Octopath Traveler, originally released in 2018, is a game that makes a very good first impression. The graphics are a unique mix of pixel art and hand-drawn environments with a lot of effort in shading, and the orchestral soundtrack conveys a grand scale that makes the entire game feel like a classic JRPG adventure. This, coupled with the fact that the creators of Octopath previously worked on the critically acclaimed Bravely Default games, had a lot of people excited when the first trailers rolled out. Octopath Traveler was very successful with critics and fans alike upon release, but at times it seemed that people were too impressed by the art style to see the game’s flaws.
A major selling point of Octopath was its eight stories, one for each member of the group. While the game technically delivered on this promise, it did so in a way that discouraged your party members from participating in stories other than their own. All four of your party members show up for fights in each other’s stories, but three of the four are always strangely absent whenever major events occur. Does Tressa, the member of your merchant group who is motivated primarily by finding treasure, have any knowledge of or interest in the rare magical treasures mentioned in the rogue Therion’s story? What about Cyrus, the scholar who loves and has extensively studied history and magic? If they have an opinion, they certainly don’t express it when it matters.
Party members can interact with each other on occasion, but this is done in optional text-only conversations after the fact. We can hear what a group member thought about what just happened, or what he thinks will happen, but we never see anyone impact a story other than their own. In addition to the characters being passive in each other’s stories, Octopath Traveler fails at one of the most important aspects of a JRPG: establishing strong connections between your party members. Bravely Default had conversational features similar to Octopath Traveler, where members of your party had brief interactions related to the events of the game. The difference between these two games is that the conversations in Bravely Default felt like natural interactions with four friends working together on an epic quest, while the conversations in Octopath felt like four near-strangers forcibly reacting to what was happening to them. one of them.
In Octopath, you can switch party members at an inn when you’re in town, which is both a blessing and a curse. From a gaming perspective, it works very well. You can go through each story at a fairly fast pace, but if you stick with one character’s story until the end, the level of enemies increases more than your party can handle. However, if you visit the tavern and swap party members, you can do some lower level chapters of other characters as a way to gain experience and learn more about characters you might not otherwise have used as much. This gives the player control over the difficulty and pace of the game without wasting time playing random encounters. He also makes sure that none of the eight characters are left too far behind even though only four at a time are in his party.
But the tavern inhibits the building of bonds between the characters. The cast of Bravely Default went through a lot together and naturally gained a bond because of it, but Octopath’s Tavern makes this kind of connection impossible. Tressa cannot comment on how a new development in Therion’s story reminds her of something that happened before because there is no guarantee that she was at the party when the plot development occurred. In fact, Therion is the only character guaranteed to be present in his own story, so he is the only one who they can significantly impact it. All the characters are so disconnected from each other and from any history other than their own that it becomes very difficult for the game to feel like a representation of the events of the story when most of the party members involved in a fight have no an actual reason. to be there.
Octopath Traveler isn’t exactly revolutionary, but there are a few things that keep it interesting. In typical JRPG style, combat is turn-based, with the notable additional mechanics, Break and Boost. Break refers to exploiting an enemy’s weakness to stun them for a turn, and you spend a lot of time waiting to exploit a weakness in a target to stun them with a powerful attack or lose time. Boost enhances your attacks and abilities using orbs that register above your health bar. Using a Boost after a Break stun is the most conventional way to deal a lot of damage at once.
Octopath’s combat system is pretty simple, but there are plenty of ways to craft unique abilities around it. Jobs are the different archetypes that your characters can fill, such as Thief for Therion and Merchant for Tressa. Each character starts out with a default primary job and a secondary job that they can choose. The main work connects the gameplay to the story well, as each character has abilities that match what they do in the cutscenes, such as Therion’s abilities stealing things from opponents, and Tressa spending money to use abilities. Meanwhile, side jobs give your party more options to exploit a boss’s weakness or unique ways to play the game differently on a second run.
Many games have similar systems, but the problem with this one comes when you realize how few skills there are in the game and how quickly you pick them up. With each job only granting eight abilities, many of them only increasing damage, I usually max out an entire group’s job levels before mid-game. Enemy levels keep scaling long after you max out your jobs, so it’s common to need to level up with a bit of buffing, but it’s not nearly as satisfying to level up your stats when all of your skills stay the same.
Skills in Octopath Traveler would become obsolete very quickly due to how easy you got them and how similar many of them were. Most abilities are used to heal, stun with Break, or deal heavy damage with Boost, with very little variation. There are secret jobs you can get, but you have to defeat extremely difficult bosses to acquire them, so you’ll likely only use them near the later sections of the game.
I still enjoy playing Octopath Traveler, but it had a lot of issues that needed to be fixed in time for the sequel. There are plenty of games similar to it that don’t struggle with its issues, like the studio’s own Bravely Default and a large chunk of the Final Fantasy series, so I have high hopes that Octopath can eventually become a really great series by incorporating the lessons from the past, and diversifying the combat and creating stories driven by the relationships between the cast.
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