From The Beginning
Due to its relative lack of memorable advertisement, Square Enix’s new title, Octopath Traveler, flew under the radar for most until about a month prior to its release when it was covered more thoroughly at E3. Despite its sparse marketing, Octopath Traveler’s release was met with critical acclaim and glowing reviews from both players and critics alike; and for good reason. The game takes elements from beloved early 16-bit JRPG games, like Chrono Trigger or early Final Fantasy games, but also flavors it with aspects of modern RPGs. The result is a game that is saturated with nostalgia, but one that also provides the mystique of that first time you embark on an adventure. The true beauty of it all is that you get the same experience coming back to the game time and time again.
The Many Faces of Adventure
Octopath Traveler is very much a story-driven experience that sees the player starting from humble beginnings, struggling their way through their first encounters and, eventually, traversing the world and meeting its inhabitants. To anyone who has played an RPG this is not a new formula. Where the game really shines, however, is in its characters. Octopath Traveler lets you start out playing one of its eight characters, each of which is beneficial in its own right. Whats more, each of these characters has their own storyline; their own path to follow so you are not stuck slogging through the same story each time you want to try a new character. Regardless of which role you choose to start with, it is more than likely you will run into other members of the group as you journey across the land seeking your destiny. This is where the true experience begins.
Right out the gate Octopath Traveler gives you plenty of options, but as you progress through the game these options seem to become exponentially more abundant. Each character has got their own set of skills to develop but, even if a character’s move set does not fit your own specific playstyle you are free to alter who is in your party and what skills you have access to. In fact, I found that some of the most rewarding combat I experienced while playing was due to experimentation and trying new combinations. For example, I was initially reluctant to play as a character like the merchant, who didn’t seem as thrilling an option as others, but I soon found myself falling in love with her abilities to use items without actually consuming them or drop some coin mid-battle to have some hired help join the fray. I quickly learned that Octopath Traveler allows you to have meaningful encounters regardless of whether you are playing solo or with a party of four of the most obscure classes in the game. There was always an adventure to be had.
The Octopath Experience
From its beautiful and expansive map to its deep and well-thought-out character development Octopath Traveler continues to dish out fresh experiences throughout its entirety. It’s use of three-dimensional movement within a two-dimensional world is a surprisingly pleasant experience. The way the environment interacts with the player character as they move through the 16-bit landscape or the way weather patterns change as you move across the map is unusually surreal. Add realistic sound effects and a phenomenal soundtrack and it makes the comparatively pixelated world feel even closer to reality than many modern RPG games.
Octopath Traveler also has a unique way of dragging itself out without it becoming overly taxing, essentially giving you more for the time you put into it. Combat, rather than being streamlined to get through things quickly and allowing for rapid successive fights, has been slowed down significantly, with many fights later in the game feeling more like a tabletop RPG encounter. While this may sound uninviting to some, this slowed pace in no way means boring combat. If anything, it allows for more thought out encounters, really pressing the player to think about the best way to drop an enemy’s shield or utilize their weaknesses to finish a combat with as little repercussion as possible.
The game’s storytelling seems to have been elongated a bit as well. Fortunately, the in-game dialogue is often very engaging and I genuinely found myself invested in what was happening throughout the duration of a character’s progression path. However, there were cutscenes with enough dialogue that they sometimes felt like a bit of a chore to get through and the script felt a bit corny at points, but once getting through these parts it was right back to the adventure and did not ruin the experience in any way.
Octopath Traveler is a fresh take on an age-old and beloved gameplay format and a way to introduce a rising generation to what, for many, was the pinnacle of the gaming experience for a time. It’s stunning visuals, beautiful sound effects and music, and deep storytelling experience may not entirely redefine the genre, but certainly help to invigorate a genre that has been lacking a bit in recent years. After dozens of hours of gameplay Octopath Traveler continues to give you reasons to come back; whether to play through the story of a new character, explore an uncharted region for the chance at loot of powerful new skills, or to take on the seemingly endless amount of optional side objectives. It truly is an experience that keeps on giving.