Sometimes good things really do come to those who wait.
In my last post on Octopath Traveler, I stumbled into a number of issues that made me question the game’s long-term viability. Would the repetitive nature of the chapters become tiresome over time? Would the linear feel of the environments frustrate players looking to explore? Would the slow drip of experience and job points make grinding even more aggravating than usual? And would the “unique” characters end up all feeling the same in the end?
When the official reviews came out, however, one major theme emerged: Yes, thing do get better over time. Thankfully, after sinking about fifteen hours into the game myself, I can confirm that this is in fact the case.
First though, let’s talk about the game’s atmosphere. I’ve heard a fair amount of complaining about OT‘s pixelated art style, and frankly, I think the complaints are a crock. The style was chosen specifically to honor the great role-playing games of the 8- and 16-bit eras (and to avoid any questions about whether the Switch had to horsepower to support the visuals), and it does just that, bringing to mind some the late-SNES-era classics like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. Those games, however, never had incredible lighting and water effects like Octopath Traveler does, and the characters look and feel a lot more expressive in their interactions than anyone on the SNES. (Heck, I’d go as far as saying even the Final Fantasy VII characters feel a bit wooden in comparison to OT.) The music is also sensational, always setting the perfect mood for the situation and environment. The more I played Octopath Traveler, the more engrossed I became in the world, and that’s exactly what you want out of an RPG.
But what about the linearity of the world design? While this is the case through most of the game’s opener, the few second-chapter areas I stumbled into really opened things up and allowed for some proper exploring and appreciation of the visuals. I can’t say whether this becomes a wider trend as time goes on, but I’m hopeful that it will.
Despite the formulaic framework of each character’s first chapter, I found myself looking forward to seeing how each PC got swept up into the adventure. Primrose’s exceptionally-dark tale turned out to be the exception rather than the rule, as most of the initial tasks focused on rescues and retrievals. With the exception of Therion’s tale (why exactly are we helping him break into a house again?), these origin stories felt genuine and occasionally touching, even if some of them were a bit boilerplate. I’m still sad that the job actions aren’t more unique, however, as character-switching is made fairly easy for you and you never felt like you were blocked from completing quests if you didn’t have the right ability immediately on hand. Still, even if characters felt a bit too similar at times, each one has enough personality to stand out from the rest of the team.
The combat system also grew on me, mostly because the game’s developers implemented a sliding difficulty scale that kicked up the challenge (and thus the rewards) for combat. As you accumulated more characters, the game slowly dialed up the strength of your opponents, tossing more and stronger enemies at you and beefing up the boss fights. The rewards for excellence in combat (more money/EXP/job points) also helped a lot as well, as they motivated me to develop better strategies to knock out enemies more quickly (even if said strategy sometimes boiled down to “Cyrus, do me a solid and just fry them all, would you?”). While I would have liked to see the game ramp up its difficulty a bit quicker (my first few characters were really OP by the last few intro chapters), there was a sizable level boundary outside the circle of first chapters that you could cross if you were really looking for a fight.
I still have mixed feelings about the job point system, but I do appreciate the level of customization the game gives to the players. Players are not restricted to getting certain skills at specific times, and can pick and choose which skills they want (or don’t want) in any order they choose. This is fine, but I found it a bit awkward to manage, and would just simply forget about the JP system for long stretches of playtime. I did like the secondary job options, however, as they allow you to take a Pokémon approach to party-building and alter your characters to optimize their type coverage…as long as you find the right shrines.
All in all, I can see why Octopath Traveler is selling like hotcakes, as it’s a solid take on a classic genre and fills the Final Fantasy-sized hole that Nintendo fans have been looking to plug since the 16-bit era. There’s a lot to like about this game, and not only would I call it a must-buy for Switch-owning RPG fans, but even players who aren’t on the role-playing game wagon should give the demo a shot, as its slow difficulty curve makes it a nice introduction to the genre. Personally, given the meager number of games I’m interested in this year, I’d say OT has a really good chance of claiming my ‘Game of the Year’ award for 2018.