Review: Octopath Traveler (Switch) - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review: Octopath Traveler (Switch)

by Michael Brandse

Come for good old fashioned JRPG gameplay. Stay for the sexy battle music.

Warning: this review contains some spoilers about events early in the game. 

Back when the Switch was first revealed and the initial game line-up was announced, there was one game that rather stood out from the pack. Sporting a visual style that harkened back to the days of the Super Nintendo, but all rendered with all the modern visual flair, I know that I at least had my eyes on Octopath Traveller from that moment onwards. About one and a half year later, the game has finally come out. Was it worth the wait?
First of all, the game is drop-dead gorgeous. Using a retro style is nothing new, especially since it’s the style of choice for many indie game developers. Where Octopath Traveller distinguishes itself from the rest however, is that they applied this pixel art on a fully realized 3D world. What you get is an absolutely stunning combination of the best of the pixel art of yore and the best of modern techniques.
Like any traditional JRPG, you will be spending a lot of time in battle. It’s a good thing then that Octopath Traveller’s battle system is amazing. It skillfully uses two very simple mechanics. The first mechanic is that your characters can boost. If you have enough boost points, you can use them to unleash a barrage of attacks or up your special skill potency. The second mechanic is that you can break your opponent’s defense. Every enemy has a number of weak points and to break their defenses, you have to hit the enemy’s weak points a certain number of times. Break the enemy and they will be left open for massive damage. This means that a major part of your strategy will be when to break which enemy to maximize damage output, while balancing your boost points. Plan badly, and you may leave yourself open to massive damage.

Make no mistake; enemies in this game can hit hard. While the game is by no means the most difficult game I have played, it is no slouch either. Fortunately, the game communicates well what level they expect you to have in each area you visit. Despite that the game will still sometimes throw you a nasty curve ball, and you will find your entire team one-shotted even if your level is at the recommended level. Every character has their own unique class with its own unique skills. While some classes are more useful than the others, overall every class has its uses. Additionally, after clearing the initial chapters, you will also become able to find job classes, enabling each of your characters to equip a secondary job allowing for some customization to really start hitting those weak points. It should be noted for those who hate it; this game has moments in which you have to grind. I found the amount of grind tolerable, but some people may be less forgiving than I am.
Outside of battle, an important part of Octopath Traveller is the interactions between the NPCs in the world and the main characters, by a system they have called path actions. Every character has their own unique action. One character can challenge NPCs to battle, another can steal from them, and so on. It’s a ton of fun to use these path actions and they also play a major role in clearing the game’s many sub quests and main quests. I found myself looking forward to each new town to see what kind of stuff they had waiting for me.
Story wise, the game is not like your average JRPG. Whereas JRPGs generally draw you into a massive world and tend to make the stakes about something fantastical, Octopath Traveller is more about the individual. The game has eight characters and each character has their own unique story taking place all over the world of the game. I believe this is one of the strengths of Octopath Traveller. For instance, you are no longer trying to destroy an almighty ancient evil, but you are trying to clear your name because someone duped you early on in the story. While the individual stories are interesting, don’t expect any overlap between them though. There is some story banter between team mates you can listen to during main missions, but that’s all the overlap you can expect. The only downside to the narrative are the characters themselves. They may team up, but they seem to do so in a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” kind of deal. This creates some obvious clashes between character personalities that the game just completely ignores. For instance, you can duel an old man with the honorable knight Obleric, pound him to mush, thank him for the opportunity and then rob his wife blind with the thief Therion. It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t make much sense that Obleric would just allow Therion to do that.

Finally, the music is downright amazing. While town themes and over world themes are pleasant enough, I found myself falling in love with the fantastic battle music! Octopath Traveller truly has some rocking tunes and made me remember why it was battle music that I looked forward to the most when playing JRPGs. It also shows how much care went into making this game. For instance, when encountering a boss each character has its own introduction theme, which then blends seamlessly into the boss theme giving already awesome music a bit of individual flair. It’s great.  
While I could go on and on about this game, I will stop here. If you have any love for old school JRPGs or have any love for pixel art, you owe it to yourself to get this game. It’s a great addition to the Switch game library and can proudly present itself next to the other greats of the system. Now, if you will excuse me, I will find those sexy battle themes, put them on repeat and listen to them forever! 

Final Score 9.0

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