Welcome to my first gaming review on this blog! Since my preferred genre is JRPG, most reviews are going to be split into First Impressions, which cover the first ten or so hours of a game, then a full review for after I beat it. But in the case of Octopath Traveler for Nintendo Switch, I’ve actually been whittling it down since I started playing it last year, and while I haven’t beaten the postgame content, I at least beat all eight campaigns. I doubt that the postgame will make me change my thoughts on the entire game as a whole, so I think I can review it now.
I’ll start with the thing that probably compelled you to think of buying the game: the BEEEEEEEYOOOOOTEEEEEEFUUUUUUL graphics. I’m not someone who plays games for graphics, but I cannot deny how visually appealing this game is. Octopath Traveler combines pixel art straight out of an indie game with the production value of a triple A game to make for a unique artstyle. It is a very melancholy and atmospheric game, filled with quaint areas that you’d need all one thousand of Kannon’s hands just to count the amount of places to sleep in.
Next, let’s discuss the premise of Octopath, which is sadly my least favorite aspect of the game. As alluded to in the title of the game, the story consists of eight, four-chapter-long campaigns, each starring one of the eight party members. Unlike a lot of JRPGs that are more grandiose and escalate to insane levels, Octopath is sort of a slice-of-life JRPG for its eight campaigns. Instead of saving the world from A GOD, the characters all go on their own journeys of self-discovery. I can at least respect Octopath from a thematic standpoint for this. However, the game itself shoots its own narrative in the foot.
The problem is the progression style of the game. Starting out, you select your first character and beat their first chapter, then go out to other towns in any order you want to start the first chapter of the other seven characters. The world is structured so that the further out from the center you go, the harder it gets. As a result, you will be woefully underleveled for every characters’ second chapter until you beat all of their first chapters, and so on up to their final chapters. Instead of choosing whom you find to be most interesting, you must experience each characters’ arc in very isolated incidents. Sidequests don’t help either. This results in an extremely disconnected experience. By the time I got to the later chapters of these people, there’d sometimes be huge developments involving an earlier character in their story, but I wouldn’t feel the emotions because I completely forgot who they were. I don’t blame you if the same thing happens. It also doesn’t help that all eight stories are really boring. The writing is very bland and heavy-handed, plus the inexpressive character sprites rob it even further of life. I am aware of voice acting in the game, but since it’s supposed to feel like a retro RPG, I muted it for the entire game. How is the voice acting in Octopath Traveler? Feel free to comment on that!
Fortunately, I don’t care about story AT ALL in videogames. Ironic how I’m saying that since JRPG is my favorite genre. I factor gameplay above all else, and Octopath Traveler delivers with its gameplay!
Octopath has mechanics that are simple but complex at the same time. On the field, each character has a field skill, from gaining information, to stealing, to even recruiting NPCs to assist you in battle. There is a reputation mechanic that screws you if you fail these interactions too many times. However, losing reputation is pretty inconsequential. There are only four actual field skills, each with a type that is guaranteed to work but gets locked behind level up walls, and ones that could lower reputation if you fail but can be attempted at any time. The odds of the latter types succeeding go up with level anyway. It’s only something you do if you want to get lategame equipment and NPCs early.
As is with all great JRPGS, the REAL fun comes, naturally, from the combat. As usual, you have physical attacks and magic attacks, regular attacks that are free, and special moves that cost SP (which is just MP). Also, each and every attack is categorized under a type of weapon, or an element. Each enemy has several weaknesses, be it magic or a weapon. Combat basically involves guessing what their weaknesses are, then going ham. Once you discover a weakness, it displays under them for good. Enemies have shield points, which get reduced when you hit a weakness. Shield points take damage based on number of hits, which is important to note, since there are some weaker attacks that hit multiple times at once, which make those weaker attacks lifesavers at times. When shield points are reduced to zero, the enemy breaks. This causes them to lose a turn and makes all attacks on them crit for that turn. Keep in mind that enemies get attack priority when they recover from break. The turn order displays up on the top, so use that to strategize. If you can break an enemy at the proper time, they can lose TWO of their turns at once.
The real bread n’ butter of Octopath is boost points. All characters gain one boost points per turn, and can store up to five. All attacks can be boosted up by a max of three levels to make your moves much stronger. This system really forces you to make tough decisions for your strategies in battle. Good thing it’s turn-based!
The power progression in Octopath is one of the most satisfying that I’ve seen. Each of the eight characters has a Primary Job, from Warrior to Cleric. They all gain Job Points in addition to XP. Job Points can be spent to learn techniques in ANY ORDER you want (be warned that the cost increases each time). Learning these also unlocks passive skills that each can be equipped. They range from a lower encounter rate, to stat buffs, to the ever broken Saving Grace (my favorite skill, which allows you to heal above Max HP). When you learn all moves in a job, you unlock the Divine Skill of that job. When learned, they prove to be insanely helpful, but can only be used with a maximum boost.
If that didn’t sound fun enough, just wait until you embark toward the second chapters. On the way, you can visit shrines which unlock each Job to be equipped as a Secondary Job by all characters. The amount of combinations are insane, and its fun to experiment to see what works. It gets even MORE ridiculous if you can unlock optional Super Jobs that REALLY step things up!
But Octopath is not without its flaws. Other than the story being bad, the side quests also get incredibly difficult if you don’t go into them with the right mindset. Most side quests are solved by talking to the person, doing one field action, then talking to them again. They’re simple, but very obtuse at times. You WILL need to talk to every NPC and really read their dialogue, because any of them can have the solution. Some of the late game ones at least get easier because the NPCs for them don’t show up until after you start finishing campaigns. However, you might want to consider taking notes, just in case. I didn’t, and as a result some side quests that I could’ve beaten early on took me over eighty hours to finish. But all that aside, when you finally find what you had to do to solve a side quest, it feels genuinely cathartic, even if you berate yourself over it.
Other than that, I do have a number of nitpicks, which are moreso a consequence of how irregularly I played Octopath over time. I really found it annoying that dungeons on the map don’t show if you completed it or not. There were times where I felt like I forgot a treasure, but I wouldn’t be sure until I combed the entire thing all over again. This is especially annoying because of my other nitpick- that there is no way to have no random encounters. You can get pretty close with the skill Evasive Maneuvers, but it’s still annoying. One last thing is that things can be really convenient or inconvenient depending on your first character. The gameplay doesn’t get easier or harder, but certain little things change. For example, if you start with Cyrus the Scholar, he has a free skill that reveals one enemy weakness at the start of a battle, which is REALLY HELPFUL if it’s your first time playing. However, a lot of dungeons have a Thief-only chest, and it’s really annoying if you don’t have Therion the Thief in your party as you play through the game in general. Also, bosses can take a really long time to defeat, and often end up being battles of endurance, even if you’re within the recommended level for them. The final chapters end up being among the easiest because the level requirements don’t escalate. You might even be able to fight them with the Super Jobs, thus making them take less than ten minutes to beat.
Lastly, I will note the soundtrack. It doesn’t really have an identity; just generic orchestra stuff. But, it’s still really good. There are several ROCKIN’ battle themes as well as atmospheric and soothing themes. My favorite theme is whatever the chapter 4 boss theme is called.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
Octopath Traveler is a really good game. It’s a fun homage to retro RPGs with a modern twist. It can get repetitive and tedious at times, and if you care about a good story that doesn’t waste your time, then it might also be a turn off for you. But if you care about great combat, great power progression, and great music, Octopath Traveler is a more than viable option. Just be forewarned that trying to tackle everything will easily take over 100 hours total.