Soooooo, a week into pandemic lockdown, my laptop broke down, and getting it fixed is taking a bit longer than it otherwise might, so I haven’t been able to work properly for the last few days (notwithstanding the Q-and-A posts I had already written and queued). Courtesy of this disruption to my normal workflow, you’re getting a short (and for once I actually mean that, I’m drafting this entirely on my phone) review/discussion of a Nintendo Switch game I bought to amuse myself while my laptop is out of commission: Octopath Traveler.
This game came out in 2018, and as of last Sunday it was on sale for half price in the Nintendo E-Shop, which is why I was willing to buy it on a whim (ringing endorsement, I know). It’s a JRPG with all the trimmings: turn-based combat, random encounters, characters with complementary skill sets, you get the general idea. If you like 90s Final Fantasy titles, you’ll probably like this; the basic mechanics feel pretty familiar, but there are enough twists to make the fights consistently interesting. The graphics are also an interesting style that feels like an updated, higher tech version of the sprite graphics of (roughly) Final Fantasy VI, and in my opinion do a much better job of that than the actual HD re-release of that game.
The game’s main gimmick is in how its story works: there are eight main characters (hence Octopath), all from different parts of the game’s world; you can start the game as any one of them, then roam around and collect the others (combat uses a four-person party and your starting character is always locked in, but any of the others you’ve met can swap in at a tavern in any town). Each character has a unique ability they can use to interact with friendly NPCs in the overworld, which the game calls “path actions” (more on these later). Each also has their own story that advances in self-contained “chapters” set within a single region of the world, and you can tackle these in any order, provided you’re a high enough level to handle the enemies in the relevant area. I assume the eight stories will somehow tie together at the end, but I’m not actually there yet, so this is speculation on my part at the moment. There are also a lot of short, story-heavy/mechanics-light side-quests, most of which are resolved by figuring out an appropriate use for one of your characters’ path actions. There’s nothing terribly groundbreaking about it in 2018, and personally I hoped for more interaction between the eight main characters (so far, I’ve seen them have set “banter” conversations with anyone else who’s present for one of their own chapters, but they don’t appear to affect the resolution of each other’s main quests), but the characters are charming and their stories and personal journeys are compelling. There’s also something of a theme to this game’s whole approach to storytelling, which I quite like: everyone has their own story, and we all touch each other’s, becoming side characters in other people’s lives before going back to our own.
Anyway these are my eight new dumb needy children:
H’aanit is an apprentice huntress from a remote forest village, whose master has gone missing while hunting a dangerous monster somewhere far away. I chose H’aanit as my protagonist, because her schtick is that she is basically a Pokémon trainer. She can capture monsters in random encounters and then summon them a limited number of times to use powerful attacks or support abilities. She also has a great big snow leopard who is her partner Pokémon and can be summoned as many times as she likes. Her path action lets her sic her Pokémon on random townspeople, gaining loot and experience if she wins, but damaging the party’s reputation if she loses (take too much of a hit to your reputation, and all your path actions become unusable in whichever town you’ve chosen to assault with your presence, until you pay a tavern keeper to do some creative PR on your behalf).
Ophilia is a young priestess in the Church of the Sacred Flame, which is this world’s major organised religion. This makes her a pretty typical JRPG White Mage. Ophilia leaves home on an important religious pilgrimage, which was supposed to be her adoptive sister’s job, but Ophilia stepped in when their father became very ill. Her path action allows her to “guide” random people and take them places, or summon them to help out in fights (she can only lead one person at a time, but unlike H’aanit’s summons they stick around for a few turns per use instead of just attacking once).
Therion is a thief. He takes things. That is his entire deal. He can take things from monsters, from locked chests that no one else can open, his path action even lets him take things from random townsfolk (usually useful consumables, but occasionally he can nab powerful equipment). His story also involves taking things, which makes him a bit of an odd one out during his introduction. For all the other characters, their first chapter involves some problem that you can reasonably imagine most of the others deciding to help with out of the goodness of their hearts. When you meet Therion, he basically says “okay, I’mma rob this mansion; I hate working with other people but you can come if you want, I guess,” and going along with that seems wildly out of character for Ophilia and Olberic, and at the very least dubious for everyone else except maybe Primrose, but we do it anyway. This is what I mean about the characters not affecting each other’s stories much.
Alfyn is a loveable goof who says “shucks” a lot. He’s also an apothecary dedicated to healing the sick. He doesn’t really have any specific mission when he first leaves home like the others do, he’s just kind of along for the ride and likes helping people. He can mix potions on the fly from basic ingredients, making him extremely versatile in combat (he’s also pretty handy with an axe). His path action is that he is a huge gossip and can get extra information out of most NPCs, from the location of hidden items, to secrets that resolve a quest, to tips that improve your other path actions, to simple trivia about their lives (practically every person in this game has a story, no matter how unimportant they are).
Primrose is a dancing girl, born into a noble family, whose parents were murdered when she was a child. She’s going to find the dicknuggets who were responsible and murder them right back. She’s a support caster with a little bit of offensive dark magic. Her path action lets her lead people around like Ophilia’s by “alluring” them; Ophilia has level restrictions on this that Primrose ignores, but Primrose has to contend with a failure chance, and her salacious dancing can hurt your reputation if she screws up.
Olberic is an ex-knight of a fallen kingdom who now lives in a random village in the middle of nowhere under a false name. His abilities are less flexible than the other characters, but he’s strong and tough, and voiced by the rich chocolatey baritone of Patrick Seitz. His path action lets him challenge people to duels; as with Ophilia and Primrose, Olberic has level restrictions on this ability that don’t apply to H’aanit, but he can’t damage your reputation if he loses.
Tressa is a 16-year-old girl who’s really, really good at haggling. Like Alfyn, I don’t think she really has a quest to begin with; she just wants to get out and see the world. Tressa wants to be a traveling merchant, and her path ability lets her buy useful things from just about anyone (of course, if Therion is with you, you can just take things, but again, doing things the honest way preserves your reputation – see the theme here?). She also has a bunch of other support abilities that let her make and spend money.
Finally, Cyrus is a university lecturer who sets out into the world in search of a rare book stolen from his university library’s high security archives. He’s a standard Black Mage – fire, ice, lightning, things go boom. His path ability works like Alfyn’s. As with the other pairs, Cyrus has no level restrictions on who he can gather information from, but whereas Alfyn is an adorable folksy goofball, Cyrus is such a rude, socially clumsy blunderer that he faces a chance of failing and screwing up your reputation just as badly as if he’d gotten caught stealing or let a bunch of angry wild Pokémon loose in the middle of a city. He’s just like that.
(thankfully he can also be very earnest and charming, he’s just extremely bad at reading a room)
Thus conclude my general disjointed thoughts about this game. Like I said before, I think if you enjoy early Final Fantasy titles, then the gameplay, story and style of Octopath Traveler will probably appeal to you as well, so if that describes you, think about giving it a try.
In theory I hope to be fully back online late next week, and we will return to your scheduled Pokémaniacal nonsense soon after.