Right this moment, on your Nintendo Switch, there is a demo calling out for you. A charming, delightful and tingly experience by the name of Octopath Traveller. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue but hey, it’s a ‘working title’. If you’re even just a little bit like me, constantly scouring the Switch eShop for anything you can play on an almost daily basis, I urge, nay, DEMAND you download this demo.
It has been a long time since I’ve played a JRPG. The last one I really sunk my teeth into was Final Fantasy 12 (and yes, it is the best Final Fantasy). The point is, I have a troubled past with these types of games; I like to learn things quickly, either because I’m lazy, impatient, or (more likely) a mix of the two. I don’t have as much time as I had back when I gorged on 300 hours of FFXII, tuning the complex systems and finding that damn vendor or side-quest NPC in the vast world is just not something I have the stomach for anymore.
So, when I downloaded Octopath Traveller, I managed my expectations. Except for some high-praise headlines from other outlets, I’d heard very little about it. Fortunately for me, I was instantaneously struck with its unique charm and aesthetic. The pixel art mixed with a semi-3D semi-2D world design was pleasant to hold in my hands, and translated appropriately to the big screen. But what connected with me the most, was the quality of the voice acting and orchestral soundtrack which juxtaposed these graphics intensely. The delivery of the lines transformed these seemingly basic representations of characters into individuals with their own pains and heartache, while the score carved dramatic tension into the scenes.
Additionally, the blend between flashy, bright and overly flamboyant attack animations added a unique flavour to fight scenes which again, served to underscore the charming aesthetic they’ve built so far. One concern, however, was the level of bloom. This might just be a ‘me’ thing, but the high-saturated lighting teamed with some rather strong bloom made my eyes a bit strained. It wasn’t overly bad it just didn’t ‘feel’ right.
At the moment, Square Enix tout that the game will have eight playable characters, each with their own abilities, personalities, narrative and role in the world. In the demo, there is Olberic, a knight with a shakey past, and Primrose, a dancer seeking to avenge her father’s death. Whilst character stories will be independent in the final game, you will be able to seek them out to add to your party along the way. Indeed, something I found particularly enticing is the way the game will be structured. Too often do I get fatigued following the same story for hours on end; my hope is that Octopath‘s eight narratives will be well-paced and not spread out to maximise hour count. I could potentially finish it! Taking my time one by one, coming back to it when I choose.
Now to the nitty-gritty, the combat. This is usually where RPGs lose me. Fortunately, Octopath has kept me in, for now. It’s explained quickly, and does not take long to grasp at all! Each character has basic attacks, which use different styles of weapons (spear, sword, dagger), and abilities from buffs to AOE to strong single-target abilities. Each enemy has certain weaknesses which become known once they are hit with them, and from what I could see, the weaknesses simply knock them out for a turn or do exceptional damage. Augmenting this — more basic — JRPG combat system is the boost mechanic. One point of boost builds up (to a total of five) each turn, and a maximum of 3 points can be expended an ability to increase its effectiveness. Already, I foresee interesting combinations between different characters, their skills and optimising ‘boost strategies’. And that’s what excites me, a system I can explore, but not have to struggle to get a firm grasp on it almost immediately.
As you can tell, I am quite excited for Octopath’s full release, which is currently slated for sometime in 2018. It is also being produced by the makers of the Bravely Default series, which I hear is good? So far, it seems like it could be yet another brilliant addition to the Switch, and I will be following its progress intently.