From the developers of one of the most beloved RPG franchises, Final Fantasy, comes SquareEnix’s new epic RPG- Octopath Traveler.
Octopath Traveler tells the story of not just one protagonist, but 8 of them, each with their own unique storylines. It also pays homage to the RPGs of yesteryear, with its 16-bit graphics and turn-based combat system; I’ll cover all these points and work out whether Octopath Traveler lives up to the high standard set by SquareEnix.
Fragmented Storytelling and Structure
As I mentioned just before, Octopath Traveler is not told in one story, but 8 individual ones. You begin by selecting who’s story you want to begin with, and that character becomes your main character who you control around.
Once you’ve completed their first chapter, you begin your journey out in the world to start recruiting the other characters and start following their stories. Each chapter will take between 1-2 hours, and there are a total of 4 chapters per character.
You will want to travel around the world to recruit everyone because each character has a typical RPG role- warrior, healer, black magic user, etc. You can only use 4 characters at a time, but it is wise to recruit everyone so you can tailor your party to suit your playstyle.
Obviously Octopath Traveler features a very unique form of storytelling by not following a traditional story arc, but having us play through 8 distinct stories. Slight spoilers here- but there actually is a story arc, but it’s well hidden as you’ll only gain bits and pieces of it through some of the storylines and a couple of side quests.
It all comes together once you’ve completed everyone’s story, completed certain side-quests, and have found the secret final dungeon. Like I said though, it’s kind of hidden, so you don’t know it’s there until the very end. I wasn’t a fan of this, as I like to have an overall purpose and goal from start to finish, it gives me more motivation and keeps me interested.
As for everyone’s individual stories, there are some great ones, and some pretty dull ones that felt pointless. More often than not most of them were quite good. Each character has their own background and you do invested in their lives, at least in the first chapter. But it was the storytelling, the game’s biggest selling point, that was the biggest letdown for me.
When I’m getting engaged in a story, I like to keep it going and immersing myself into it. Octopath Traveler didn’t allow for that. First of all each chapter was quite short, but if I wanted to move on to their next chapter, the level requirement was so high it was just unrealistic to continue it. On a positive note though, each chapter did each in a way that made you look forward to the next chapter, but not with so much urgency so that you had to do it straight away.
So in order to get my team level high enough, I basically had to continue everyone else’s current chapter until I was strong enough the move on to the everyone’s next chapter. The game gives off this sense of freedom, but I never felt it because I had to complete the chapter in the order of their level requirements!
To make matters worse, to begin someone’s chapter that character needs to be in your party (which makes complete sense), but if they’re not a character you constantly use, they’ll be severely under-leveled. So unless you grind XP for each character, which no one wants to do, you’ll just have to put up with a weaker character in you party.
To combat this, you would think that characters would at least gain some XP (when not used in battle) just to keep them up to par, but nope, they get nothing!
I would have preferred to be able to focus on each characters story in its entirety, THEN move onto the next character’s story. Unfortunately this game didn’t let me, so by the time I was up to the next chapter, any anticipation, excitement, and build up I had for it had disappeared like 10 hours beforehand.
Thankfully you can read back over what happens in each chapter to refresh your memory, which is a nice feature because goes into enough detail to get you ready again.
So while most of the chapters can be good, it was how those chapters played out which was another letdown. The vast majority of them played out the same- after the opening scenes you would need to use your unique skill around town to complete an objective, then you’d soon end up in a pretty short dungeon with a final boss with annoyingly massive amounts of HP.
This predictable routine would follow in almost every chapter, and I started to get bored of it, even if the actual story was good.
Speaking of the character’s unique ability- what was the point? I felt they didn’t add much to the game and would have been just fine without it. I did get into the routine of Inquiring and Stealing off everyone in town before moving on, but even that got old quick and stopped doing it. Yes there are some good benefits to it, but it stopped being fun after a short while.
In regards to the level/dungeon design, it was pretty unoriginal. Most dungeons and outside areas had you follow a pretty linear trail, but with a few branching paths that lead to treasure chests, and that was mostly it. No environmental puzzles to spice things up, not much in the way of maze-like dungeons, it all felt very similar throughout.
In any epic RPG story, a very important component needs to be great in order to make us feel invested- the characters. Now the characters are mostly fine, they are voice acted well (mostly), and have their own unique personalities. But what makes characters in games special is their interaction with each other, something that Octopath Traveler sorely lacks.
