Project Octopath Traveler: Early Impressions

Image From Kotaku

At Nintendo’s most recent Direct presentation, Square Enix gave Nintendo enthusiasts an in-depth look at their new Switch-exclusive RPG, which is currently titled Project Octopath Traveler. RPGs tend to be a niche genre within gaming, however, so Square Enix followed up on their presentation by making a demo of the game available immediately, allowing players to get a sense of the game’s atmosphere and mechanics while netting them some valuable feedback.

I’m a huge RPG fan, and while recent schedule complications have limited my gaming time, I managed to squeeze in a complete playthrough for one of the demo’s available characters (the dancer Primrose), and I can confirm that Octopath Traveler contains all of the usual RPG goodness with a couple of new interesting mechanics that forced me to alter my usual hack-and-slash approach to rise to the challenge. My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • Despite only being a short demo, this game might already be the darkest one I’ve played in a long time. You start the demo working as a dancer/sex slave for a sleazy tavern owner/human trafficker, and the game isn’t shy about alluding to a) the lewd acts your character has had to perform, and b) the less-than-humane treatment you receive. For a Nintendo-centric gamer like me who is used to kid-friendly worlds of Mario, Zelda, and the like, this game’s candor about topics like oral sex came was kind of shocking, but the game struck a good balance between raising some weighty issues for the player to think about while not detracting from the overall gameplay. (If you let a young child play this game, however, be ready for some hard, slightly-uncomfortable questions afterwards.)
  • The character design here is excellent. Primrose’s compelling backstory and unbreakable will make her a very sympathetic character, and the voice acting is well-done and adds a lot of weight and emotion to the dialogue. The game also deserves special props for its villain design, whose sleazy, exploitative behavior and callous, self-serving attitudes engender the sort of visceral anger that Bowser could never dream of. (During the scene pictured above, I distinctly remember thinking “You SOB, if I had a Splat Roller right now I’d shove it so far up your you-know-what you could taste the ink!” DJ Octavio never got a reaction like that!)
  • The “HD-2D” art style is as gorgeous as advertised, with the towns and environments popping despite their drab color schemes. The developers may have been too clever by half with their dungeon lighting, however: I get that imitating the limited light of a torch is more realistic and sets a better mood for the scene, but I’d rather just be able to see where I was going, thank you very much.
  • The combat is turn-based and features mostly what you’d expect from an RPG, but the Boost and Break mechanics really change up your typical battle strategy. You’re encouraged to probe enemies with different types of attacks until you discover a weak point, and hammer on that until they ‘break’ and are stunned, at which point you burn your accumulated Boost points to unleash your most devastating attacks. The final boss of Primrose’s demo forced me to consider a wide range of strategies: How long do I wait before using Boost points?Do I want to increase my attack right before I break an enemy? Am I better off using Boost points to increase my attack damage, or just use them all for multiple attacks? It was a nice change of pace from the usual ‘smash it until it dies’ RPG strategy, and did a lot to spice up the combat.
  • To be honest, the main characters’ unique out-of-battles abilities are a bit overhyped. Yes, in theory you could use Primrose’s “Allure” ability on any NPC, but for most of them Primrose would just shrug and say it didn’t do anything. After a while, I decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble of trying. Hopefully the developers flesh this mechanic out a bit more in the full game.

Overall, I am really excited for this game, despite the fact that it won’t be coming out until sometime next year. (Something tells me that Super Mario Odyssey will be more than enough to fill this time.) I’ve been looking for a new RPG to immerse myself in even since I finished Paper Mario: Color Splash, and Project Octopath Traveler looks like it would fit the bill perfectly.