After writing two different sets of impressions (1, 2) and racking up over 60 hours of playtime, I’ve put a lot of time into SquareEnix’s Switch-exclusive RPG, Octopath Traveler. After all that, there’s still a lot left to do in the game, but having finished the campaign for my main character, Cyrus, I’ve seen the credits roll and feel comfortable writing a preliminary review. Similarly, to what I did with Ys Origin, if I return to Octopath and find the additional content changes my opinion of the game, I’ll be sure to update the review or write a follow-up.
Octopath’s art style and music continued to delight for the entire game. While the combat and story maintained their level of quality, it became clear to me as the adventure went on that what worked for the classic RPGs that inspired this game, doesn’t necessarily work for a modern game, especially considering that modern RPGs tend to have nearly twice the running time of their 16 and 32-bit forefathers.
The battle system of Octopath Traveler is built upon a strong foundation. Exploiting enemy weaknesses and figuring out the ideal combination of characters/classes to have in your party is a mechanic that I always find enjoyable. Octopath pulls this off well and builds upon its systems for the first half of the game. Characters gain the ability to equip secondary jobs and bosses pick up new mechanics such as increasing their shield point through the battle and changing weaknesses dynamically. Unfortunately, at about the 30-hour mark, I had seen every theme and variation that the game had to offer and had developed a playbook to handle any situation the game would throw at me. Thus, the second half of the game consisted of executing on the same handful of strategies as the game increased in scale with longer dungeons and bosses with even higher HP and shield points. All the classic RPGs (including my favorite, Final Fantasy 5) eventually get to this point, but usually that point is when 10 hours of gameplay remain rather than 30. That places a lot of extra burden on Octopath’s story to carry the player through the rest of the game. In my case, I finished Cryus’s fourth and final chapter, but set the game aside when I had the discouraging realization that I had seven more 30-45 minute long “final” boss battles ahead of me if I wanted to finish the remaining character’s quests.
Much like one of its predecessors, Saga Frontier, each of Octopath’s character’s stories vary in their tone and scope. Generally, the stakes are far lower in these tales than the world-ending crises that Final Fantasy heroes face. I think that smaller-scale stories can work well with the right characters and writing. However, halfway through the game, I knew which character’s stories I cared about and which ones I didn’t. Unfortunately, unlike a Saga game, it wouldn’t make sense to only play the Octopath characters that I was interested in because of the big jumps in recommended levels between chapters in each characters’ campaign. This made it such that playing all 8 chapter 3 stories was necessary to gain enough XP to be able to handle the chapter 4 enemies. Having to play through a few mediocre stories in order to continue playing the ones I was interested in robbed the best campaigns of their momentum. If I were to put on my armchair game designer’s hat, I would have made this game Quadpath Traveler or Hexapath Traveler and given each of the cream-of-the-crop stories an extra chapter to develop their characters.
This is probably sounding like a pretty negative review. The thing is, every positive thing I had to say about the game in my impressions (1, 2) is still absolutely true. Octopath Traveler is a great RPG at its core that, for me, began to feel like it was overstaying its welcome. If I were in a different stage of life, this game would probably be a strong Game of the Year contender for me, but in a time when I have to be so judicious with how I spend my free time and the shear volume of other games I want to play, Octopath needed to do more to justify spending the time that finishing all eight quests (and the option bonus dungeons) would require. All that being said, I’m glad that I played this game, enjoyed most of the time I spent with it, and am hoping that it gets a sequel with a little more focus.
Completion Time: About 61 Hours (Chapters 1-3 for 7 characters, and through Chapter 4 for Cyrus)
Note: There is a strong chance I’ll return to this game at some point in the future to finish off the chapter 4 quests for the other few characters that I liked. If that experience changes my perspective on this game, I’ll be sure to add an update to this review for write a follow-up post.
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