First Impressions: Octopath Traveler

By: Mithrandiel

So, you know how I Am Setsuna was hyped to no end with its Chrono Trigger throwbacks and pixel art, but proceeded to sputter and fail to achieve expectations with an overly predictive plot and combat that had excessive mechanics for the sake of having mechanics? Right, me neither.

Anyways, Square Enix (NOT Tokyo RPG Factory) appears to be wanting to remedy that previous debacle with the development of a new title in a similar vein called Octopath Traveler. The demo landed on the Nintendo Switch about 6 weeks ago, but seeing as how I didn’t have a switch until a few weeks ago, and have spent more of my time than I’d care to admit playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Axiom Verge, and Azure Striker Gunvolt, I hope you’ll forgive me for this oversight.

In any case, I’m certainly glad I stumbled across this demo because it has got me hyped for that 16-bit era RPG experience like few titles have in recent memory. The general premise is that there are eight different characters that you can choose to play as (thus, Octo-path) within a large and vibrant world. Some of these characters interact and assist one another, others might be elements of another’s story. In addition to their own unique narratives and fighting styles, they also have a special “skill” that allows them to interact and impact their world in a specific way. Within the demo you can control either the dancer Primrose, or the brave knight Olberic. Primrose has the option to use “Allure” on random townsfolk, leading friendly forces away from danger, or enemies into a trap. Olberic has the option of challenging random folks to a duel – because nothing tells you the truth of a man better than crossing blades, eh?

The other 6 characters, when they’re eventually revealed, will all have similar abilities that make their story and interactions within the world dynamic and interesting.

Besides the beautiful “HD-2D” pixel art and sprite design, the combat is certainly a close second when it comes to the best feature of the demo. Enemies possess a certain number of “shield points”, which can be worn down by exploiting their weaknesses. Once whittled down, the enemy “breaks”, delaying their turn and stunning them for a round. Furthermore, as turns pass and you successfully exploit enemy weaknesses you earn Boost points, which can increase the potency of your attacks and abilities up to 5 times. The early fights were reminiscent of Xenogears, with your suped-up boost attacks being reminiscent to Xenogears AP-based combo system.

The combat works really well for two reasons: first, the mechanics are simple to execute. There’s no timed button-strikes, and the boost mechanic is extremely easy to implement. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the more “advanced” techniques are not required, but strategy is handsomely rewarded. Sure, you could face roll through combat – but you may find yourself burning through healing items and being unprepared for the final encounter after a grueling dungeon crawl. Meanwhile, utilizing the more strategic elements means stun-locking your opponents, or at least eliminating lesser threats while you focus on larger enemies. I’m sure as the game progresses the satisfaction of layering shield-breaks with boosts and enhancement spells will provide some thoroughly satisfying RPG combat.

There appears to be a healthy inventory and equipment system, which I’m always a sucker for. When your character only has 4 slots for equipment I’m always a bit disappointed – so to see not only multiple slots for weapons, but also a full assortment of body armor and accessory options, it makes me look forward to exploring dungeons and finding some sweet loot as I explore the larger world.

Also – the music…

Seriously, the music is thoroughly satisfying for fans of all ages – whether you recall the golden age of SNES RPGs or not. From atmospheric songs that set the scene for dingy dungeons, to soaring orchestral pieces that communicate complex emotions including betrayal, loss, heartbreak and more, the OST is impressive all around. Furthermore, there’s some fantastic voice acting in the demo as well – seeing it implemented in a retro-styled RPG like this is interesting, but just adds to my excitement of seeing a game designed with the 16-bit era in mind, with the benefit of today’s technology for graphics and sound.

Overall, Octopath Traveler looks like it’s going to be a fantastic RPG experience. I’m definitely looking forward to  its release next year, and if you haven’t downloaded the demo yet – do yourself a favor and pick it up!

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