by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I’m still playing through Octopath Traveler, but there’s so much to do that if I waited until I was at the end to write this review, I’m looking at easily 70-80 hours. I’m presently sitting on around 30+ hours, and instead of simply playing one character through to completion, I’m going around and taking each characters’ current chapter, then moving on to another one that interests me. It’s allowing me to grow a balanced, but still incredibly powerful party. Octopath Traveler has captured my attention since it was first teased and yet, I did not play through either of the demos. I wanted to desperately, but at the same time, I wanted a surprise. I had a feeling it would be very powerful and story driven, thanks to it being developed by the same team that was behind Bravely Default (which was also wonderful, I might add), and a common thing I’ve heard mumbled across the Internet is that “Single player turn-based RPGs are dead”. First off, that’s nonsense. Second, Octopath Traveler proves handily that that’s rubbish. It’s sold out repeatedly since it has launched, and Square-Enix had to issue a public apology, not realizing that the game was going to be in such incredibly high demand.
When I first laid eyes upon Octopath Traveler, it felt like a blend of Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy VI, and Dragon Quest. While it does remind me of them, Octopath is definitely its own game, and while it might have that old-school feel, it brings more than enough original gameplay and aesthetic to the table. Octopath Traveler is a single-player, turn-based RPG based around the story of eight characters, each with their own problems, desires, and needs, and you can play them in any order that you desire. When you are tackling a chapter of a character’s story, they are very much the “main character” and you won’t see any of the other party members in cutscenes. To the current main character, the other party members you have are merely fellow adventurers helping you in your current task. Now, I will say that none of these stories are groundbreaking stuff that you’ve never seen before. But what makes it good is that it feels real. Primrose’s despair really comes through, and it does tackle some pretty serious issues without being hackneyed or trite.
I started with Ophelia, who is an orphan found by the Church of the Sacred Flame. Due to reasons you can discover by playing the game, she decides to undergo the Rite of the Sacred Flame, which occurs once every twenty years. She felt a bit more challenging to start as, being a Priest, but now at about 30 hours, she’s an unstoppable killing machine with a wealth of damage. You can see on the World Map where every current chapter is at, and a recommended level for pursuing it, making it a very open-ended game. In fact, it’s so open and limitless that it winds up being one of the few complaints I’ve got about the game. I loved that I can wander the world at my leisure, to make the party I desire and complete the character stories that interest me first. However, there is no overarching villain or end-game. There’s no real “goal” other than to see these eight stories through till the end and then tackle some incredibly challenging post-game content. It’s something new and different for sure, and I love the story, but it’s awkward to not have an end-game.
I’ve gone on the record to describe the combat in Octopath Traveler as “Oops! All Allies!” and I stand by it 100%. This is a turn-based game that involves speed to determine who goes next. There’s a clear meter at the top of the screen that shows who is currently acting, who is on the way, and who will be soon. Your team will be composed of up to four of the eight party members, and about half of the cast can summon allies in some form or another to help. H’aanit captures wild creatures you fight out in the world, Ophelia uses religion to guide people around, Primrose uses her allure and sex appeal to get people going and follow her. H’aanit’s minions pop out and do one attack and leave, and after they’ve used up their casts, you have to go hunt it back down if you want another. There have been some that are simply so powerful, they take up several of my slots so I can cast it eight times instead of four. Ophelia and Primrose’s allies will show up for a few turns, act on their own and leave, and have a limited number of summons. But these people show up in towns and in the world, so they’re not so hard to find. I’ll come back to that in a bit. As you attack, use items, and heal, you gain a little charge of energy above their name in the UI. This is tied to the Break System.
The Break System is an interesting concept, which involves utilizing enemy weaknesses to stun regular enemies, and to prevent bosses/major encounters from using battle-ending attacks. You will clearly be able to see on the screen how many weaknesses a foe has, and next to that will be a number, which is how many hits of a weakness it needs to be stunned. There are powers that reveal these on their own, or you can guess at them. Some are obvious, and the majority of the enemies in a characters’ chapter will be weak to their abilities/stock weapons, so that will be a major boon. The benefits are twofold: When an enemy is stunned, they take double damage, so this is the key time to blast them with Boosted abilities. The other being when a boss has a purple aura, he’s about to use his strongest attack, and if you stun them, it will immediately put a stop to that. So with bosses, you have to gauge whether it’s better to just keep them stunlocked, or wait until they power-up, because before too long, a bosses’ break meter will grow each time he’s stunned, and it can get very overwhelming.
