A Tale Of Intertwined Destinies
A Tale Of Intertwined Destinies
Old meets new as eight journeys become one in Octopath Traveler
by Brian Shea
- Platform Switch
- Style 1-Player Role-Playing
- Publisher Nintendo
- Developer Acquire, Square Enix
- Release July 13, 2018
After a strong first year, Nintendo Switch owners are looking for the next game they can sink hours upon hours into from their couch or on the go. Role-playing games are particularly suited for portable platforms, and this summer delivers an RPG that many Switch owners have been eagerly anticipating. From the team behind the popular Bravely Default and Bravely Second: End Layer, Octopath Traveler expands on concepts explored in those games and ties everything together with a beautiful, distinct art style that mixes pixel art with realism. After playing a couple hours, I’m excited for the ways it harkens back to retro role-playing games through its robust systems and fun turn-based combat.
From Brave Beginnings
Coming off the Bravely series on 3DS, Acquire and Square Enix wanted to use current technology to craft a new role-playing game with a retro aesthetic to appeal to players now in their 30s who grew up playing 8- and 16-bit RPGs. The team felt that simply going with strict pixel art wasn’t exciting enough and wouldn’t make the game immediately stand out, so they came up with a hybrid, dreamlike style. “We tried different things, and originally we did try to put everything in pixel-style art,” says producer Masashi Takahashi. “But at the end of the day, compared to what we were thinking of, it felt fake and low-quality.”
This philosophy of mixing old with new carries into the Octopath Traveler’s design as well. Traditional components, like turn-based combat and a job system, combine with modern notions, like a reputation system and the ability to select a main character, to create a revitalized version of the traditional role-playing game. “We wanted to make an old-school RPG that anyone could play,” says director Keisuke Miyauchi. “We wanted to make something that was nostalgic, but not mired in these old conventions of old RPGs.”
Many games cast you as a set hero joining up with other party members to save the world from encroaching evil. While that approach isn’t a bad one, Octopath Traveler doesn’t go down that well-worn trail. Instead, you choose one of eight heroes as your main character, then embark on a quest that’s more personal than global. Along the way, you meet up with the other potential heroes on their own quests who you can help in order to recruit them.
Octopath Traveler hopes to fulfill the team’s desire convey a relatable story about the excitement of going on a journey. This stems from a desire to instill a sense of credibility to the world, characters, and stories. “It might be fiction, but we wanted the player to feel that they could become the characters, and as they’re playing the game, feel as though they are the characters,” Takahashi says. “We didn’t want this to ever tip too much in the direction of fantasy and be in a place where people can’t associate with it.”
We tried different things, and originally we did try to put everything in pixel-style art. But at the end of the day, compared to what we were thinking of, it felt fake and low-quality.
The notion that these stories are more personal is exemplified in travel banter scenes. I see one right after a story beat in which a grateful character gives Alfyn a gift, sparking one of Tressa’s memories. While the development team has asked me not to share too many details, the two characters share a brief moment reflecting on the event, with Tressa sharing a story from her past and detailing why it was such a pivotal moment in her backstory. I gain additional insight into her character, adding an extra layer of humanity to the relationship.
Tailoring The Experience
Battles play out in a standard turn-based manner, but with several additional wrinkles. Being able to exploit weaknesses to break enemies, while also saving up boost to supercharge attacks and abilities leads to more complex battles than simply attacking in turn. My strategy of saving Olberic’s boost for three turns, then buffing him with Primrose before unleashing a fully charged sword attack on a broken opponent proves deadly effective. However, the system encourages informed experimentation, and this strategy is hardly the only successful combination I uncover. In another instance, I stagger the opponent using Tressa’s primary attack, then use Alfyn’s apothecary concoction skills to exploit the enemy’s elemental weakness and turn it into dust.
Combat flows well, and the party members play off each other in strong fashion. However, battles can be lengthy, even when you’re over-leveled. Of the two bosses I faced, one low-level creature took around 10 minutes to vanquish, while I lasted about 15 minutes against a high-level boss before being wiped out. The Nintendo representative giving me the demo explained that the boss could take upwards of 45 minutes to defeat. These battles require you to tailor your party and approach to not only use your preferred strategies, but also exploit the weaknesses of the boss. One ill-advised turn can spell disaster in these technical encounters.
