Monday, September 18, 2017

Demo Hotness: Octopath Traveler

 After teasing the mysterious new RPG, Octopath Traveler, over six months ago, Square Enix hasn't said a word about the game since. However, much to my surprise, not only was the game prominently featured in the September 13th Nintendo Direct, but it also had a demo released on the eShop that very same day! I immediately dove into this meaty demo, here are my thoughts on the 2-3 hours of gameplay on offer:
  • First, a warning: Octopath Traveler may feature seemingly innocent looking 16-bit graphics, but do not be mistaken; this game features very dark themes such as murder, slavery, and rape. This is NOT a family-friendly game!
  • The structure of Octopath Traveler is very similar to Saga Frontier. You start the game by picking one of eight protagonists; two are available in the demo: a knight and a dancer. Each protagonist has their own unique story and starting location, but their quest will eventually intersect those of the other characters. When you meet another one of these characters, you can add them to your party but continue along your original character's quest line.
  • Even though it's clear that this game is still unfinished, the production values are very high. The 2D/3D hybrid art style is very striking and most of the cut scenes are fully voiced. However, what grabbed me the most was the beautiful soundtrack.
  • The combination of 2D sprites and 3D background has a cool old-school look to it but also uses advanced lighting and particle effects. These effects generally look really nice but sometimes obscure certain details like character facial expressions and staircases in dungeons. It would also be nice if the character sprites had a broader range of animations to make cutscenes a bit more dynamic. There's a good chance a lot of these things will be polished up in the full version of the game.
  • Octopath's combat system features random encounters and straight-forward turn-based battles with the turn order displayed at the top of the screen (similar to Final Fantasy 10). The unique wrinkle is the boost mechanic in which boost points can be stored up to allow your character to strike multiple times per turn. Also, enemies have weaknesses to certain elements and weapons that can be exploited to stun your foes and gain additional turns.
  • The demo only featured single-character scenarios, so I wasn't able to get a feel for how the game's combat will work with a party. With only one character available at a time, combat strategies were pretty limited, but there's probably potential for interplay between characters in battle once a party has been formed. With what was shown in the demo, I'm not really able to determine exactly how deep Octopath's mechanics will be.
  • Olberic's path presents a pretty generic RPG story of a disillusioned former knight. While his plot is something I've seen in many games, his unique ability, dueling, makes for some fun possibilities: Olberic can challenge pretty much any NPC to a duel, including those that are blocking access to doors and passageways. Thus, I was able to duel a guard, win, and then step over his unconscious body to enter a restricted area.
  • I found Primrose the dancer's path to be much more compelling from a narrative standpoint. It covers the mature themes I mentioned earlier to set up a dark revenge tale. Between the two paths available, the writing and voice acting are much stronger in her story (Olberic's is still ok, though). Her special ability, alluring, allows her to recruit NPCs as temporary companions to join her in battle.
  • Each path in the demo features some lengthy opening dialog scenes, a town, a short dungeon, and a boss battle before coming to an end.
  • It was clear that a lot of features that will be available in the full game are not available in the demo. These include the world map, a quest log for managing side quests, and a character status screen. Also, the demo lacks the ability to change the text speed or skip cutscenes. Even though these basic features were all missing, I still feel like this bare-bones package was enough to give a representative taste of the game.
I finished the Octopath Traveler demo hungry to experience more of this unique Switch-exclusive RPG. As much as I enjoyed titles like Saga Frontier in the PS1 era, the lack of a cohesive narrative and quest structure often led to dead ends and reliance on guide books to make progress. Octopath seems like it will deliver on the intersecting multi-adventure premise of the Saga games but use modern story-telling techniques and structure to hold the game together in a more statisfying and complete package.

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