Now, you can stock only so many points of Boost, which does a few things. With basic attacks, it will do an extra swing each time you boost. With special abilities, it increases the damage, and for non-damage abilities, it can increase the chances of success (such as stealing money with Tressa, or items with Therion). It doesn’t help with items or regular villager summons, but it does with H’aanit’s minions as it increases the damage they deal. There’s a surprising amount of strategy that goes into this system, and that only increases when you add the Second Class to a character. There are shrines out in the world that you can access when you hit Chapter 2, and these let you take the other character classes and slot them in as a secondary. This will make it possible to create absolutely absurd combinations and let some characters have access to virtually every type of basic attack. An important thing to note on the Boost System is that if you use it, your next turn will not generate a point. You’ll have to wait another turn after that, so balancing when you need that extra damage or when you need to hold off is key.
This does, however, make you split up your priorities on JP (Job Points, which are used on skills). As you gain JP and buy skills, the cost goes up (30, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 3000, 5000), and unlocking skills unlock passives. But when you have two classes equipped, you have to juggle which has features that are more important to you. This has the potential to create a pretty annoying grind, but since the equipment is 1. Very important and 2. Very expensive, you’re going to be grinding anyway unless you really use your abilities to their fullest. The grind reminds me of games like Dragon Quest though, where each town has equipment that’s double the price of the last town, or very close to it. While I did find myself grinding a lot for JP and Money, it was never a chore. I was always on the lookout for rare and strong monsters to hire, off doing side quests, and honestly, getting lost in how gorgeous this world is. On the topic of side quests, it’s very easy to tell where they are on your mini-map. Your main quest has a green highlight, and the side-quests are orange. Those are a matter of figuring out where to go and what to do, and using the “Y” button will pull up a list of your parties actions (challenging to a duel, allure, guidance, speculate for information, etc) and these are key to completing every side quest. It is only a matter of which one you’re going to need to use. The game does not tell you exactly what you have to do, you have to figure them out on your own (or use Google, I’m not your dad).
The graphics and audio in Octopath Traveler on that note, are second to none. Though it does use a 16-bit pixel style, that’s not to say it looks awful. It’s like the games of my youth but cranked up to 11. One of the things that I sincerely am fascinated by is how the game uses depth and light to its advantage. If something is a bit far away or super close, it can look very blurry and hard to see until you get a little closer/move forward. It creates a real sense of depth since you can’t just look infinitely into the distance and know what’s coming in a dungeon or overworld area. In dark caves, the dimly lit parts are clear and everything is as dark as it needs to be. You can really get caught up watching the water gently roll down a river, or the blades of grass move in the wind. Every biome in this world is beautiful in its own way, and I haven’t found anything in this game that’s hideous, except for the enemies. They look suitably vile. I like the more Final Fantasy VI approach of even humanoid enemies becoming much bigger than the party, as an aside. The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in years, and the boss theme is probably my favorite track.
A Cruel, Unkind World Can Still Be Beautiful: 5/5
Even with those minor complaints aside, Octopath Traveler is an absolute masterclass in how to create a first-rate turn-based RPG. The characters have depth, interact with each other in side-dialogue, the combat system is far from boring (there are loads of ways to use it to have absolute number-dumping damage machines). The world, despite being cruel and awful, is still gorgeous, and the sights and sounds are one hundred percent worth experiencing. The characters are very three dimensional, and each is out in the world for their own cause. Whether it’s justice, curiosity, the need to help others, or simply to survive, every single character is worth trying. Sure, I’m disappointed there’s no “save the world” moment where all the characters realize fate has brought them to this point, but I like that. This is something different, and it’s something wonderful. Even with Dragon Quest XI coming, I’m calling this as my RPG of the Year. I can’t see anything topping it. It doesn’t need DLC, Season Passes, any of that nonsense. It doesn’t need them, because this is a complete experience. You don’t have to pay extra to unlock the hidden classes. You just have to go fight incredibly hard bosses for them. The game is whole and everything you need to enjoy it is *right here*. It does however make me want an Octopath Traveler 2. There’s more of the world we have not seen, and plenty of other interesting characters out there, I’m sure. If this doesn’t come to Steam, it will be a travesty.