After wowing RPG fans on the Nintendo Switch early last year, Octopath Traveler has now made its way over to Steam to give PC gamers the chance to play through Square Enix’s impressive role-playing adventure. It bears all the hallmarks of what a traditional RPG should feel like too, so old-school purists should feel right at home; however, with its unique take on offering eight different stories and its versatile job system, there’s a heck of a lot more going on here than it may initially seem.
It’s not my typical approach to start a review off talking about a game’s visuals, but it’s one of the things I adore the most about Octopath Traveler so I have to get it out of my system. Basically, the game looks outstanding: it takes an old-school 16-bit sprite style but completely re-invents it by adding a 3D perspective. I’ve been a fan of Square Enix’s RPGs ever since the classics on the SNES, so to see a modern release capture the essence of what made those titles so special whilst taking a slick and contemporary approach was great. Add to that the fact that it’s got some standout sights to see across the world as well as some impressive character and enemy design, and it’s easy to see that Octopath Traveler is one of the finest presented RPGs around.
Octopath Traveler’s tale is pretty unique; you aren’t heading out on an adventure that’s mostly based around one hero’s quest to conquer evil or anything, but instead play out eight individual narrative arcs based around eight different heroes of multiple classes. Each tale is pretty unique too and sets the player on different escapades that are spread across the world, but you’ll get the opportunity to see them all to their conclusion. There is one thing that you’ll have direct control over though: the first character you choose to play as will act as what is essentially your ‘main character’ and stick with the party throughout following their opening chapter, so you’ll want to choose wisely.
It’s an undeniably unique approach and certainly helps Octopath Traveler stand out amongst other RPGs available right now, but it could be guilty of disconnecting the player at times. Whilst it ensures that each character’s tale feels more personal, having them split out across chapters (more on that in a bit) that you can’t necessarily go through in one go means that you’ll often see them unfold in a fragmented manner. It also detaches your party from one another too, especially given you’ve got the freedom to decide the order in which you recruit them – there’s less personality on show with their interactions, with each character’s tale feeling mostly just like THEIR adventure where no one else who is with them really matters. I’d be remiss not to mention that there is a conclusive ending to uncover once you’ve cleared each character’s story though, so there is a sense of fulfilment to be felt when you do eventually complete the game.
Each character’s narrative arc is broken down into chapters, with each chapter typically catering for specified character levels (gotta get that grind on) and only taking a couple of hours to complete. This approach encourages you to switch between each character’s stories on a regular basis, if only to make sure you’re never under-levelled for any challenges that come your way. With their balance of story progression, explorative elements, and dungeon crawling though, each chapter is always fun to play through. Sure, some character’s story arcs are more interesting than others, but the bite-size approach they adopt ensures they never feel overbearing.
One thing that makes each character’s chapters feel unique are their ‘Path Actions’: specific abilities that are tied to their class that allow you to interact with the world and NPCs in a variety of ways. Cyrus the Scholar can scrutinize NPCs to find out information for example, whilst Therion the Thief can actually steal their belongings. Olberic the Warrior is able to challenge NPCs to battle (a good way to grind XP might I add) on the other hand, whilst Primrose the Dancer can entice NPCs into joining her. These actions can allow you to approach the many side quests in a variety of ways, but they’ll also change up the game’s combat mechanics too – either way, they make bouncing between each character all the more interesting and give them all a unique vibe.
Speaking of combat, Octopath Traveler’s battling will probably feel pretty conventional to just about anyone who has played a classic RPG before. It is turn-based action that unfolds from a side-view, with both the player and the enemy taking it in turns to dish out attacks in order to defeat each other. The player’s characters will naturally have abilities that are best suited to their class, but there are a range of enemies that have different strengths and weaknesses too… it’s fairly straight-forward stuff. However, Octopath Traveler has two systems in place that really spice things up: ‘Break’ and ‘Boost’.
‘Break’ is based around enemy vulnerabilities, with your foes all typically weak to specific attacks and weapons. Like any weakness system in an RPG, hitting them with one of these will inflict more damage, but in Octopath Traveler each enemy also has a specific number attached to them which is represented by a shield. If you hit this amount of attacks on them that they’re vulnerable to, they’ll enter a ‘Break’ status that’ll not only cancel out their next turn but also make them more vulnerable than before. Not only is this a good way to deal out some BIG damage, but if you time it right you can also cancel out a potentially dangerous attack from some of the game’s nastier bosses – you’ve just got to be smart about it.
‘Boost’ on the other hand applies directly to your party, with each character gaining a boost-point each turn in combat provided they don’t use any boost-points on an action. What do the boost-points do, I hear you ask? Well, boost-points can buff up your abilities in the game, be it adding an additional attack to deal out, making a magic ability more powerful, or just granting you more health with a restorative spell. They essentially give you the chance to always have that ‘one more trick up your sleeve’, with the player having to carefully chose when to preserve their boost-points and when to spend them. It’s clever and when combined with the ‘Break’ system can add a whole new tactical edge to combat, which makes it more enjoyable in the process.
It’s a good job too, because some battles can drag out in Octopath Traveler – even the standard run of the mill ones you find in the wild. Enemies have a lot of HP and certainly put up a fight, so the fact that there is plenty of variety to be found in each battle and that there are a lot of opportunities for the player to be tactical ensures you’ll never grow tired of them.
As you complete battles you’ll earn job points that can be used to purchase skills tied to each character’s primary class. These skills are utilised in combat and don’t really link up to the ‘Path Actions’, but they do give you the chance to utilise character’s skillsets in more effective ways whether it be through new abilities or boosts to existing ones. You’ll eventually be able to unlock additional jobs for each character too though, which will allow you to combine classes and put together parties that are much more versatile in their approach to combat. It ensures your party is constantly improving, with their skillsets seemingly always expanding as you reach the peak of each one’s narrative arc.
Octopath Traveler is a truly unique RPG that doesn’t only blend together some fantastic ideas with its class-based approach and intuitive combat mechanics, but also looks absolutely stunning throughout too. The only area where it really falters is with the multiple arcs of its narrative, but even that can be intriguing if you can look past its sense of detachment it sometimes brings.
It’s just a very, VERY good game and one that RPG fans simply will not want to miss out on. It might not hit the nail on the head in all aspects of its design, but when Octopath Traveler does something right, it does it brilliantly.
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch