Monthly Archives: July 2018

Review – The First 10 Hours of Octopath Travelor

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.

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Review – The First 20 Hours of Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a JRPG attempt at reviving an old comic book franchise that was popular early in the century.  While it probably won’t scratch the itch of Battle Chasers fans who want more content, it does competently put together a solid battle system and intriguing dungeons.  There’s fun to be had here.  For more, continue on.

The story begins with five intrepid adventurers searching for an island full of mana when their airship is attacked by bandits.  The party is divided and must explore the new land to reunite with their comrades and discover a mysterious plot hatching in this unknown land.  This could be generic launching point for a greater story, but Battle Chasers: Nightwar doesn’t seem interested in its narrative.  When it bothers to spend any time on story or characters (cutscenes are sparse), it’s largely to point the player towards the next quest.  No character, plot, or location gets much attention and the narrative feels less like a licensed property and more like a fig leaf to give the barest excuse to move on.  While I don’t know much about the Battle Chasers world, I have to imagine there is more to it than what this game shows.  Fans of the property probably won’t find their fix here.

Fortunately, the rest of the game is well constructed.  The turn-based battle system harkens back to golden age JRPGs with some interesting, though hardly mind bending, changes.  In addition to the standard special attacks and leveling up, Nightwar adds overcharge and perks.  Overcharge adds a temporary mana bar that is accrued by using basic attacks and only lasts for the duration of the battle.  Combined with the game’s tight item management and expensive spells, overcharge creates a welcome tension wherein the player must decide if waiting for overcharge is worth the time it takes to accrue.  In addition to overcharge, Nightwar includes perks.  Perks are swappable benefits which the player can use to customize characters for specific play styles.  Combined, the two systems provide enough variation to the standard JRPG format.

The real star of the battle system is how fine-tuned it is.  All but the lowest level battles require smart planning and attention to detail.  The long dungeons and restricted healing options reward smart resource management in a way that feels well balanced rather than punitive.  The only real chink in the battle system’s armor is Nightwar’s stingy economy.  The player can either find weapons or buy gear, but both take a miserly approach that can mean that a character won’t have needed equipment.  Loot drops can contain powerful items, but are too sparse to ensure that every character has what they need.  Rather than allow the player to buy missing equipment easily, Nightwar’s expensive economy ensures that the player will only have funds for an item or two rather than kitting out their party.  With a bad run of loot drops, characters won’t have the equipment they need and can be underpowered for fights.

There’s a little more to be said about Nightwar (it’s got a nice art style, for one), but the overarching message is that this is a competently executed game for gamers who like good battle systems and don’t care much about plot.  It’s possible that my abbreviated time with the game meant that I missed some amazing plot development later on, but the general tone and direction of the narrative suggests that’s not the case.  Some will view this as a worthwhile purchase at full price, but I’d say wait for a sale.

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