You can further customize your combat approach with a job system that lets you to freely equip and level a second archetype for each character. With my team of Alfyn, Primrose, Olberic, and Tressa, I diversify even further by equipping each character with a second job. Tressa’s merchant ability allows her to buy items from NPCs, but I wanted to add some oomph to her combat style. I equip the hunter job as a secondary class, which buffs her stats and opens that suite of abilities to unlock using points earned through gameplay. Experimenting with different combinations is fun, and I’m excited at the possibilities these secondary jobs can create.
As you unlock these job abilities, you obtain passive support skills. I equip my warrior with a counterattack ability and my apothecary with “endless items,” which gives items a chance to go unconsumed when used. Later, when I add the hunter H’aanit to my party, I easily swap out Tressa’s secondary hunter job for dancer so she can join Primrose in buffing the other party members.
H’aanit’s introductory mission is a hunt for a creature her mentor was pursuing. The wooded area is designated level 16, and while most members of my party are level 23, newcomer H’aanit is lower. Still, I use her capture ability to secure various creatures during the journey; the weaker they are in battle, the higher chance of success. Tamed beasts like a vicious hawk or H’aanit’s trusty snow-leopard companion can be summoned to attack enemies using their native elements, making H’aanit a great asset in battle if you use the mechanic to build your beast catalog. She soon catches up to the other characters thanks to earning XP from higher-level enemies, allowing me to use her powerful bow attacks as well as her summoned creatures in the boss battle that caps the chapter.
Reputations At Stake
In the demo released last fall, players witnessed Primrose and Olberic embarking on quests of vengeance. While those two start their journeys seeking payback, not every character’s story begins that way. I see this in an early part of Alfyn’s story. In the nascent stages of his questline, the party travels to a town stricken with a brutal cough. The altruistic Alfyn notices something suspicious about this epidemic, so he begins a quest to get to the bottom of the infection. By using Alfyn’s “inquire” ability, I learn about the town and find hidden items.
Inquiring is a “path action” – a set of job-specific ways to interact with other characters in the world. Path actions play a massive role in encouraging party diversification, since characters can use their distinct abilities to interact with NPCs in different ways. For instance, Primrose’s lets her bring an extra character along with the party, while Tressa’s gives her the opportunity to buy exclusive items from NPCs.
Based on which path actions you use, your characters’ reputations fluctuate. Both Tressa’s and Therion’s net you extra items from NPCs, but purchasing with Tressa is considered noble, while stealing with Therion is a rogue act. You can execute a noble path action without fear of repercussion, but it may cost money or require a certain level. Rogue path actions don’t cost anything and can be used at any time, but they can hurt your character’s reputation in that town if they fail. Damage your reputation too much, and the townspeople might be less receptive to your actions. You can restore your reputation by paying the bartender to talk kindly about your character, but it costs a pretty penny.
I like how for each noble path action, a rogue one exists in contrast. Though Olberic and H’aanit have the respective challenge and provoke path actions, I erred on the side of maintaining their reputations. The last thing I needed was more resistance in completing my mission, and I was spending all my money on stronger gear for my characters. While I didn’t have a chance to fully explore the extent of what a damaged reputation means, the concept is intriguing.
TressaA merchant traveling the world to find her purpose
H’aanitA huntress on a quest to find her teacher
PrimroseA dancer on a mission to track the men who killed her father
OphiliaA cleric on a pilgrimage to restore light to her realm
TherionA thief on a mission to steal a rare gem for a client
AlfynAn apothecary on a noble quest to heal the sick
CyrusA scholar searching for a missing book
OlbericA warrior seeking vengeance following the murder of his king
Eight Characters, Eight Stories
The eight stories in Octopath Traveler intertwine, giving you a chance to play each hero’s narrative regardless of who you choose as your starter character. Each character has his or her own motivations for joining the journey, and as it’s structured to this point, each individual story is siloed. Progression only occurs when you travel to the location of their next chapter, allowing the player to experience each storyline as desired. The main character you choose at the start dictates your starting position on the map, as well as where your adventure comes to a close, but you don’t need to worry about missing out on the other characters’ stories or holding a different save file for each one.
Each chapter I played felt organic to the progression to the story, and I was eager to keep exploring the distinct narratives as my time with the game came to an end. The developers are hesitant to elaborate on any character or story beats or confirm whether the storylines all converge at some point, but how these tales play off each other is enthralling. I can’t wait to jump back into the world of Octopath Traveler and learn more about these characters and this beautiful world.
This article appears in the July 2018 issue of Game Informer.