A perfect blend of old and new, Octopath Traveler manages to capture the charm and essence of classic 90s JRPGs whilst adding its own unique, modern spin. For many, the Super NES created the benchmark for RPGs: deep, rewarding gameplay with beautiful, rich worlds to explore. Square Enix, along with Acquire, have seemingly sought to rekindle the memories players hold so fondly of that era, including even games in their own back catalogue, such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, and perhaps with the help of modern-day technology, Octopath Traveler is the game Square Enix had envisaged making all those years ago.
As the name suggests, you begin the game by choosing one of eight available characters. You can locate the other seven, who have their individual icons dotted around the world map of Osterra at the start of the game, to embark on your journey with you. Each character has its own unique tale to complete, and I appreciate that Square Enix have designed the game in a way where you can complete all eight storylines in a single playthrough rather than having to start over each time to see every ending.
I tend to opt for a fighting character in RPGs; however, intrigued to see if Octopath Traveler was able to spark my interest with someone I wouldn’t normally choose, I went with Ophelia, a cleric who decided to perform a sacred mission allowing her sister to sit by their dying father’s side. Though not an original story by any means, Ophelia is well-developed and likable, and her personality and goals differ from other playable characters, such as Therion, a thief, or Olberic, a warrior. All eight travelers are well fleshed out and distinguished, each offering unique dialect and choices. A downside to the story is that there is no underlying storyline tying each traveler together; their encounters with each other are very placed and deliberate, whereas I would have liked it to have been more organic with me stumbling across them through my own exploration.
Though the lack of an evil entity to rally against, say, unifying the eight travelers, is a disappointing, the world of Osterra offers plenty to keep you wanting to visit every town you come across and talk to a wide array of intriguing NPCs. Some may have generic jobs in the tavern or shop, but a little effort will reveal mysterious pasts, and you will uncover far more than what you will first see on the surface. Your interactions with the NPCs go further with “path actions,” a unique skill tied to each protagonist: Primrose has the “allure” skill, leading an NPC to follow her, and they also become available as ‘support’ to assist in battle; Therion, meanwhile, has “steal”, allowing him to steal special items, including some not sold in stores, and they can be used in battle. This action can also be used to view an enemy’s current HP level, proving extremely useful in a tough boss fight, for example.
Enemies do require you to find these small advantages as many will prove to be difficult battles if you’re not prepared and organised. There are a wide array of enemies, each varying in size and status, and their variety extends to how best to approach them in battle. Every enemy has its own vulnerability and is weak against at least one element or weapon type – these are not revealed to begin with though, and it is up to you, through trial and error, to discover these on your own.
As the combat is turn-based, you need to be wary of when the enemy’s turn is next and try to break them before this, not only causing them to lose their turn but also weakening them, meaning each subsequent attack will result in slightly more health loss than before. This provides a choice of whether to focus all your energy on one foe or spread the attacks, breaking multiple enemies and earning a small break to try and recover. Another factor to consider is how best to use the battle point system. A battle point is acquired after each turn and, if you haven’t spent it, they accumulate and provide a more powerful version of a particular move – do you use those battle points to break your enemy or hope a weaker move is enough to do the required damage, leaving your battle points to be saved and used further down the line?
Further considerations are to be made with levelling up and learning new skills as your enemies are incredibly diverse, and your party needs to reflect this, and having as many options as possible to fight in different situations is key. All eight characters have a job, and as you explore the vast world, you will uncover shrines allowing you to assign a secondary job to a character, again providing extra depth to customisation and choices.
Shrines not only offer you great benefits to you and your party, they give you an excuse to simply explore this gorgeous world. Octopath Traveler’s graphical style is one I haven’t experienced in a game before: Characters are 2D sprites moving in a 3D 16-bit world; add to this realistic snow, water and sand, and Square Enix have created a combination of old and new into one beautiful package. Lighting and shadow effects as well create atmospheric touches, drawing you further into this stunning world. Osterra offers variety in its graphical style, too. You will find snow, desert, and grass areas, each with their own lovely touches: Falling snowflakes see subtle glimmers of sun sparkle as you walk among them, and grass will sway naturally in the wind.
Octopath Traveler also rewards you for going off the beaten track and discovering what’s there. Heading down a small path may put you in front of a dungeon or cave which will provide new enemies to tackle and new loot to be found. Smaller villages are dotted around the world, with their own unique NPCs and side-quests – they, along with towns, also offer fast-travel locations, which makes returning to a merchant or nearby undefeated boss extremely easy, and seeing what else Osterra has to offer is much less of a chore as a result.
Developer: Square Enix, Acquire
Publisher: Nintendo, Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 13th July 2018
For more information on Octopath Traveler, check here.