Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Octopath Traveler Impressions

After being enthralled by the Octopath Traveler demo last year, it was pretty clear that this classic-style JRPG would be right up my alley. The wait until the release of the full game felt long, but it has finally arrived. At this point, I'm about 10 hours into the campaign and have added five of the eight characters to my party. Here are some early thoughts on my time with the game:
  • The music and environments on display in the original demo really wowed me. Now that I've gotten to see a wider variety of what the game has to offer, I continue to be impressed by its artistic presentation. The dark forests, glittering coastlines, snow-capped mountains, and medieval towns all look great in Octopath's faux-retro graphical style. The color pallet of the game world is muted compared to a 16-bit RPG but it works well for the game's setting and tone. So far every environment has been accompanied by great music in the form of stirring orchestral pieces, somber piano sessions, or folksy tunes as appropriate.
  • While the environments themselves look lush and deep, largely due to the 2D-3D hybrid style, traversal through the world is quite linear. The side-scrolling camera angle means that there's generally only one path through an area with the occasional short detour to pick up treasure. In a sense, it's actually more restrained than the 16 and 32-bit games that Octopath resembles. Furthermore, if the player somehow does manage to get lost, the map and radar are marked with distinct green icons showing the location of the next quest objective. As a player that doesn't like spending a lot of time figuring out where to go next, I really like this design decision. However, I imagine that players expecting "open world" exploration may be a bit disappointed.
  • Another efficient design decision that Octopath makes is dividing each quest into short chapters. So far each chapter has consisted of a few cutscenes, a visit to a town, a small dungeon, and a boss battle with save points liberally placed throughout. This makes the game much easier to pick up and play for short bursts compared to other JRPGs. Most of my play sessions have been under an hour and in portable mode.
  • A minor gripe: there is no option to auto-advance fully-voiced cutscenes. In most games, I like being able to set the controller down while listening to the dialog with my hands free to do other things (mostly eating). This game doesn't let me do that since I have to tap the A button after every line of dialog. I've gotten used to it by now, but it still makes the conversations between characters sound a little stilted. 
  • There are side quests in this game, but I have no idea how to keep track of which ones I'm working on or determine what the objectives are for each. The game prompts me when I've met the criteria to start a new side quest (usually talking to the right NPC), but I have yet to figure out how to progress things from there. I'm not sure if this is a game design issue or if I'm doing something wrong. Either way, the side quests don't seem to matter much yet.
  • Every time you begin a new character's quest, that character joins the party at level one. I was initially concerned that this would make the game feel unbalanced, but that hasn't been the case. The level curve is such that the new character catches up quickly and the older characters don't become too overpowered. In other words, the difficulty curve has been smooth.
  • Some of the early bosses can take quite a beating before finally going down, however, I have yet to have one wipe out my party. 
  • Right now, the five characters I have access to are the scholar, the cleric, the merchant, the huntress, and the thief. Each one plays a little differently, but there is some overlap in their skill sets. For example, if a quest requires acquiring a key item from an NPC, I can either use the merchant to purchase the item off the NPC, or just steal it using the thief. I'm curious to see how each character's field skills work together once I've assembled the whole crew.
I was initially concerned about some of the early reviews I was seeing for this game, but I'm having a blast with Octopath Traveler so far. I'm thinking that the eagerness of some outlets to brand this game as "the next Final Fantasy 6" did it a disservice. Octopath is looking less like one grand quest with an ensemble cast like Final Fantasy 6, and more like a set of smaller stories that occasionally intertwine, a la SaGa Frontier. Thankfully for me, that's exactly what I wanted.

If you'd like to check out the world of Octopath Traveler for yourself while also supporting this blog, you can order a copy of the game from this Amazon affiliate link: Octopath Traveler - Nintendo Switch

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Tales from the Backlog! The event that got me started with blogging is called Blaugust and it returns this year as #BlaugustReborn! If you would like to learn more about Blaugust or sign up to participate, check out this post from fellow game blogger, Belghast: Tales of the Aggronaut - First of Blaugust


  1. Great write up! I think I'll end up picking this one up pretty soon after I finish FF6, even if it's not the spiritual sequel it was originally hailed as.