There are moments where you can optionally watch a scene between two characters having a conversation about current events, but it’s shown in a separate scene that like the rest of the game, feels very disjointed and isolated.
Speaking of isolation, the other characters in your party don’t even appear in the cut scenes shown during another character’s chapter! It totally breaks immersion and makes me feel like they’re just a bunch of unrelated character who just happen to be travelling together without a common purpose, hence why a proper story arc was needed to unite them.
The side quests in Octopath Traveler were probably my least favourite part of it. The game shows you clearly who can give you side quests, so naturally you make you way towards these individuals to receive them. Everything seems fine, you’ve spoken to them and they’ve told you their problems, starting you off on a fun bite-sized story.
The only problem is, once you’re ready to start, you’re given almost no information to go by. No waypoint markers, no actual objective, just nothing!
Some of the side-quests make it a little bit obvious, but most just leave me confused, and I have absolutely no idea what to do next. Most of the time I found myself looking online to see what I was supposed to do next which I hated to do!
For example, some side quests had you steal a particular item from a random NPC in another town across the other side of the world. How was I supposed to know that?! How am I supposed to focus on these side quests when you have ridiculous solutions like that?
The stories behind some of them were quite good, and some had multiple parts to them to continue in another town, but each one were so short they felt like they were over before they started.
On the plus side, the rewards were quite good, but it got to the point where I just stopped doing them altogether because I just wasn’t enjoying them.
Graphics and Music
In what is one of the most obvious highlights of Octopath Traveler, its 16-bit graphics are absolutely gorgeous! All textures, sprites, characters, etc, are designed in those beautiful 16-bit designs, but the environment has a 3D element to it and it visually just pops!
There’s different locations you’ll explore during the course of your adventures and each one looks amazing! The colours used, the musical score, and the views you’ll see all make this world come alive.
One of my favourite aspects of the visuals is the dream-like quality to it, kind of like a white light/blur that adds something special to the already gorgeous feast for you eyes.
The soundtrack is also pretty close to perfect, with beautiful music that suits the different locations and scenarios your character find themselves in.
On the topic of sound, Octopath Traveler actually contains voice acting, but only during specific cut-scenes. The voice acting is mostly good, but some of it can be sub-par. Despite this, it’s still nice to have it especially as it gives more personality to the characters.
The Turn-Based Combat System
The combat system in Octopath Traveler is similar to what you would expect in a game trying to replicate the old-school RPG genre. Each character will take it in turns of performing their action, whether it is to attack, heal, use item, or any of the other options available.
The main feature that separates this combat system to all the others is its ability to boost your characters skills. After each turn, you character will accrue BP which can be used to add extra attacks or boost the power of their spells/skills.
A similar feature was used in another SquareEnix game, Bravely Default, and was used to good effect here too. It’s a satisfying feature too, especially when you’ve saved up enough BP to unleash of flurry of attacks are completely destroy your enemy.
A very much appreciated feature is that the vulnerabilities for each enemy are shown right next to them. At first they’re hidden, but can be revealed once you’ve attacked the enemy with their associated vulnerability, or simply used Cyrus’ Analyze ability to reveal them. Not only does this cause more damage, but it contributes to ‘breaking’ them too.
Every enemy has a certain armour level (shown next to their vulnerabilities), and once you’ve exploited their weakness by the number shown, you’ll ‘break’ them and they become stunned for a turn, and also become much weaker to attacks.
This provides a whole new level of strategy and planning for combat where normally it was pretty straightforward for these type of games. Eventually characters can have secondary jobs in order to build your team further and give you more flexibility in battle.
In Octopath Traveler, you’ll have to decide carefully what to do in order to make the most of your turn. It makes each battle much more fun and challenging to take part in.
Octopath Traveler Review Summary
There is a lot that Octopath Traveler does well such as its combat and strategies, visuals, music and storylines. But the unique storytelling, which is meant to be what separates this game from the others, was one of its weaker features. The fact you realistically couldn’t continue each character’s chapter straight away because of the high level requirements meant you had to wait quite a while to continue it.
Octopath Traveler gives off this air of freedom and non-linearity, but it feels more restrictive than anything. Almost every chapter even plays out in a similar fashion which eventually becomes a little dull and repetitive.
It might seem like I’ve been harsh with this game, but I had such high hopes and expectations for it. It’s not a bad game by any means, but for a game that tries to be immersive, it simply felt like a ‘game’ rather than the ‘experience’ it should have been.