Octopath Traveler: First Impressions

Octopath Traveler was one of the games revealed at the first big Switch event way back in January of 2017. As a retro-styled JRPG from the same team at Square-Enix that did Bravely Default and its sequel, I was immediately interested. Over time, it even managed to become one of my most hotly anticipated major Switch releases, despite the fact that I ignored both demos for the sake of being able to get the most out of the full release.

And now, I have had the game for three full days and have only been able to put just shy of three hours into it. Which is weird, because usually when I get a game that I’m this hyped about, that’s basically all I’ll do during the release weekend. (Or for the next two months, if it’s a Xenoblade game.) Even though I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with it, I’ve already got a lot of strong feelings about Octopath Traveler, and most of them are good!

Most importantly, the premise of the game is that you’re following the stories of eight different characters, who will (presumably) all meet up and join forces to defeat a greater evil, much like in Dragon Quest IV. The difference here is that while DQIV take you on a guided tour of all the characters’ stories in a predetermined order, Octopath lets you choose your starting character, and the order in which you meet up with everyone else. It’s almost like a Mega Man RPG!

I really like this format, as while the stories are always going to be the same, it’ll encourage replays, as you can try different paths through the game. I’ve heard that dialogue changes depending on who is in your party, and that your initial character choice will affect certain parts of the game. The freedom to go about as you please also makes me wonder if you don’t have to recruit everyone? Or if you can even choose to play the entire game with a single character? Who knows! I don’t! And I’m not looking it up ‘cause I don’t want spoilers!

Anyway, I started the game as H’aanit the huntress. At least to me, she seemed like the obvious choice. With weapon proficiencies in bows and axes (the best weapons), the ability to capture and summon monsters in battle, and a snow leopard as a best friend, why would you choose anyone else? H’aanit’s story begins with the hunt of a rampaging monster who has been killing people and (more importantly?) disrupting the ecosystem of the forest. Once that little introductory scenario plays out, you leave on a grand journey across the world to find H’aanit’s master.

The forest quest seemed fairly simple at first, as every encounter is one-on-one and you can usually just capture every monster to end fights quickly. But then I got to the boss and… it was a really rough battle! Balancing the need to break its guard with using your boost points at the right time was tricky, and I even needed to pop a couple healing items to survive. Who has ever heard of that? Having to heal at the first boss? Of course this all paled in comparison to the second boss I went up against, who wiped my party the first time around and forced me to use a bunch of revives (“olive of life” as they’re called here) to just barely claim victory on my second try. I get the feeling that Octopath Traveler won’t be pulling any punches!

Speaking of the battle system, it’s surprisingly awesome. Every monster has a little number representing their defense. When you hit them that many times with a weapon/element they’re susceptible to, their guard is broken and you get a free turn to wail on them for extra damage. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because that’s basically how the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII worked. The main difference here is that you’re in complete control of your party, and not just telling them when to switch into a defensive stance or healing mode. Now I was one of those weirdos who greatly enjoyed FFXIII, so obviously when you take that and make it more engaging, it’s going to win me over big time. Plus you also get access to subclasses later on that lets you mix and match passive abilities like in Final Fantasy Tactics, which I am all about.

One thing I don’t really understand yet is the field abilities. Or, I should say, I don’t understand H’aanit’s field ability. Every character has one unique way to interact with NPC characters, and H’aanit has the ability to… have her monsters beat the crap out of people. Seriously. It makes you enter a battle with a common townsperson and then knock them out with your monster buddies. Ophelia the cleric can have people follow the party so you can summon them into battle to help out with random skills. But H’aanit just beats people up and takes their lunch money. I’m sure there’s a practical use for this skill, but I really have no idea what it is, and experimentation with it is making me feel bad.

So all that aside, I think the only problem I have with the game so far is that the mini-map is really just a radar. Like, it’s a foggy patch of black and grey with points of interest floating around in there all nebulously and whatnot. It’s not really a problem, because the maps aren’t especially complicated (yet), but the cartographer in me desperately wants to have a real map that fills in as I explore. And I don’t know, maybe one of the later characters will give me that ability. Or not, but I’mma keep my fingers crossed.

And so finally, I can proclaim that yes, after three hours, Octopath Traveler is 2018 GOTY.

Well, maybe not. But it is very good! And now that I’m done work for the day, I have the rest of the week off, and I fully intend to play Octopath until I pass out from exhaustion tonight. Or until I run into an ever harder boss and need to step back for a while to collect my thoughts and plan out a better strategy. Whichever one comes first. Either way I am pumped!

(It also really bugs me that they don’t spell “Traveler” with two Ls, but what can you do?)


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