Octopath Traveler is a title released this year for the Nintendo Switch. It’s hailed as a well-needed return to the heyday of 2D JRPGs, with obvious inspirations from Chrono Trigger and the Romancing SaGa series. Combine that with a robust class-changing system offering much flexibility, eight distinct and interesting characters and a fluid, fun combat system adapted from the ever-fun Bravely series, Octopath Traveler is just a bastion of great ideas executed with finesse.
I am obsessed with this game.
In summary, Octopath Traveler is about eight different characters who have eight separate journeys, and you’re free to explore them in any order you wish. You pick a character to start your game with, and recruit the others gradually, switching between them to concoct the four-person party of your choosing. Each character has their own establishing prologue which ends up with them asking for aid from your party, and then concluding with a short dungeon trek. Rinse and repeat. And even though it is repetitive, it doesn’t feel too draining as the dungeons are short, the stories are gripping enough to push you towards the end and the difficulty ramps up as you gain more party members and progress through their individual story-lines.
Each character is a well-crafted individual with thought-out personalities, motivations and talents. Each has a ‘path action’, which allows them to interact with the world in meaningful ways. These are separated into ‘noble’ and ‘rogue’ path actions, where the game gives you two different methods to solve the same problem. For example, if a quest requires the acquisition of an item from an NPC, you can use the ‘noble’ merchant Tressa to purchase it outright from them. However, if you’re low on cash you may prefer to use the ‘rogue’ thief Therion’s ability to steal it from them. Note that Therion’s ability will usually have a chance to fail, while Tressa’s ability will be successful every time. It’s this freedom of choice when encountering obstacles which makes this game such a gem. You are rarely forced to use a certain party combination outside of using specific characters in their respective chapters.
Regarding combat, Octopath Traveler has a very fun way of dealing with confrontation. Like Bravely Default and Bravely Second, you have the option of using up stored turns to unleash powerful attacks that may leave you a bit open for attacks afterwards. This, combined with a ‘weakness’ system that reminds one of the Press Turn system of recent Shin Megami Tensei entries or the Stagger system of Final Fantasy XIII, makes every battle an interesting puzzle of targeting weaknesses in an efficient manner to break enemies and fell them with a highly boosted barrage of attacks, spending your precious saved up dots of power. To put it into relatable terms, the battle system makes it fun to grind, which is quite the accomplishment in a JRPG.
Mastery of this system will make fights seem easy for a while, but then the game knows when you should be getting to grips with the intricacies of battle and will throw you new mechanics to deal with. Bosses that summon enemies to defend against certain weaknesses, for example, will have you changing up your strategy mid-battle and keep you on your toes.
Building your characters is also a fun thing in itself. I am a self-defined Menu Lover. I love messing around with character builds, finding the most powerful or most flexible gear combinations to suit my playstyle. It’s why I still play Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and revel in games like Torchlight II and Final Fantasy V, where you can really go ham with just a bit of planning and tweaking. Once you’ve knocked out each characters’ introduction chapters in Octopath Traveler, you can easily brave the more dangerous areas of the game and access shrines which unlock each characters’ class, which can be stuck onto anyone. If you like Ophilia’s cleric skills but don’t like her as a character, you can make Cyrus a Scholar/Cleric. You can give the burly knight Olberic some of Alfyn’s apothecary skills and make him a self-sustaining force to be reckoned with. Or you could turn Therion into a sexy dancer thief. Messing around and finding the most fun and powerful combinations with which to tune your party made this game heaps more enjoyable for me.
A review of Octopath Traveler would absolutely not be complete without mentioning the music it brings to the table. Just listen to this offering, which is used in boss battles and really gets the blood pumping, like a classic Final Fantasy track. Or this wonderful tune which is played in the snowy area of the game, and conveys the quiet, religious serenity of that part of the game. The piano puts me in mind of I am Setsuna’s gorgeous soundtrack, which is always high praise. This isn’t even to mention the individual character themes. This is Cyrus’s theme, which I feel conveys his ever so slightly pompous personality well, as well as his attunement to the upper class, with the presence of graceful strings at the forefront.
Music is just one way in which Octopath Traveler enraptures its audience into its story. Just have a look at the screenshots in this review. The game is visually stunning. There is care and effort put into the crafting of each character and set piece. The weather effects are spellbinding. The seasides feel warm, the mountains seem towering, and the snowy areas feel cold. Props are used to great effect, giving each location a real character. There are no boring transitional locations; each journey feels substantial and enjoyable as you traverse through diverse and stimulating environments. Using the ever useful fast travel option feels a waste.
I really hope that I’ve been able to convey to you how much I really like this game. And if I’ve even piqued your curiosity slightly, that’s good; there is a free demo available on the Switch’s online shop. It gives you a few hours to romp through the game and you can even transfer your progress to the full game if you decide to purchase it. It’s 100% a worthy addition to the JRPG hall of fame, and it’ll be hard to beat as my game of the year.