Ever since it was first announced over a year ago, Octopath Traveler has been one of the most highly anticipated games to get a release on the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Square Enix, in collaboration with Acquire and with publishing through Nintendo, this exclusive role-playing game has been worked on by the team responsible for the Bravely Default series of games on the 3DS. With its homage to games of the past, the series captured the feel of Square Enix’s past titles; something that many Switch owners hoped would make the transition to this latest RPG on their beloved consoles.
The title takes its name from the fact that this game incorporates eight different playable characters, each with their own personal stories that sets on a path of destiny within the land of Orsterra. Although the game contains multiple characters and stories, from the outset you must select one primary candidate for whose story becomes the central theme. Once you play through the first chapter of their tale though, you are then given a choice to set out on a quest to find the other seven, remaining, characters to unravel their stories, or to continue along the path of your own central character. It gives a non-linear approach and freedom to play as you wish, as you can visit any of the characters’ stories at any time.
Whoever you choose as your central character, they always remain at the forefront of your party and never leave; making them the central role of whatever story you play through. With so many options available, there is a lot to take on board. However, it never feels complicated or over-bombarding with the various traits and options on offer. Each of the characters also contain specific abilities, or Path Actions, that can be utilised when exploring the expansive world. For instance, Therion the thief can pick the pockets of unsuspecting NPC’s, thus gaining valuable loot, whilst Olberic Eisenberg, a once valiant knight, can challenge people to spar with him, thus increasing his experience and ability to fight, as well as unlock various elements. It all adds to produce a multi-branching mechanic, not just in stories, but also in exploration, interaction and abilities; but not one that is as overwhelming as it may sound.
Most of your time is spent traversing the various landscapes that make up the land of Orsterra; although you’ll find yourself in fair few scraps too. The expansive overworld is littered with a variety of towns, dungeons and caves, as well as a spattering of optional extras and side missions. What sets this title apart from the generic formula of a lot of RPG’s though, is that these areas ,or side missions, are just as important as the main quests, for they can reward you with a variety of items that help to bolster up and fine-tune the mechanics of your team’s set-up.
Each of the character paths, or stories, are unique to each persona, although at times they do cross-over onto each others paths. Whatever character path you choose, each of the narratives are engaging enough to keep you playing, as is the exploration of the land in order to find new locations, hidden secrets and valuable loot; either in monetary value or party worth in bolstering effects and abilities. Each of the stories help to build a bigger picture of the world and its events, bringing an immersion and investment into the game, without bogging the player down in too much information or over-extended play-times. It’s bite-sized chunks of episodic story-telling and adventuring make it ideal in either a casual capacity, or a full-blown hardcore gaming session.
As well as an involving story arc for each of the characters, the combat mechanics are just as engrossing as the rest of the game. Using a turn-based mechanic, these skirmishes reminisce of RPG’s from a bygone era, yet contain a mass of depth that forces you to experiment with various options and techniques in battle. As you progress through the game and defeat enemy types, you are rewarded with Job Points which can be used to buy further skills for your party members; thus opening up a whole host of options when it comes to choosing attack variations. These offer a range of defensive and offensive skills that can grant critical hits, or serious boosts to your stat levels. The more you purchase, the more expansive they get, until you get to master that specific class. When this is achieved, you can utilize secondary skills, creating an expansive set of options in developing characters and combat efficiencies.
Despite this branching of progression, again, it rarely feels over exuberant, instead offering a flexibility to how you approach everything within the game, whether it be exploration, story arc, combat or abilities. Another factor in the combat element of the game, comes in the form of a boost and break system. With each enemy encountered, it’s up to you to find there weaknesses, thus creating a break in their defences and leaving them vulnerable to attack. However, to further enhance this, each character also has the ability to boost their attack in a series of tiers, depending on how you preserve them. With each turn in battle, you gain one tier to your boost, skip their usage for three turns, you can then produce a level four boost attack, which deals major damage to foes, especially if their defences are broken. It adds a rather clever and intriguing level of tactical play into combat situations; one that becomes more prevalent when you encounter particularly nasty foes or boss fights.
As well as an abundance of playability, Octopath Traveler’s presentation is just as equally sublime. It contains a very unique art-style, touted as HD-2D, to bring the land of Orsterra literally to life. It captures perfectly the look of the old 16-bit titles of the past, yet possesses such detail and refinement, that it feels distinctly modern. Everything here is perfectly polished, with background and foreground objects to add depth, as they blur in and out of focus depending on your position. Lighting is also particularly jaw dropping, with a variety of special effects that simply leave you in awe at what the developers have produced here. There’s a mass of diversity in locations, colour and environments; motivating you to play further to see what wonders of the world can be discovered next. It’s all enhanced further with a wondrous soundtrack that sounds retro, yet still creates a tone of such modernity that it simply dances around your ears.
Overall, Octopath Traveler is a sublime example of gaming in its finest form. It retains all the charm of a retro title, yet brings it smack up to date with its presentational and gameplay options. With eight distinct, yet engrossing and rewarding stories, investable characters and a whole world wanting to be explored, this is like no other RPG I have ever played before. Its combat mechanics are equally sublime, producing a variation that keeps you experimenting and creates a freshness to an otherwise stale mechanic of older titles. Square Enix have produced a fine balance here, between accessibility and depth, producing a title that is easy to get into, yet difficult to put down. It’s easily a modern classic and a must-buy for all Switch owners; particularly if you’re a fan of the RPG genre, or an older gamer who wants to revisit the charms of old, yet retain a freshness of modernity that will never grow old or tiresome.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.