Retro throwbacks rarely go for the mix of 2D sprites and low-resolution 3D models in the mid-90s. Still, Octopath Traveler is a game that manages to faithfully recreate the aesthetic as well as add it in subtle yet meaningful ways. It’s a great look, one that will take you out into the world and delight you with small artistic details that bring something magical to otherwise simple environments. Both enemies and bosses are richly drawn, despite the limitations of the game’s intentional low-res aesthetic. This is our Octopath Traveler Review.
Octopath Traveler Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, Windows
- Developer: Square Enix, Acquire, SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.
- Publisher: Nintendo, Square Enix, SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.
- Genres: Role-playing game
- Release Date: July 13, 2018
Octopath Traveler Review: Gameplay
Enjoying Octopath’s dreamy, diorama-Esque look will please you for a while, as will the combat system, which implements a few small innovations to revive the otherwise traditional turn-based mechanics. However, what may surprise you, in the end, is the story – a collection of eight short stories, each of which is divided into four chapters of increasing difficulty. After choosing a protagonist at the start of the game, gather allies by traveling to their icons on a map.
This approach is feasible in theory, but Octopath struggles with weaving interesting stories despite the full range of personalities behind it. You get an intro, a spirited launch of a quest, a revealing investigation of people, places, and then a conclusion, with each chapter lasting about an hour or two with much drawn-out dialogue. Combined with vastly varying English voice actors, it’s all too easy to want to reach for the skip button when a story sequence ends slowly.
At these moments, everyone, except the relevant character, is relegated to a backseat companion, wholly hidden from view. The only time your team will act out of battle as such is on rare occasions when you get a teasing notification, which allows for a brief discussion between a few characters depending on who’s in your party. It is no doubt disappointing to report that Octopath’s stories are more or less one wax, but that doesn’t mean the world is less intriguing in itself.
On the contrary, it’s always refreshing to see how much care has gone into working out everyday NPCs, many of whom have a quirky background that surpasses some of the more mundane main characters. Side quests allow you to know these personalities a bit further than usual. Still, there’s enough variety and colorful writing to make fly-by introductions worthwhile when you move to a new territory. The cities of Octopath are full of excuses to look twice at the unsung heroes and villains calling your resting places home.
NPCs include other smart interactive touches that appeal to your characters’ strengths. Just as you would inquire about backstories, you can steal possessions, entice them to follow and help your crew in battle, or engage them amid the city – just a few of your options. Some of these actions carry a chance of success, and repeated failure of a particular town can temporarily undermine your reputation, preventing further attempts until you pay the local bartender to spread positive gossip about you to their customers.
Without a broad goal of sending your party across the world map, you will instead be guided by icons telling you where to pick up the next chapter for a specific character and what level your party should be for random encounters with beasts and robbers to survive. The starting stops circle a large body of water in the middle, with each round of chapters shifting slightly outward to the edge of the map.
The procession of events and markings is measured in such a way that it provides natural progress in each character’s adventure. Keep the logical order, and you may never have to grind for an experience if you avoid fast travel to previously visited locations. To activate a chapter, you need a relevant character in your group. Still, even if you don’t cycle the members of the group regularly enough to keep them up to date by the time they are called up, you can wear coarsely undersized.
It’s one of the many reasons the Octopath’s combat system feels so fresh: it’s all about hitting the enemy instead of how hard the hit lands. Enemies in Octopath are vulnerable to at least one element or weapon type, and most are exposed to three or more. A grid under their sprite in battle automatically tells you how many vulnerabilities they have, but it’s up to you to discover the details by hitting them with everything you have.
When you succeed with a relevant spell or weapon, an icon fills in space on the grid, giving you a clear overview of what to do during the fight and in future encounters. With such tactics in mind, your goal is to break through your enemy’s defenses by hitting them enough times with active attacks to destroy their shield. Once broken, an enemy loses their next turn and remains in a very fragile state where attacks hurt him a little more than usual.
The other important part of the battle is the battle point system. Battle points act as additional swings of a weapon in turn or as a means to perform magical attacks. Each character will get one BP per turn added to their slate, as long as they don’t spend BP, which will slow down the build process by an extra turn. In most cases, saving BP is a beneficial way to wear out an enemy’s shield with one character in one turn. But once an enemy is broken, BP is used to amplify some attacks during that chance.
The concept of breaking enemies is paramount during boss fights, long issues that test your ability to stay focused on your resources, the order of characters, and unexpected dangers such as coordinated attacks on your party that can insta-kill characters when you least expect it. As you fight around the level of experience Octopath suggests for these battles, you will find yourself testing your ability to stay organized and focused for 30 minutes.
Common enemies are also enormous challenges, but those fights go much faster, and you get more opportunities to use your different skills for fun, instead of meeting the punishing demands of unbearable bosses. Your battle party is as good as you make them, meaning you not only earn enough experience points to level up, enhance, and learn new skills but also coordinate individual skills to diversify your options while attacking your most effective to double.
Each of the eight characters begins with a separate task, and as you explore the world, discover shrines that also allow you to assign a secondary job – each secondary task is limited to one character at a time. Managing two jobs and equipping passive support abilities evokes RPG like Final Fantasy Tactics. Still, unlike such games that generally give you a free hand to fill your party with overwhelming task configurations, Octopath cleverly limits your options to avoid that you break the system.
You will undoubtedly prefer specific jobs over others, but some of the most valuable skills are more connected to characters than to their assignments. H’annit, the hunter, has the unique ability to catch enemies that can be summoned a limited number of times during future battles. At the same time, Alfyn, the pharmacist, can make medicine mid-battle by synthesizing, for example, ointments with consumable ingredients.
Between these unique character skills and the variety of jobs at, your party will regularly transform to meet the demands of bosses and particularly picky types of enemies. This constant search for new strategies leads to a tremendous variety of experiences and achievements by the time you reach the end of Octopath.
Octopath Traveler Review: Conclusion
Despite the bland stories that pull you through the world, Octopath thrives through his character progression and the excitement of high-level challenges and rewards. The promise of new jobs, exciting boss battles, and powerful gear will inspire you to snoop around every corner, and there’s no shortage of discoveries to aim for. And all the while, you’re treated to one of the most exciting and compelling portrayals of a retro aesthetic around. Octopath will likely be a divisive one for its broken stories, but it’s worth playing despite its lesser qualities.
Octopath Traveler is a game that manages to faithfully recreate the aesthetic as well as add it in subtle yet meaningful ways.