Review – Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler, out now for the Nintendo Switch, is a JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) that’s a throwback to the days of the 16-bit systems, complete with sprite-based graphics, cliched stories, and a totally nonsensical name that means a little bit more after you’ve played the game than it did before…
Octopath follows the threads of eight different four-chapter stories, one for each character: Ophilia, the cleric; Cyrus, the scholar; Tressa, the merchant; Olberic, the knight; Primrose, the dancer; Alfyn, the apothecary; Therion, the thief; and H’aanit, the hunter. Each character has their own special abilities and their stories take them down paths unique to them, but these are well-worn paths for JRPG fans.
Olberic, for example, is the disgraced knight looking for redemption after failing in his duties, while Ophelia is the devout cleric off on a sacred mission. They’re stories that we’ve seen before and most of the eight traveler’s tales evoke similar ‘I feel like I’ve seen this before…’ reactions. Even the way the characters team up without really having any obvious reason to do so is such a common occurrence that we just shrug and accept it. Wrap up all the quests and side quests and the discovery of the true end boss and subsequent fight is perhaps the most common RPG/JRPG trope of them all – but at least it’s arrived at in a clever fashion that ties all the loose threads together.
There are some tweaks to the battle system that make it stand apart from the obvious influences it took from games like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy. The Boost system, for example, allows you to store one Boost Point each turn to a maximum of five, using them to either enhance a regular attack or turn it into a chain attack. Other elements, like weapon/element vulnerabilities or the job system that lets you grant characters additional skills, seem lifted pretty much wholesale from other games. To be fair, there’s considerable depth to the combat so having some systems that seem familiar at first glance isn’t the worst thing in the world.
There’s even a good/evil ‘path action’ system that reminded me mostly of Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade options. Therion can steal from NPCs, for example, while goody goody Tressa can choose to purchase from them instead. Fail at rogue actions and your reputation takes a hit with the townspeople, and if you fail at too many it can prevent you from making the most of your time in town – at least until you pay up to smooth things over.
On the visual front, Octopath Traveler is a straight-up gorgeous game, with a unique style that blends 2D sprites and a tilt-shifted presentation that makes it look like you’re exploring a diorama. It’s not an effect that works all the time, with some ugly halos and shadows at times, but it’s a really striking look that hits more often than it misses.