Octopath Traveler Was Pretty Alright, I Guess

So, I’m willing to admit that a certain amount of my “underwhelmed” reaction to this game is because it was hyped so much by friends and the few advertisements I saw. That being said, the game I was sold via recommendations and the advertisements does not, at all, feel like the game I actually bought. The game I was promised had tons of choices and all this variation and wonder and the game I got has fun battle mechanics and a rather stunted plot with little variety available to me. Because, if I’m being honest, the plot is kinda boring, even for a JRPG. Honestly, I’m still not even sure what the plot is beyond individual quest lines that have nothing tying them together.

Your character has a skill. They use the skill to complete a task in order to resolve a conflict that has interrupted their routine. They are prompted by some minor portion of their personality to pursue some greater task elsewhere. You move on to the next town. You repeat the whole saga for a new character. They join your party. You continue until you get to another portion of one character’s mission and then stuff happens that really doesn’t differ.

For how convoluted the skill crap is, in terms of actually completing the side quests, there really isn’t a whole lot of explanation. If you’re playing through this, I recommend ignoring the side quests until you’ve unlocked all of the characters so you understand what all the abilities are and can figure out how the shit you’re supposed to get fresh ingredients for some whiny-ass baker who can’t go talk to the shop keeper 50 pixels away from him. I mean, c’mon. Literally hiding them all behind these stupid skills that, for the most part, do nothing but force you to tap a bunch of buttons on every character who has the ability to talk? That’s super frustrating!

And don’t even get me started on how many unnecessary clicks there are in this game? Want to sell something you only have one of? First you have to select it, then you have to select the quantity, then you have to push up to say you want to sell it and then you have to tap the “A” button again to actually sell it. This mechanic is present EVERY TIME you have options, most of which mean nothing beyond choosing yes or no on selling something or saying if you’re reading to move on in the dumb little plot bits. Also, while I’m complaining, the writing is super cliché. There’s no real depth to the characters and they’re about as interesting as a cardboard cutout.

Now, all that being said, the game is still kind of fun. The battle mechanics are fun, the powers are interesting, and it’s got a rather smooth grind (in this case, grinding is the act of completing repetitive tasks in order to level up characters or gear in a game) without being entirely mindless. It’s basically a step up from Final Fantasy (auto-attack to grind and win), so about the same as Pokemon. You need to use the weaknesses of the enemies in order to gain an advantage over them, dealing more damage and preventing them from acting for a turn or two. Some enemies are weak to things you won’t have in your party, so it’s usually best to make sure you have a wide range of magic abilities and physical attacks so you can handle whatever comes your way. There’s a lot of grinding that happens early on, unfortunately, because all of the areas around the towns, the main areas you travel through as you pick up the characters, are really low-leveled. It quickly became pointless to fight those battles and it was frustrating to continuously have to run or to have to remember to equip a character’s special skill that lowered the chance of a random encounter (which I didn’t want in higher leveled areas because those areas were worth grinding in).

What makes the game the most fun for me is how easy it is to pick up and put down. There’s a bit of a long loading time when you start up the game, but that only happens whenever you fully exit the game. On a Switch, the only platform that supports it right now, that’s incredibly easy to avoid. I haven’t left the game in a week, despite only playing for half a dozen hours in that time. It’s a great unwinding game because it requires little input from me beyond actually pressing buttons and, if you get enough distance, the cardboard cut-out quality of the characters can actually be quite amusing. Hell, one of them seems like something straight out of a bad anime and I laughed my butt off as his super-serious and grandiose voice actor butchered his way through the lines. I don’t know if they just didn’t give the voice actors the context of their lines or what, but a lot of the emotive responses from this guy seemed a little out of place.

Aside from gameplay, the best feature is the beautiful pixel art of the game. It is a callback to old 16 bit games, but only in artistic style. The trees blow in the wind, the waves shift the water along the short, and there’s a level of detail to the environment that older games could only dream of. You move in two dimensions the entire game, but the backdrop and scrolling as you move around give an amazing approximation of three dimensions. The sound design is also impeccable. The music fits each scene perfectly and even the sort of off-key voice acting doesn’t negatively impact that.

Fun as it can be, I definitely understand that this kind of grindy game isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. It’s barely my cup of tea. With a price point of sixty bucks, I wouldn’t really recommend it. If you can get it on sale for forty or less and want something to eat up some time, then I’d recommend it. There are plenty of hours in the game, they are just grindy hours with small steps in the plot that are so far apart that it seems like they just drop the stories between plot points (which they basically do).

Also, don’t let the demo fool you. Going through the initial arcs of the various characters gets old real fast. Just make a bunch of different profiles on your switch and play the demo once for every character. That way, you can experience most of the game without actually paying for it.

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