Octopath Traveler is a new JRPG released exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Square-Enix and published by Nintendo, it’s one of those combinations that should at least grab your attention if you’re a fan of gaming and RPGs. I actually tried to resist purchasing this one but eventually succumbed to the pull of wanting to play a new RPG.
We’ve already jumped off the rails of traditional RPG storytelling right at the start of the game. The game name itself, Octopath Traveler, gives you the hint that you have eight main characters to travel the world with, nothing extraordinary in the RPG realm. Octopath does things a bit differently. Instead of having this grand ‘save-the-world’ narrative interweaved throughout your main party’s adventure, Octopath handles things on an individual level.
This means that each of the eight characters in the game have their own singular story to play out. Alfyn the Apothecary seeks to travel the world to help people and expand on his knowledge, Olberic the Warrior broods over revenge, purpose and understanding, Ophilia the Cleric takes on her sister’s pilgrimage once their father becomes ill and so on.
I think that this is where I and many others eventually had a hard time. The game is structured in a very particular way. You pick one of the eight characters to start with. This character essentially becomes your main character, and you can’t remove them from the party until you complete their full story.
From this first character, you are free to travel the world and acquire the other seven characters. The problem that you run into is that you essentially are playing through the beginning chapter of a traditional RPG eight times before things get ramped up. For me, that ended up being 10+ hours.
It’s strange because this didn’t bother me at first, but became noticeable towards the fifth or sixth story. One of the main reasons for this is lack of variety in each of the characters chapters. I think that the core narrative for each character is unique enough, but executing those stories into gameplay end up becoming the same thing. You progress by traveling to a town, start characters story, go through story elements and cut scenes, get sent to side area with monsters/treasure, kill boss then complete chapter with a small epilogue.
I would try to spice things up in between these sections by exploring the random caves that you could come across, but a lot of those areas aren’t able to be completed because you must be engaged in a side story with other NPCs for many of them. In a lot of cases, I arrived at the end of a cave just to turn around and head to a town instead.
The story did ramp up for me after these introductions. Chapters 2 and 3 for each of your characters continue their story and there is an implied order for you to run through by giving you a recommended level for each story point. I also started discovering job shrines, which let you assign a second job to each character, increasing the variety of things you can accomplish in battle. This was a lot of fun and I pretty much just went and discovered all of the shrines before even continuing the story progression.
Chapter 4 for each character is where I started falling off again. Each of these chapters recommends level 45. This means that even if you start your first Chapter 4 at level 45, you’re going to be grossly over leveled by at least the fourth story, making any encounters you face trivial.
The soundtrack to Octopath Traveler is one of the best I’ve heard in a new game in quite awhile. Some may disagree, but after playing a few hundred different RPGs over the years, I kept feeling a hint of nostalgia with every track and even endearment. I don’t think it stands up to games like Chrono Trigger or Lufia II, but it gave Octopath another layer of positivity while playing through the game.
The World Building
Whenever you have a large game like this, world building is very important. If you have the sense that your character is the most important person in a relatively uninteresting or empty world, I feel the game has failed. Octopath does a fantastic job with their world building.
One thing I appreciated right at the start of the game and more as I delved further is the unique feeling to each town hub. There are around two dozen towns, and each of them felt unique from each other despite there being three towns per region (so you end up with three towns with a sand theme, three with a snow theme and so on). Too often, RPGs put little effort into the composition or feel to their towns. You’ll see the same house models, except with a different roof color as an example. In Octopath, each region has its unique quirks and features for you to discover.
Along with the unique feel of towns, Square-Enix made a real effort to give some sort of story to each of the few hundred NPCs that you come across. Inquiring with Cyrus will get you background on that NPC, sometimes netting you key items to use for side quests as well as new weapons/provisions being available in that towns shops etc.
Quality of Life Issues
A lot of this is nitpicky, but I felt these issues were worth mentioning because they did take some enjoyment out of the experience.
Switching Characters: In order to move your characters in and out of a party, you must visit the tavern in a town and switch them out. From a realism standpoint, makes sense. You have your four party members going off on adventures, so your other characters stay in a tavern and drink until they are called upon. Realism doesn’t really mean much to me when the game offers things like fast traveling to a town across the map though. There were multiple times that I had to leave an area just to go to town, switch out a character, and then head back to where I already was. This type of mechanic isn’t fun and just bloats the experience. Come across a purple chest and don’t have Therion in your party? Too bad, come back later. It was more frustrating than anything else.
