In any case, Octopath Traveler is a success story in terms of sales. Publisher Square-Enix has underestimated the sale of this retro-inspired JRPG for the Nintendo Switch in such a way that they had to apologize to Japanese customers who wanted to buy the game in the store but could not find one. Fortunately, digital downloads never stop and there is always a way to get the game. But is it worth it?
The whole concept of Octopath Traveler lies in the fact that you can play with no less than eight main characters. You start with one and then you can choose yourself who is the next one to add to your party (up to four). You can follow any storyline that you want, even if those lines are blocked at a very high level. In between you fight monsters to make them stronger, buy equipment and weapons and use the special forces that each character has to get the most out of the world. This is an RPG from Japan from top to bottom, so much is clear.
It is an old-school Japanese RPG in the sense that you encounter random enemies, but it does have some interesting combat mechanisms. Each character has his or her own thing. Some are just strong, some can ask help from (trapped) animals or people and of course the balance between physical and magical weapons is also there. There are also a number of different types of weapons that enemies are sensitive to. That is an important aspect, because if your enemy is weak against a certain weapon or spell you can ‘break’ them, so they can not do anything and get more damage afterwards.
Because the sequence of attacks is tight (you can see the order of actions at the top of the screen) you can try to get the right moment where you go all-in. Because your attacks can also be saved so that you can do several consecutively, it is strategically very interesting. At the end of the game you have really seen it, because there is not much progress in the way you fight on the simple ‘job’ system, but it is good at any rate.
While you’re doing this, it is particularly striking how well the style has been achieved: think of a kind of Super Nintendo game, but then through the lens of 2018. It is pixelated, but the game is full of 3D, color and other effects that make it fun to watch. The fights are intense, the backgrounds always beautiful (but therefore sometimes unclear in whether you can go somewhere or not) and the effects of the spells are great over the top. I have not grown tired in all my playing time in any case. The text and menus are then completely new and that is extremely readable and (albeit all very briefly explained) clear to navigate.
Also the music is class, although after a while it appears that there might have been some more tracks in the game, because how varied and beautiful the music is, you hear very often the same and then the shine goes a little bit off. There is also spoken in the game, but that is on and off. Some story pieces are told (literally) by the characters and the ones they talk to, but not everything and every interaction outside is handled through text. I could complain about it, but then I should have been interested in what everyone had to say.
Eight times nothing is nothing
When I had just started the game and walked through the world to collect the eight characters it all started well: not every character was interesting to me, but the stories seemed to go somewhere and my expectation was that the stories would all come together in one way or another in ways that I could not foresee at that moment. The reason that I could not foresee, however, is that it did not happen. The stories are so separated from each other that there is really hardly any overlap. If you come to a place where you can play the next chapter of one of the characters, that is indicated, but as soon as you go for it, it is as if the rest no longer exists.
If the stories were all really interesting in the end, it was still up to that point, but even if some characters start with something that you could do something with them, as the chapters progress, it becomes clear that the characters do not have an ‘arc’ or otherwise grow during the game. Couple that with not very dazzling written dialogue and then you are quickly skipping the text so you can go to the next boss.
The structure of Octopath Traveler is next to the uninteresting stories one of the biggest problems of the game. You would say that with eight characters you have the freedom to play the game the way you want to, but that does not work. Because each next chapter of a character is embedded in an area where you have to have a certain experience level, you are actually forced to pick up all eight characters first, play their first chapter, then make a round for everyone’s second chapter, and so on. Because there is no overlap you also have to be briefed every time by the game what was going on seven quests ago and that keeps going on.
Worse still, you only have four characters at a time in your party, and anyone who does not go does not advance in level. That forces you to either struggle all the time because you try to level everyone at the same time, or whenever you want to start a new chapter, you have to get the character in question from the spare bank and have to grind for a few hours to get it get ready for the fight. A large part of Octopath Traveler’s playing time eventually goes down there and certainly after the first round through the world, then all aspects that could be better combined with the game and the chances are that you just give up. I have done that in any case.
Octopath Traveler is not a bad game, but on the twelfth, the second part of the 60-plus hours it asks for is just boring. If you need a story to justify your RPG gravel, you really have to look further, but if you just like to run a cool fighting system in a nicely stylized environment, it could be something for you. It’s a real shame, because there is certainly a market for a well-made RPG in this style, but this is only half good and that is simply not worth the time investment (and 60 euros) for me.