Hands-on with Octopath Traveler: A JRPG that’s well-armed

Adam Mathew 4 June 2018 NEWS

Making the Switch to OG grinding and turn-based killin'

With Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey done and dusted (and then replayed to death), the Nintendo Switch is in need of its next big time sink. Coming from the folks behind Bravely Default and rocking a funky pixel-art aesthetic, Octopath Traveler looks like it'll effortlessly ensnare me in its tentacles.

Fans of early RPGs are going to fall in love with this at first sight. Octopath is a gorgeous 2.5D mix of 8-bit meets 16-bit meets a bunch of dream-like modern accoutrements. This old-and-new fusion bleeds across into the design, too – traditional components, like turn-based combat and job systems, co-exist with fresher concepts like a reputation system and the ability to choose your own main character. The latter is the most exciting feature in terms of replayability, as you'll select from one of eight heroes who'll embark on their own personal quest (as opposed to a one-size-fits-all-save-the-world deal).

You can slide into the 16-bit boots of Alfyn, an apothecary on a selfless quest to heal the sick; Cyrus, a bookworm seeking a missing tome; or H'aanit, a huntress on the trail of her master. Not your thing? You can also be Tressa, a merchant having an existential crisis; Therion, an under-contract thief after a rare jewel; Primrose, an entertainer after her parent's killer; or Ophilia, a young woman on a mission to restore light to the land. Spiritual light. She's not an electrician.

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No matter who you go with, there'll be high fantasy, though not so much that you can't stay grounded and connected to the drama. The slow excavation of dark personal histories and coming to care about your party members is a big part of Octopath's charm. I barely got 40 minutes of hands-on time in my session with the game, but I put the Switch down hooked and hungry to live through more of this world.

All good friendships are forged in the fire of battle, and Octopath delivers many a chance to get better acquainted. Random encounters jack-in-the-box on you through the overworld, a la the early Final Fantasy games. Busting heads then becomes an OG turn-based affair, but with some extra spice sprinkled in. Your foes are susceptible to three things – be it a certain element, weapon type or tactic – but you'll need to discover what these could be via experimentation. Figure it out correctly and that enemy type will forever be branded with it, for easy future reference.

You'll also need to leverage techniques like charging up multiple-turn supers, plus thing like breaks and boosts. Obviously having a range of selectable protagonists comes with a diverse pool of classes, special abilities and tactics. Fair warning though: this isn't a JRPG experience for tenderfoots. Even while suitable levelled, I found a basic encounter took about fifteen minutes to win. It's also reported that boss battles can be 45-minute-plus affairs. I imagine losing one of those will be Switch-snappingly annoying.

Along with their main vocation, your hero can be taught a secondary job. For example, you might be a bookworm by day, but have aspirations of being a hunter on the side – a decision that will let you tame wild creatures, like snow leopards and hawks, to fight by your side. Allergic to fur? Maybe you'll opt to become a (tiny) dancer whose snake-hips can buff the party instead. Like real life, the more you do a job, the better you'll get at it, which will, in turn, earn you passive perks.

But what's interesting is how differently these heroes can shape the world outside of fisticuffs. Playing nobly or roguish will open or close NPC conversation opportunities respectively, plus you have unique “path actions”. One path action might allow you to recruit random NPCs as back-up partners in battle, while another might earn you an exclusive selection of gear with merchants.

What I'm most interested in seeing is how these eight-story threads coalesce into one rich tapestry over the course of multiple playthroughs. Your main characters start their respective journeys on vastly different sides of the same map and where they wind up is anybody's guess at this point (though I'm guessing it's some form of togetherness – after all, the first letters of their names are an anagram for “octopath”).

Utterly gorgeous, well-written – from what I've seen – and overflowing with old-school challenge, Octopath Traveler sure is looking the goods right now. Sizing up its stats, this has +50 Commute Slayer properties and could well become my latest Switch obsession.

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