factor ensures that the game is playable at all. There are a few times where I notice that it continues to loop, as with the mining town theme. More often than not, I could let it play for an hour without bother, as with the snow theme. I just couldn’t hum any one tune for you off the top of my head, despite playing the game all day every day since release.

    The graphics suffer a similar end. The entire game is easy on the eyes, with great general attention to detail. Objects have a motion effect, and small details such as splashing water or butterflies being the world to life. It just doesn’t feel alive. There’s an aching sameness about everything in game. The various over world zones have different themes, but ultimately are made of the exact same parts. There are very sparse points at which any piece of the chip set used in any map could be counted as a landmark. A church has church benches, but no sign of a visible deity. Deserts have rock and sand, but no monuments. There is a near total lack of imagination put into the visual world that leaves it feeling lifeless.

    The game play is also sparse. The primary mechanic outside of battle is that each character can interact in a specific way with their environment. This sounds cool at first. It is possible to buy or steal items, fight, examine, or even summon into battle many non-player characters. Unfortunately the implementation falls a bit flat. Items purchased are not entirely different than what you would find in shops. Trying to steal good ones for free has a 3% success rate and leads to a cycle of saving and reloading to succeed. Examinations glean that a soldier took an arrow to the knee, or occasionally provide a basic item, but also often carry a low success rate. Some of the humor and world building made available by this is lost because failing costs money. Gleaning the information quickly becomes more trouble than it’s worth. Summoning them provides an extra attack in each round of battle but serves no significant function. Fighting them is never as exciting as a boss battle, but rather more in line with regular trash monsters.

    The battle system is turn based with speed calculating turn order. Faster speed can create additional turns. It is not the absolute one action per player and enemy per round formula found in the original Final Fantasy. There is a gimmick where using an enemy weak point a certain number of times will cancel its turn. This becomes the basic strategy in all situations. There are six elements and six weapon types to try when finding the enemy weakness. Each of twelve jobs has a selection of these dozen damage types. Each character can equip two jobs to mix and match these elements depending on the situation. There is a certain level of fun in testing out different abilities to find out an enemy weakness. Unfortunately, once the weakness is found, battle strategy often becomes a simple rinse repeat cycle of exploiting the discovered weakness. It’s more complex than many old school games that can be beat with auto attack. It’s just not nearly on par with the Saga franchise.

    The story is painfully generic. There’s a soldier seeking revenge, a cute sales girl looking for inspiration, a book nerd, and several other tropes. Their stories are at times curious but ultimately tend towards one off bad guys who give bad guy speeches before a boss fight. Each individual story is generously several hours long but spends more time advancing the objective than weaving a tale. There’s a fairly large amount of dialogue, but too often not enough weight to the dialogue. Often times it is more effective to show how a character acts in a certain scene than to have them describe their actions. This game seems to miss that mark, unlike the best games of old that it takes inspiration from. Side quests are sprinkled into each chapter of the story. They provide short scenes with non-player characters that sometimes add a small amount of lore to the game world. Tasks are fairly generic and most often include fetching items or killing a monster. They could have provided an opportunity for the main cast to interact, but instead that interaction is only found in optional skits similar to those found in the tales series. This is a missed opportunity. Core party members do not otherwise interact with each other in main story sequences. The game does not even recognize that they exist. A small amount of development effort using conditional branches could have solved this.

    it’s a credit to everything this game does well that I would still give it a rating of 3.5 out of 5. It is very nearly a 4. Everything is well polished. it’s just not particularly amazing in any one area next to the best games it takes inspiration from.

    Rating:   3.5 – Good

    Product Release: Octopath Traveler (US, 07/13/18)

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