Currency: A quarter of the way through the game, currency becomes useless if you’re stealing items with Therion from NPCs. There just isn’t enough to purchase for the amount of money that you eventually end up with. Each town may boast a few new weapons or armor pieces, but you’ve likely already found better from random NPCs around town. This becomes even more ridiculous when you realize that completing many of the side stories you face, will just net you some more currency. For what? I have over three million in game currency right now with nothing to buy. It would have been nice to be able to purchase things like stat increasing nuts for ridiculous amount like a hundred thousand to make it somewhat worthwhile.
Obstructing View: There are areas in the game that will outright obstruct your view. I don’t mean using the graphic style in clever ways to hide paths in plain view, I really enjoyed that aspect of Octopath Traveler, but just throwing big black trees in your screen to add to immersion. It didn’t for me, and was just annoying.
No Shared Experience Between Party Members: With having eight party members to choose from, you’re eventually going to lean towards your ‘core’ party; the four characters you enjoy playing as the most. Unfortunately, the game will force you away from this often. Whenever I jumped into one of the characters stories I didn’t particularly enjoy, I had to decide which of my core party members I would sacrifice. This often led me to leaving Therion out, which also meant I would have to return to each area after completing it just to open the purple chests I had found in those areas. This becomes a greater issue when things like job points and experience points aren’t shared between all eight characters, not even at a lesser percentage. I eventually got the Chapter 4 for these characters and didn’t even bother leveling them. I just let me other three characters carry them through that boss fight.
Octopath Traveler was really a roller coaster for me. I started off the game enjoying the story structure, art style and abilities for each class. The further I got into the game; I was left really wanting a solid through line instead of eight individual stories. It also suffers from time consuming quality of life decisions like not sharing experience and forcing you to go to town to retrieve party members.
That being said, the world building is fantastic and I was completely immersed in each town that I visited. I liked exploring, even if sometimes it didn’t pay off due to not meeting side quests requirements as previously noted and combat is really satisfying. I don’t regret my purchase, but I also don’t believe I’ll ever have a reason to come back to Octopath. I have some further thoughts below on end game content that might shed some more light on this. It contains spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what the game offers past completing your characters Chapter 4’s, don’t continue.
SPOILERS – End Game/Post Game
This is another area that I feel I’m just half and half on. Some things are really fun and enjoyable while other decisions are odd.
Four Extra: This was my favorite aspect of the end game content that Octopath offers you. Aside from your characters eight jobs, you can find four shrines within the world. Each shrine tests you with a boss fight in order to acquire the Sorcerer, Warmaster, Runeblade and Starseer Jobs. Each of these jobs are fantastic and add a lot of utility to your party. My favorite experience in the game came from fighting the guardian of the sorcerer job. I was under leveled, and ended up slowly chipping away at the bosses health for 45 minutes until finally defeating him. I was rewarded with an overpowered job which was awesome at first, but I soon realized I had just trivialized the rest of the content in the game. The other job guardians barely put up a fight despite being unique and fun in their own way.
Final Area/Direwolf: There is one level 58 area in the game which houses a tough Direwolf boss. The thing hits like a truck and killed me five times before I was able to defeat him. Ultimately, you’re rewarded with an item that you can get elsewhere in the game, so being victorious doesn’t even feel unique or worth it.
Hidden Final Boss: One of my issues as I went on through the game was not having that through line that tied things together. Well, after completing your main characters story, you are offered a through line and a new final boss to head towards. I enjoy that this is a part of the game because things like the Gate of Finis are mentioned throughout multiple character arcs and the Obsidians as well. I just don’t know how I feel about how it’s handled.
After completing some side quests that open up, you can head towards the Ruins of Hornburg and through the Gate of Finis. Once there, you’ can’t leave. You must face eight bosses before unlocking the final, real end game boss. The problem is, right before the final boss fight, you are told to split your party into two groups. If you’ve read up to this point, past a certain part of the game, I didn’t level the other four party members because I just didn’t enjoy them as much. I’m now punished for that after spending 45 minutes fighting through eight bosses. I get decimated because I have four party members around level 70, and four in the mid-thirties.
Once dead, you return to your last save, forcing you to fight through the eight bosses again before attempting the final boss. So now I’m forced to make a decision. Do I grind the other four party members to the 70’s as well, and then go through the 45 minutes of bosses before even attempting the final boss again? I don’t really know right now. If I do decide to get that far and fail again, I can’t imagine sinking the time into that boss gauntlet again. It’s bloating, not fun, and I think those are the areas that RPGs can really fail at.
Maybe I’ll give an update if I do decide to push through, but at this point, time is more precious to me and there are tons of other games out there I feel that I can dive into.
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