You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:
Perhaps the most significant curiosity about the game is the premise itself—a world of disconnected travelers each with a tale to tell. Featuring eight intentionally unique characters, each with four story chapters, you have at face value a lengthy but largely broken-up adventure. With no clear overarching plot in the beginning, it’s easy to look at this as a mere collection of stunted narratives, a game of systematic progression repeated eight times. Octopath goes a long way in trying to avoid this without necessarily enforcing you play through it in one way or another. The game begins with you picking a character to use as your party’s leader, and subsequently playing through their first chapter. After that, you are free to explore the world and play through another character’s first chapter, or go onto your character’s second chapter. The catch is in the scaling of difficulty; if you wish to go straight into chapter two, you will need to train around 20 levels. Conversely, should you wish to go into another character’s first chapter, you’ll find the game far more forgiving, the recommended level much closer to what you will likely be. It’s interesting to observe the idea of freedom present here.
Octopath sets itself up to give you control of how you play; it holds nothing back for those eager to venture beyond warning signs and danger levels. If you felt particularly adventurous, you could explore the entire continent and add each city to your fast travel list before so much as meeting a second character. The game would do its best to stop such an endeavour with powerful monsters littering paths to far-away cities, but with patience and luck, as well as an absence of true walls to stop you, you would eventually break through and find success. Such freedom is something I find myself fond of seeing, but its true strength lies in conjunction with the structured experience you are choosing to avoid; the knowledge there is something brilliant waiting for you beyond your procrastination.
As mentioned, each character has a four-part storyline that each lasted me around 90 minutes. Running on this metric alone, you have 48 hours of oddly engaging and interesting content, and delightful voice acting. Of the JRPGs I’ve found myself playing, the storytelling in Octopath is quite simply different. It feels as though you are experiencing the world for all its virtues, not just moving from town to town until you defeat the great evil threatening the world. With side-quests in particular relying on you utilising the entirety of your party to their fullest extent, you find yourself talking to everybody, stealing from everybody, alluring, and guiding everybody. It’s brilliantly addicting, the way the game is laid out allowing for side-quests to give you less information than one might be accustomed to because you’re made to feel a part of the world. It’s not to say there aren’t dark forces lurking later into their stories, but it’s how the game portrays both small evils and grand evils in the same larger than life light I found the most joy in. It portrays an unexpected combat butler in the same manner as an otherworldly guardian, with both encounters finding equal difficulty and sense of intimidation. The buildup to each chapter’s conclusion varies from suspenseful shock encounter to a feeling of them throwing an enemy into the mix for the sake of rounding it off with a bang, but both scenarios carried some merit. Even where some bosses felt somewhat forced, the battle would feel grand and the wind-down after beating them would be consistently well-executed.
While much of the game remains detached as individual tales, Octopath rewards you for keeping a full party of travellers with its travel banter. At set points during a chapter, a notification appears alerting you of snippets of dialogue reacting or discussion recent events. These can range from a disconcerting sigh to reaffirming smaller character details mentioned in passing, and do a good job in giving your full party relevance outside of their own chapters. If I had to fault this system, it would be its lack of communication I put a harsh light on. With one piece of dialogue at an undisclosed part of each chapter for every character, and your party only able to accommodate three of your seven teammates, you have an incredible amount of trial and error if wanting to see everything. If you’re a completionist in this sense, I implore you to seek out a guide. It simply isn’t worth the aimless wandering.
Octopath Traveler works incredibly well in its storytelling as a whole, but cracks start to show when looking at each character’s motivations to function with the rest of the group. While it makes for a fuller and more diverse JRPG experience to have an interesting party of unique characters, none of them present any kind of reason to want to work with others; one of the character’s early plot points boldly stating how he doesn’t work with other people after a past incident. The benefits of this definitely outweigh the character inconsistencies, but it really does hammer home how much of an afterthought the interaction between characters was, and similarly, how the larger tale tying their fates together felt weak in comparison to the individual stories.
An Unreal JRPG
Though the eight paths stood out to me when playing, they weren’t what had me looking at Octopath in the first place. From so much as its first trailer, still titled Project OCTOPATH TRAVELER, it was the refreshing use of Unreal Engine 4 that turned my head. Flawlessly blending effects onto 2D sprites in an almost papercraft 3D environment lifted the game far beyond what it could have been as either a traditional 2D, or a modern 3D, JRPG. It felt like Square Enix were wanting to call back a sense of nostalgia from their older playerbase without forcing the game into a dated set of tropes and graphical cliches.
I’m glad to see the final game stay true to the wondrous first impression it gave off. With my playthrough using both docked and handheld mode, I noticed the sprites look slightly less crisp when portable, but it’s a minor criticism when compared to the still-striking visuals. Though something I’m not often fond of doing, there is a trove of screenshots below to give an idea of how the game looks. Whether it’s something for you is a matter of preference, but it left me in awe even as I was deep into the game.
Brave by Default
Octopath Traveler’s battle system features familiar JRPG elements thrust together. You have your standard turn-based action, blended with Bravely Default’s BP system to boost power to attacks using points that charge each turn, and a range of weapon types and elements, where each enemy has set weaknesses to these attacks. While it seems basic on the surface, the BP system in conjunction with the twelve job classes and their associated skills allows for diverse teambuilding and in turn, battles that feel entirely different depending on party composition. The depth here surprised me. It has what a traditional JRPG player is looking for with your warrior and mage classes, and their associated strengths and weaknesses, and there was some fun in that for me, but where I really started enjoying myself was in the niche options available. My favourite of these was to make use of the dancer, Primrose, and her skill Bewildering Grace. This skill changes the way battles play out; no longer do you have planned and coordinated attacks focusing on targeting your enemies’ weaknesses. In its place? An RNG fest where anything could happen. My team revolved around passing BP to Primrose and letting her use fully-charged Bewildering Graces as much as possible, preparing for and dealing with the negative effects as they came. Sometimes my party was poisoned, sometimes members of my party were instantly KO’d, sometimes the squad of enemies I was facing got fully healed. It all became part of the fun for me. I understand this isn’t how a lot of people would want to play a JRPG, or any game for that matter, but it’s a fantastic example of just how personal you can make your experience.
For those wanting to just build a party and play with your favourite characters, the ability to take on a second job lets you do just that. You have a chance to cover your weaknesses without being forced into using characters you dislike; if you want to use them later, you can just swap them in. With characters being able to swap their secondary job on the fly, you can also change your party composition for the area you’re currently in and adapt in the field if you constantly want to be hitting enemies with weapons they’re weak against. Everything about Octopath Traveler screams to craft your own adventure. There are eight stories to be told, but they’re stories to be told at your own pace and as you want them to be, in a world you’re free to explore. It is a tale yet unwritten of experiences yet to happen, a game that is as much as you make of it, and one I struggle not to recommend to any fan of JRPGs. The world of Orsterra is waiting.