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Octopath Traveler lets the player pick their beginning protagonist and proceed through the first Chapter of their story — "path", before moving on and recruiting the other seven party members by going through their path's initial Chapter.
It takes some classic Final Fantasy mechanics, like a job-class system that allows the protagonists to take on a 'second job' to give them access to more skills and weapon types. The gameplay amounts to travelling around the continent of Osterra and heading to the next town, where the next Chapter for a protagonist's story takes place. You encounter some scenes there, head into a nearby dungeon, defeat the Chapter's Big Boss, and finish the Chapter. Then proceed to head to the next location, to repeat the process.
And that leads to a big problem of the game, for me. There doesn't seem to be much of a connection going on, nor a decent flow in terms of story-telling. The Chapters are separated into their parts, leaving them to feel choppy, and there is little that leads to the party to feel like an actual group — the 'party banter' the player can view from Chapter 2 onward involve very basic, short talks between the Chapter's protagonist and anther party member, but nothing that is really deep. It feels like short scenes slapped together and called a story, with party members outside of the current path's protagonist being little more than NPCs. Even with the very end of the paths proving there is an overarching connection going on, it's not too well-done.
The music is mediocre. I cannot call it 'bad', but neither can I call it 'amazing'. It's okay to listen to, but many places share a certain track — cave-like dungeons have one track, while mansion-like dungeons have another, etc — so there isn't much variety going on. If asked, I wouldn't be able to hum any of the tracks spontaneously.
The battle system reminds me of a mixture of the Persona and the Final Fantasy XIII games: exploit the enemy's weakness long enough to cause them to enter Break status, then proceed to cause as much damage as you can before they recover.
Octopath Traveler is basically, incredibly, overall complete average. It's a nice game to play if you want to enjoy a JRPG, but don't expect anything amazing. Many of the twists and revelations of the various paths are very easy to see coming from miles away, leaving no sense of suspense or tension going on while wondering how the path will continue.
As someone who grew up in the Super NES era, and played some of the classic RP Gs of that day, I was quite pleased to hear that Octopath Traveler would follow in their footsteps. It delivers an experience that is similar to classic RP Gs, even if it isn't quite up to the greatest games of that era.
The plot focuses on the tales of eight people from different walks of life as they travel the continent of Orsterra for different reasons- for the sake of duty, their own personal growth or revenge, among other goals. Said individuals are highly relatable, and go through significant Character Development over the course of their journeys. Unfortunately, while their individual stories are strong, the game doesn't acknowledge the other party members in each person's story, and they barely interact outside of brief "party banter" scenes. Considering that their personalities play off each other quite well when they do, this is quite unfortunate.
The battle system should be familiar to many fans of turn-based RP Gs, but it has an interesting approach to weaknesses. Enemies have at least one weakness to certain types of weapons or schools of elemental magic, and by repeatedly striking those weaknesses, you can break their defenses, rendering them stunned and vulnerable. Since most of your damage is done while the enemies are broken, it's critical to make the most of this opportunity and choose your moves wisely. The system helps reward strategic play, although it also means that if you can't keep up the offensive, the battle can quickly turn against you.
The main game is fairly non-linear, as you can tackle the travelers' stories in any order with few restrictions on where you go, except for whether you can defeat your enemies. Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a very consistent difficulty curve, as the difficulty spikes when moving on to the next chapter- you may be able to finish most characters' Chapter 1 stories at Level 15 or so, but their Chapter 2 stories may require you to be level 21 or more. This is especially true for the post-game unlocked by finishing all the characters' stories and doing several sidequests, as the True Final Boss is an order of magnitude harder than any of the other bosses in he game.
Speaking of the sidequests, they make good use of characters' Path Actions, which involve using their talents to interact with others in various ways, from leading one character to a destination to purchasing an item (or alternatively, stealing said item). Unfortunately, the goals can be fairly vague, and it's often difficult to tell what exactly you need to do- for example, you may need to find an NPC on the other side of the continent with virtually no clues as to their whereabouts.
The graphics are quite well-done, featuring a mix of Super NES-era sprites with modern visual effects. The soundtrack is also excellent, and features a number of well-made and memorable songs.
All in all, Octopath Traveler is an enjoyable RPG that's a throwback to the old days, even if it isn't quite as enjoyable as the classics of the Super NES era.
As modern RPGs gradually shift towards real-time action, Octopath Traveler stands out as a loving tribute to SNES nostalgia fans. The aesthetic of 2D sprites on a gorgeous 3D world is visually striking and I cannot overstate how spectacular the soundtrack is. The game includes 8 different stories told through 8 playable characters, and the player is given a lot of freedom in choosing how they progress the stories and interact with the world.
The 8 main characters are simple enough, harkening back to classic RPG archetypes and jobs. Their stories are very straightfoward, and after playing through a few chapters, you will understand they all follow a predictable narrative pattern each chapter. One notable concern is that the main characters are mutually exclusive to each other, so there is no influence on the story based on your party, which is a let down. Brief party banters are available, but a certain sense of unity is lost without this feature.
The true complexity of the world is gleamed through the numerous NPCs littering the world map, many of whom have surprising depth that can be explored with the various Path Actions. Side quests are quite plentiful and shed further light on various NPCs, but the quests are rather unintuitive, often times requiring a good bit of detective work on the player's part using the Path Actions to figure out how to solve them.
Combat is where the game shines brightest with highly versatile customization available to your party members once secondary jobs are unlocked. It was a lot of fun testing new skill combinations, and all of the characters can be made perfectly viable to whatever role is needed. The Breaking system is a very rewarding feature that adds a nice foundation to base your strategies off of. Notably, I couldn't really afford to put myself on auto pilot in battle - I had to be ever conscious of the enemies I faced as they all have different weaknesses that must be taken advantage of.
Grinding, while present, was not very common, and rarely interfered in my playthrough. Skill learning is surprisingly accessible, even with countless character and secondary job possibilities. The skill system made it very easy to change gears and start building new combinations at a moment's notice.
Despite the minor gripes, I was repeatedly surprised and pleased by not only Octopath's unique presentation, but how it was able to purposefully take old JRPG tropes and mixed them with some modern twists for a fun and satisfying experience. Octopath is a nice return to Square Enix's roots and kind of stands alone shouldering this particular genre of RPG in the modern era, especially amongst the current Switch line up.
If you're curious about this game, I highly recommend trying out the very generously sized demo. If you need to satisfy a JRPG craving or want to get introduced to the genre, Octopath is one of my best recommendations to try out.
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