I -and most other video game enthusiasts- have been ears-deep in a deluge of quality games these days, and that can often make it easy for certain games to get lost in the shuffle. One particular case was the unfortunate timing of the releases of Octopath Traveler and the Mega Man X Legacy Collections. With release dates just slightly more than a week apart, poor Octopath Traveler was destined to be left behind once all those Mega Mans hit. (And now that Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is out, even said Mega Mans will be ignored.)
Even so! I have been picking it up here and there to get in an hour or two a week, and I’m still really liking it! Progression through the game has not been quite as smooth as with your garden-variety JRPG, and I think that’s something that I really appreciate about it. One of the things that stands out most is that the entire world is open to you from the moment you clear your starting character’s first chapter. There are no plot gates or lands only accessible by boat/airship. The only thing limiting your travels is whether or not you can handle any area’s local monsters. There are convenient flags on the map which tell you where to go to progress each character’s tale, but that’s really all the direction you’re given. If you feel like you just want to grind up to the point where you can visit the edge of the world, then have at it!
At the outset, I opted to take a very semi-focused route, heading straight toward H’annit’s second chapter, and stopping in the towns along the way to recruit other travelers. But then I doubled back and checked out another town in the opposite direction. After that, I learned that secondary jobs are earned by discovering their shrines hidden around the world, so that became a pretty lengthy distraction. And finally, after having expanded my party to five (one more than can be active), I made it to my original destination and… got absolutely trounced. And by the regular monsters in the area, not even the boss!
Which brings me to why I started writing this in the first place: Octopath Traveler is hard! All the Chapter 1s are fairly tame, but with bosses that scale based on the size of your party. But once you begin hitting Chapter 2s, the difficulty ratchets up to eleven. Unfortunately, this makes grinding a bit of a necessity. It doesn’t take long, because enemies in your level range give out generous amounts of experience points, which seem to be the most important part of survival. Equipment gives nice stat increases, but is generally prohibitively expensive, and monsters don’t drop quite as much money as they do EXP. It helps that I recruited Tressa the merchant, who has several skills that make earning cash easier, but it still seemed like for every new piece of equipment I worked to afford, I gained a couple levels while grinding for the cash.
On the upside of it all, the combat system is still really fun, being a sort of puzzle where you need to balance your BP (that give you extra turns or buff your skills) with breaking enemies’ guards. It was easy at first, but as the monsters started getting stronger and coming in bigger groups, it became trickier to decide which ones to target first or when to spend those oh-so-precious BPs. Do you break all the enemies at once to get a free turn, or do you just focus on taking one down at a time? There’s way more strategy in normal battles in Octopath Traveler than in most similar RPGs.
The boss battles continue to delight me as well. Each one is trickier than the last, and many seem to have a gimmick that really forces you to adapt to different strategies. The boss of Tressa’s Chapter 1 was a duo of pirates who started out pretty basic, but once one of them took a lot of damage, the other began taking any attacks that would have hit his comrade’s weaknesses. And you would think, “Okay, this guy is taking hits for his friend, I’ll just use his weakness instead” but then those end up landing on the first guy, and you’re all like “aaugh these knuckleheads are smarter than I thought!” So you’re forced to use multi-target attacks or alternate breaking them so that they can’t stop you from hitting them with the correct weapon/element. It’s tough! And I love it! H’aanit’s second boss did something completely different, which was to re-roll it’s weaknesses and gain an extra shield point every time it recovered from a break. That battle in particular took roughly 20 minutes and I ended it with my two casters completely drained of MP and the whole party on the brink of death. It was thrilling! Usually battles so close are reserved for final bosses, but every single boss is like that in Octopath Traveler.
After that rough chapter, I’ve decided that may next goal is to recruit the final three travelers before moving onto any more advanced chapters. Hopefully even those easier scenarios will give me the necessary experience buff to make progressing the stories a little more manageable. Even if they don’t, I guess that just means I get to spend more time playing this really fun game. It’s win-win!