When the Switch was released back in March 2017 we had no idea that Nintendo’s new platform would flourish amid past efforts to open its doors and allow publishers to really take advantage of the uniqueness of it’s design. Given Nintendo’s incredible first party offerings you’d be spared for thinking that all bases were covered on the Switch and that you had everything you needed on Nintendo’s latest incredibly successful home console. However, Octopath Traveler is the manifestation of an era so revered and coupled with the modern conveniences of decades worth of game tech iteration. In other words, It’s exactly what you want it to be.
Producers Masashi Takahashi and Tomoya Asano, who previously headed the Bravely series, went above and beyond in ensuring that their promise of a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy VI was something that fans of the classic Super Nintendo era JRPG’s and new players would enjoy.
The first thing that will strike you upon launch is just how beautiful this game is. Not only is it so consistent in it’s execution, but the mind just races when thinking about the possibilities. This art style on a technical level could easily translate to so many other franchises. The 2D against the 3D level geometry pops nicely, especially when combined with the dynamic particle effects and lighting. Small shadows are cast behind the lantern you automatically equip as you trudge through dank caves and darker regions, everything just works. The way that the camera focuses on the party you’re controlling is striking considering that a good portion of the screen is out of focus. The out of focus portion never stops animating, which creates this amazing illusion of a grand-depth of field and actually makes the environments seem larger than they may initially appear. It’s the small details that truly add up to create such an immersive atmosphere. For example, when the sound of a cold wind begins just as you’re approaching the entrance to the Frostlands or the way that ice crystals glisten as you advance through snowy hills while light bounces effortlessly off of the terrain. Octopath Traveler is gorgeous in the way that engrosses you visually with it’s environments. Those same touches are applied when in combat as well. When you initiate a battle, your sprites magnify opposite your opponents who range from wolves and giant staff wielding frogs to the most powerful Archmagus in the region. Bosses and other special characters are sometimes larger and have flashier animations than regular enemies which makes for some good visual variation between battles. However, there were a few times where I found myself fighting the same enemy repeatedly, pulling me slightly out of the moment.
I need to take a moment to talk about the music. As the game progresses, you may not even notice how natural the music is to each section of the game. Battle music is as tense and frantic as it should be. Sweeping strings seek to build on the player’s feeling of going on a real adventure spanning across various landscapes with gorgeous themes that just seem flawless in execution. In combination with the visuals, It reeks of the 16 bit era with a level of polish that brings it all home.
Engaging in combat is the same here as it has been in this genre traditionally and will look familiar to long time Final Fantasy fans with fight being triggered randomly throughout the world. The big new addition to these traditional systems is the new Battle Points mechanic. Essentially with every turn that is made a battle point is accumulated that can be used to strengthen the following turn, saving more points will allow you to further heightenthe effectiveness of the turn.
The surprise for more seasoned fans may come in the few quality of life improvements that have been implemented here as compared to older turn based RPG’s. For example, one of the more helpful features is the mini map that just works and is easy to read. The path to objectives are easy to follow and you can track quests easier than in past games of this genre. Once the beautifully hand drawn world map opens up, fast travel becomes available once you’ve discovered some of the main cities which act not only as save points, but as places to pick up side quests, buy and sell equipment, or rest at the local inn to regenerate your character.
Last but most certainly not least, a run button (!). Which really helps with getting around larger spaces and since the movement is well paced, I felt more encouraged to really explore deeper into levels since you cover a good amount of ground. Another great feature is that as you traverse the region and recruit other characters, regardless of whatever character you decide to play, you’ll be given opportunity to learn about the back-stories of the other party members through little cut scenes and text screens that concisely give a little history about the heroes you recruit. The only real negative I have is that the story is just standard fodder and doesn’t really take any huge leaps in defying genre conventions. At times I felt as if I was simultaneously experiencing the story and forgetting it at the same time. Although it is a fully realized universe, it didn’t really jump out to me as memorable.
All in all, it’s a complete package. Full sprawling campaign that is partially voice acted and takes about 50-60 hours to see to completion alone. With dozens of hours in content afterwards in playing other classes, hunting down the best gear in the game, and chasing down all of the myriad of side quests, you’ll have plenty to do once the main mission is complete. If you have any reverence for 16 bit era JRPG’s and what is called the golden age of RPG’s, then this is a must own. If you’ve ever thought about jumping into a turn based RPG and have no attachment to the genre, then this is the one to get into.
Forged in the 8 bit era, Duarte can be found quietly contemplating the future of the games industry. Wondering what the exhilaration of digital achievement will look like on the next horizon.