In spite of my irregular work schedule these last couple months, I’ve managed to put some time into Octopath Traveler, the recently released RPG throwback by Square Enix. And it’s mostly been enjoyable! While I still have reservations about some of the systems and design decisions at work, there is a lot to love about this game.
After playing the demo that released last summer (I chose to start that session as Alfyn the apothecary) I was reasonably excited for the game to drop. Unfortunately, Octopath Traveler quickly makes a rather poor impression. The pacing of the first 7-10 hours – defined by traveling to each character’s starting town, playing through their prologue chapter, and then recruiting them into your party – is repetitive and, regrettably, indicative of the general cycle for the rest of the game. The dissonance between the individual character stories and the almost complete absence of interaction between characters also adds to the numbing effect of the narrative.
Fortunately, things improve steadily once the prologues are completed and the world opens up. Exploration is rarely prevented, and, just as in many an early Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, is largely limited by character level. That is to say, if you aren’t paying attention to the listed danger level of a new region you can easily find yourself wandering into combat with vastly overpowered enemies.
Another feature that becomes available is the discovery of Job Shrines, areas hidden near the starting villages which unlock the ability to assign a secondary job to your party members. As my protagonist (H’aanit in my current playthrough) finished unlocking her skill tree, I grew concerned that I was approaching the end of the limited character progression system available. But once you unlock the secondary jobs, a whole new set of customization options open up. While I haven’t found Octopath Traveler to provide the same granularity of character customization as, say, Final Fantasy V, the secondary jobs certainly provided me with more systems to play with than I had initially expected.
I’m closing in on the halfway mark, and have begun to develop some fondness and disdain for the characters in this game. Some of the writing decisions feel very strong, while others feel very muddled and confused. I’ll jot down some thoughts on each of the characters and their respective stories once I’ve delved a little deeper.