Octopath Traveller Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: RPG
 
Rating: M
 
Release Date: Available Now
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


 

Positives


- HD-2D isn't just marketing speak and looks utterly beautiful
- Job system is the best since Final Fantasy V
- Battles are highly strategic and incredibly interesting
- Soundtrack is amazing

Negatives


- Character narratives are silod off with no real interaction from party members
- The same narrative structure is often repeated through the game
- Writing is largely average


Posted July 25, 2018 by

 
Full Article
 
 

It’s no secret that I’ve been a massive fan of Japanese RPGs for most of my gaming life. Games like Final Fantasy VIII, Wild Arms, Legend of Legaia and Legend of Dragoon formed the basis of my early gaming memories, but I missed out on the bulk of the genre’s 16-bit renaissance. I’ve since returned to many of the games I missed from that time and I fell in love with the general style – which holds up today in a way many games from the PlayStation 1/Nintendo 64 generation don’t. While the Indie scene has smashed it out of the park with games in similar art styles, there hasn’t been an RPG that touched the same notes as that generation. Enter the HD-2D of Octopath Traveller on Nintendo Switch, with its style reminiscent of the 16-bit generation but updated with rendering techniques and technologies that weren’t possible back in the 90s and an evolved battle system. The game largely fulfils the promise shown in its pre-release demoes, but falls just short of legacy set by games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.

Octopath Traveller follows the stories of eight travellers as they leave their previous lives behind to follow their own personal journeys throughout the world. All eight characters have their own main quest line, told through four chapters, and they can be completed in whatever order you see fit. While I’m generally a fan of this sort of narrative freedom, it poses problems in how the story quests are structured in Octopath Traveller. As the designers couldn’t assume the make up of your party at any given time, story quests have no party participation beyond short party conversations similar to the skits in the Tales series – but significantly shorter. In practice, what this means is that during any story sequences in the game the entirety of your party, beyond the character whose quest you’re completing, are completely ignored.

It’s an unusual design decision that basically prevents any convergence of the game’s narrative towards a crescendo, instead resulting in eight separate silos that are completely independent of each other. The beauty of having a larger narrative arc in a game is that it can help hold engagement in the story during less engaging moments or poorly written conversations. Unfortunately, Octopath Traveller has no such carrot to pull you through the more mundane parts of its characters’ journeys, which only serves to highlight its abundance of telegraphed twists and formulaic quest design. There are only so many times you can do the Enter Town->Cutscene->Enter Dungeon->Fight Boss->Return to Town->Cutscene->End sequence before you begin wishing for some more interesting narrative design. This is exacerbated by the writing, which swings wildly in quality from the average to the almost great but tends to hover closer to average than anything else. Story is one of the most, if not the most, important parts of an RPG but this is the one aspect where Octopath Traveller really falls over.

Thankfully, while Octopath Traveller’s narrative leaves something to be desired, every other part of the game is fantastic. The most immediate of these is the art style of the game, which is unlike anything before it. It borrows the isometric view of RPGs of old, but marries it with lighting techniques, animation and depth of field which would have been impossible in the 90s. These come together to create an overworld that is always amazing to look at and comes together with varied environmental designs to keep every area you enter unique and interesting. The game’s depth of field and isometric view are used to perfection as well, with it being used to obscure and hide secrets within the environment that are easily missed unless you’re paying attention. It gives you a reason to study the environment and its textures and effects, which makes you realise just how well constructed and beautiful everything is. The music of the game ties into this as well, with distinct environments having their own unique themes, much of which also influences the battle music in each reason as well. Filled with orchestral magic and celtic undertones, the music in the game perfectly matches the action and is easily the best soundtrack of the year so far. While Octopath Traveller may not hit the technical highs of other games on the platform, its artistry is unparalleled.

The real meat of Octopath Traveller, and its most pleasing addition, comes from its job and battle systems. Each character in the game has a primary job, such as H’aanit’s Hunter job, and can take on a secondary job as you progress. Each job comes with its own unique active and passive skills, so that each character is truly unique to each other, as well as a path action which is unique to their originating characters. These path actions vary from being able to unlock chests, to buying items from villagers and all the way to provoking NPCs into battles. Every town requires a combination of these path actions to view everything they have to offer, with it largely being impossible to complete a town without swapping between characters. The real depth to the job system, however, comes from the myriad of combinations you can create using secondary jobs. These allow you to unlock complimentary active and passive skills, augmenting and complimenting your battle prowess. There’s a great amount of strategy to deciding which secondary jobs to use, trying different combinations to find the best combination of abilities and stats to compliment your character and playstyle. I got sucked in much deeper into the job strategy rabbit hole than I expected to and I loved every second of it.

While its art style grabbed the headlines at announcement and prior to release, Octopath Traveller’s most engaging and best realised aspect is its combat. Treated as an evolution to the Brave system from Bravely Default, Octopath Traveller’s battle system at its most basic is a standard turn-based system. You’re able to see the current and next turn, allowing you to plan your actions ahead of time. Layered onto this is the Break system. Each enemy you face has a series of physical and elemental weaknesses that you can exploit to lower its guard and push it closer to breaking point. Once its guard drops to 0, the enemy is broken, loses its remaining actions for the current and next turn and takes additional damage from your attacks. This results in the early turns in many battles being exploratory as you poke enemies with various attacks to uncover their weaknesses, which will permanently expose them in future battles.

Then comes the final layer, the Boost system. At the beginning of each turn, as long as you didn’t boost in the last turn, your party members will each gain one Boost Point (or BP). You can expend BP during a turn, to a maximum of three, to boost your abilities on that action. This could mean gaining additional attacks, doing additional damage, healing more health or extending status effects. Each job also has a Divine Ability – think Limit Breaks from the Final Fantasy series – which can only be triggered when using three BP.

On their own, each of these systems are interesting, but its how they mesh together that truly brings the combat in Octopath Traveller to life. Do you utilise BP to break an opponent’s guard faster or should you hold it back to unleash heavier damage once they’re broken? Should you break this boss now, knowing that they’ll unleash three attacks in the next turn, or do you have a character going before them that can get their guard down to zero? Combat in Octopath Traveller is a constant push and pull, as you balance breaking an enemy’s guard with dealing damage to them once broken or maintaining your own health by ending their turns early. It’s a strategic depth that was surprising and one that I only started to truly take advantage of late in the game – which was needed, because Octopath Traveller is a very difficult game. However, it’s also perfectly balanced against the strategy of the game and never once feels cheap or unfair. This is one of the most involved and strategic battle systems I’ve ever seen in an RPG and even after spending dozens of hours with the game I never got bored of it.

In the end, Octopath Traveller both surpassed and failed to meet my expectations. The narrative structure and its relative freedom could have been interesting, but instead its lack of party interaction in the narrative, largely average writing and lack of an over arcing plot detract from it. Conversely, the game’s art-style is utterly amazing, creating one of the most beautiful and interesting looking games of this generation, while the soundtrack backs it up perfectly. The combat system is deep and full of strategy, keeping the game interesting no matter how long you play, while the perfectly balanced difficulty challenges you without feeling cheap or unfair. Octopath Traveller is a fantastic game and is well worth the price of admission.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting. Also, pugs are awesome. Puglife.