A few months before the Nintendo Switch launched, Square Enix started advertising a beautiful looking game it called Project Octopath Traveler. It’s safe to assume that many were reminded of Square’s 16-bit RPGs from the 1990s, such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, based on Octopath Traveler‘s looks alone. Fast forward to today and Octopath Traveler is nearly here, dropping the “Project” from its name and promising a JRPG experience quite different from the games we remember from those simpler times.
At this point, I’ve spent about 15 hours with Octopath Traveler, and though it’s clear that I have a long way to go, I can definitely say that it’s unlike any JRPG I’ve ever played before. Granted, I haven’t played a ton of them, but I’ve hit most of the big names throughout the years, and even with my limited playtime with Octopath Traveler so far, I can say that it’s absolutely unique.
Square Enix’s approach to Octopath Traveler is interesting and different from most JRPGs. Instead of our band of heroes being brought together to fight a common enemy, their alliance seems to be more one of coincidence than anything else. Each of the eight characters in Octopath Traveler has their own story, with their own goals, ambitions, and enemies. There doesn’t seem to be a villain they’re banding together to defeat, and if there is, it hasn’t shown its face yet.
Because of this, the opening hours of the game are spent recruiting all eight characters and completing the first chapters of their respective stories. You can pick whoever you want to start the game with (I picked Primrose the dancer) and your choice doesn’t seem to have any affect on the game outside of the order you recruit new characters in. For instance, the second character I brought into the fold was Olberic the warrior, as his starting area was next to Primrose’s on the map.
I’m a little torn on this admittedly unique approach to opening an RPG. On the one hand, I feel like I’m far more acquainted with the heroes of Octopath Traveler than I have been with the heroes of any JRPG before. Each opening quest gives you a ton of background on all of the eight characters, laying their motivation plain and giving their personalities plenty of time to develop.
On the other hand, there are times where the early gameplay loop can begin to feel a little stale. While each character has a unique story, the structure of all the opening chapters is the same. When we’re talking 10+ hours to recruit all eight characters, you sometimes wish that you could just get on with it to see if the game opens up at all in subsequent chapters.
One thing that helps keep these opening hours exciting is Octopath Traveler‘s combat system, which has you finding enemy weaknesses and exploiting them to break through their defenses and dish out major punishment. I am a huge fan of Octopath Traveler‘s combat so far, for the simple fact that you can’t just barrel through the enemies you encounter by spamming the same attacks over and over again.
Octopath Traveler‘s combat system makes you think about your next move, and the focus on wearing down an enemy’s guard makes you consider things you might ignore in other RPGs, such as turn order. I would say combat is my favorite part of Octopath Traveler so far, but that isn’t a very easy call to make because there is indeed a lot to love about this game.
For starters, Octopath Traveler is every bit as beautiful as the trailers suggested it would be. I have been consistently blown away by the way this game looks, as its visual style strikes the perfect balance between preserving the 16-bit look of classic RPGs and updating it for modern audiences.
Similarly, the score has been nothing but excellent. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a soundtrack this good in a video game, and it really adds to the overall beauty of Octopath Traveler. If you’re going to play the game in handheld mode, make sure you’ve got a pair of headphones so you can hear the soundtrack in all of its glory.
So far, I’ve been impressed with Octopath Traveler, though I do have some reservations about pacing and how all of this is going to come together to form one coherent story. One thing is for sure: Octopath Traveler offers a fairly fresh spin on the age-old JRPG formula, and it’s hard to fault Square Enix and Acquire (which co-developed the game) for trying something new, even if those efforts fall a little flat sometimes.
I’ll have a full review of Octopath Traveler coming next week, and this weekend, I’ll be diving deeper into the game to see if it can really stand aside the greats of the JRPG genre. Square Enix is definitely a master at games like this, so I’m hoping that Octopath Traveler will leave me with the same feeling Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI did all those years ago. Octopath Traveler is out on Nintendo Switch on July 13, 2018.