- Fun and accessible combat system
- Plenty of varied, well-written characters
- So much variety in its world
- Soundtrack is excellent
- Grinding isn't for everyone
- Opening hours are a bit slow
- Retro influences aren't always positive
- Review Price: £39.99
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Release Date: July 13
- Genre: JRPG
Available exclusively on Nintendo Switch
There’s something special about returning to JRPGs of old, whether it’s to relive iconic stories or relish in mechanics that have long since been left behind. Bustling towns filled with inhabitants eager to spill their tales and slow, methodical turn-based battle systems are a rare sight in the genre today, and for ample reason.
Octopath Traveler supersedes this notion and presents an experience that’s bold, emotional and positively gorgeous all at once. While sometimes its retro influences feel too prevalent for their own good, enough new and exciting ideas are pushed forward to make it an afterthought. Those hoping for an engrossing narrative journey should look no further on Nintendo Switch.
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Octopath Traveler is very daunting at first. During the opening moments you’re presented with eight diverse protagonists to choose from. They remain in your party for the game’s entirety, so make your choice count. Each hero encompass the archetypes you’ve come to expect from the genre. Clerics, apothecaries, knights. You name it, Octopath has ensured that veterans of the genre will feel a sweet tinge of nostalgia at every possible turn.
I opted for Tressa Colozone, a young, enthusiastic merchant working for her parent’s shop in a small, unassuming town. She yearns to present her goods across the land, and is given an opportunity when stumbling upon a visiting merchant ship. A brave knight tutors her, offering advice while realising the true potential she has. After this cute little story, you’re free to roam to world in search of other potential travelers.
All of the eight introductions are wonderfully told, feeling like minute coming-of-age stories that solidify why our heroes matter and why we should care for them. Each of them has an isolated narrative, meaning you’ll progress through numbered chapters before finally reaching a conclusion.
The majority are effectively paced, despite implementing cliched moments you’ll undoubtedly roll your eyes at. However, these are juxtaposed with rare moments of real emotion. A bold achievement when you’re staring at a jumble of, admittedly gorgeous, pixels.
Story lies at the forefront of Octopath Traveler and, much like the greats that inspired it, you’re expected to sit back and savour unfolding cutscenes. Ripe with unrequited love, tragic betrayals and plenty of family drama, it manages to walk a balance between camp fantasy brilliance and a real sense of weight to its imaginary world.
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Narrative carries massive importance in Octopath Traveler, and its battle system manages to be equally as engaging. Don’t go into this hoping for something revolutionary. It’s a tried-and-tested turn based combat system with a number of creative tweaks to the weathered formula. It’s clear from the outset that contemporary hits like Persona have had an impact here.
All enemies have a small series of weaknesses, meaning that after a fixed number of hits, they’ll break. Breaking means that they’ll miss a turn while also being vulnerable to additional damage. This element is complemented by Battle Points, a currency that can be build up to perform multiple hits of the same skill or ability in a row.
This becomes an evolving strategy throughout all battles, acting like a brief game of chess as you recognise enemy weaknesses and counter with the best abilities at your disposal. Boss encounters are especially challenging, as temporarily stunning them is tantamount to success. Failing to do so normally results in a devastating attack that will either wipe your party and have you scrambling desperate for healing items.
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As expected, all of the playable characters are vastly different when it comes to how they work both in a battle and amidst exploration. Abilities are cleverly influenced not only by the class they reside in, but the narrative consequences that brought them to where they are. For example, Primrose, a dancer and prostitute, is able to allure the majority of NPCs if she needs to do so for a particular quest.
Cyrus is a professor, and thus approaches everything he sees with a uniquely inquisitive perspective. A brief minigame allows you to delve into the backstory of most NPC characters, earning lovingly written nuggets of backstory or a valuable piece of information related to an objective.
Being able to prod and poke at the inner workings of this world adds a layer of depth I really didn’t expect, and shows you don’t need a long-winded encyclopedia to make a world feel alive and meaningful.
Little sprites are instilled with a spice of life due to a few tiny paragraphs, whether they’re an estranged daughter of a fallen kingdom or a drunken bouncer unwilling to work. The writing in Octopath Traveler sings when it has to. Of course, the masterful visuals and music go a long way in making this possible.
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Octopath Traveler is a subversive graphical showcase for Nintendo Switch. At first it appears to be a simplistic JRPG with artistic stylings to match, opting for environments and models so simplistic you can count the individual pieces they consist of. Once you see it running in motion, that perspective changes for the better in so many ways. Unreal Engine 4 has helped create a lavish world where each new environment is an optical feast.
Sometimes it can resemble a J.J. Abrams as obtrusive lens flares shine across the screen, particular in snowy environments or across vast, seemingly endless rivers. It’s a graphical quirk I quickly grew used to, excited to see what surprises each new town or dungeon had awaiting me.
A personal favourite touch of mine is how absurdly vast boss characters are in battle. They’re fantastical to the extreme, so much so that some manage to fill the screen, leaving its confines temporarily during each stylishly animated attack. It’s breathtaking at times, showcasing a level of artistic talent I can’t help but commend.
Octopath Traveler is a delightful JRPG that takes plentiful inspiration from the classics that inspired it while carving a new path with fun, inventive ideas I’ve never seen before.
Its satisfying and methodical combat system is complimented by a world that’s brimming with life. Whether its through its sprawling cities of richly written characters, there’s plenty here for hardcore and casual fans of the genre to appreciate.