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[Review] OCTOPATH TRAVELER – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 13/07/2018
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99

Eight Stories, One Adventure

Beginning a JRPG means meeting your main character and learning about his or her goals; over time, you build a party, customize their gear, and level them into heroes who are united under one noble cause. Well, OCTOPATH TRAVELER puts a spin on just about every element of that conventional formula.

For starters, there is no “main” hero. Each of the eight characters’ stories gets equal time in the spotlight, even if some feel less dire than others – from Primrose’s bloody quest for revenge, to Tressa’s simple dream of becoming a master merchant. While eight unique plots at the same time may sound overwhelming, the game weaves them together in a way that I can only compare to Dungeons & Dragons: several adventurers combine their strength to achieve their individual goals.

Decisions, Decisions…

I happen to be an incredibly indecisive person, so the sheer amount of options in this game had my head spinning. The moment you begin, you’re faced with a vital choice: whose Chapter 1 will you experience first? I panicked here, worried I’d miss out on some aspect of the other characters’ stories, but it’s not so: during story segments, you can see every cutscene for every character arc.

Next comes the questing. You can experience the story Chapters in any order you choose, offering a refreshing level of freedom compared to railroad RPGs. There is also a veritable mountain of side quests, and each one can be completed in multiple ways using the characters’ unique out-of-combat abilities. So, for example, if an NPC is looking for an item, Tressa can strike a deal with whoever has it – or thief Therion could swipe it from them with the five-finger discount.

Even more choices arise as you gain the ability to multiclass. Each character begins the game with one Job: Ophelia is a Cleric, Cyrus is a Scholar, Tressa is a Merchant, Olberic is a Warrior, Primrose is a Dancer, Alfyn is an Apothecary, Therion is a Thief, and H’aanit is a Hunter. (At this point, it is my absolute joy to point out that the first letter of their names, in that order, spells out “OCTOPATH.” What a neat detail!) Although you can only travel with four characters at a time, each of them can eventually spec into
a second class, allowing you to build a dream team with your favorites.

Creative Combat

Speaking of the “dream team,” building a balanced party is the name of the game, as you cannot win battles by blindly hacking and slashing. The unique combat system in OCTOPATH TRAVELER is as follows: each enemy is weak to a combination of weapons and/or elements, and it takes a certain amount of hits from those weaknesses to “break” them. That’s your chance to deal massive damage!

The bosses and monsters in this game are no pushovers. If you aren’t prepared with the proper combination of classes, you may end up in a situation where it’s extremely difficult – or even impossible – to break an enemy. For me, this puzzle-like combat system was by far the most addicting aspect of this game.

The drawback of having eight playable characters and such difficult bosses is that levelling can be a bit of a grind. You may feel compelled to do what I did: sit for hours grinding all eight of them till they are all equally useful in combat.

A Treat to the Senses

Stunning. That’s what I have to say about the game’s unique visual style, which Square Enix dubbed “HD-2D.” Although characters are classic sprites, the environments contain gorgeous textures and shading. It feels utterly satisfying to see your party’s lantern-lit shadows as they creep through caves, and serene to watch snow sparkle as they trek through wintery woods.

It doesn’t end there. The soundtrack is out of this world. Sometimes, I picked certain areas to grind in simply because I loved the music there. During cutscenes, music is carefully timed to set the mood or build the tension. Speaking of cutscenes, I cannot complete a review of this game without tipping my hat to the voice actors, who did an incredible job giving life to these characters. My only gripe in this department is that story segments are only partially voiced. The voices will appear for only some scenes – or sometimes awkwardly kick in halfway through a scene – with many silent moments being left for players to read on text bubbles.

Your Unique Playthrough

OCTOPATH TRAVELER provides a fresh take on everything we’ve come to expect from the JRPG genre. The eight plots, numerous side quests, and engaging combat system keep it from feeling stale, even after sinking dozens of hours into this monstrosity. Not to mention, the wealth of options at the player’s disposal ensures that no two playthroughs are alike, giving this title plenty of replay value. Tack on the show-stopping visuals, music and voice acting, and you’ve got yourself an instant classic.

Pros

  • Eight engaging plots
  • Challenging combat
  • Incredible graphics, soundtrack, & voice acting

Cons

  • Grind to keep eight characters leveled
  • Partially-voiced scenes

Verdict

A unique take on the age-old JRPG genre, OCTOPATH TRAVELER is an unforgettable experience.
5/5

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