Octopath Traveler is an awkward game. From its structure to character abilities to overworld actions, nothing seems to work as well as it should. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from picking up this charming game that rises above its weirdness to be a solid JRPG entry for the Switch…at least at the opening.
The story of the game follows 8 separate characters as they travel the world trying to resolve their particular storylines. Players may choose the order in which they play the 8 characters, though the game seems to encourage playing through each character’s chapter before moving on to the next. I started as Cyrus, a noted scholar who discovers a taste for solving crimes and decides to head out into the world in search of a lost tome. I continued on to Ophelia, a priestess on a quest for her church, and H’aanit, a huntress in search for her former master. The order in which you select characters doesn’t appear to matter as they don’t interact and really just serve to fill out the battle party for whomever is the lead at that moment. For what I’ve read elsewhere, this continues throughout the story. The end result is that 8 characters will go on their life changing quests together while not acknowledging each other. Like I said earlier, the structure is awkward, but knowing that going in meant that it really didn’t bother me.
As for the actual stories themselves, their variety is currently their biggest strength. None of the characters is particularly compelling, but their narratives are unique enough and their stories are brief enough that none have worn out their welcome. Thus far Octopath Traveler has also avoided repeating the standard anime clichés which plague the genre and that alone gets this game major points. The dialogue and voice work are hit or miss with some voice actors clearly struggling with bad material (pro tip: if you don’t know Old English, don’t try to make it up). Overall, the characters are compelling enough to provide a reason to continue on, but aren’t super strong.
The clunkiness of the dialogue is ultimately overcome by the charm of the interactions with the world. Each character has a “path action” which lets them interact with NPCs in unique ways. My favorite path action by far is Cyrus’ Scrutinize which gives him insight into an NPC. This provides hidden stories, interesting side quests, town discounts, and free items all which make entering a new town feel special and fun. The path actions are also suitably awkward, such as beating up a village elder with Provoke for…uh…reasons, but they add depth and flavor to the game.
Once the story stops and it’s time for fighting, Octopath Traveler displays a delightfully robust battle system based on weaknesses and Bravely Default’s battles. Characters perform turn based actions which accrue them a single point each turn. These points are exchanged for an additional action allowing players to store points and unless a massive barrage of attacks. Meanwhile, enemies have weakness which are used to winnow down their defenses. Once their defenses are down, the player can do serious damage. These two systems create a tension whereby the player wants to break all of the enemies’ defenses in the same turn so they can unleash additional actions with their points. Add in the unique fighting styles of each character and this game has a ton of playstyle variety.
On top of the excellent combat is a unique and inviting visual style. Octopath Traveler combines 2D sprites with 3D maps reminiscent of old PSX games that were trying to make the graphics transition. The end result is a vibrant world that beautifully conveys its many environments. Even the standard forests and plains pop with detail and charm. The soundtrack isn’t quite as strong, but never hampers the mood.
I’m only 10 hours in to Octopath Traveler, but I’m excited for what comes next. This game has considerable potential and I look forward to exploring both its world and mechanics. At 10 hours, I can’t quite say that I know enough to recommend a buy, but I can say that it’s heading in that direction.