I loved me some JRPG’s back in the day. I played a lot of Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, and the Chrono series. So, when I saw Octopath Traveler I was pretty pumped to get back into a JRPG. It offers nice additions to the combat with creatures being weak to certain attacks, with breaks, and on the fly creations. Plus, it offers eight distinct characters with their own stories and strengths and weaknesses. Octopath Traveler was finally going to bring JRPGs into the modern era.
Octopath Traveler is technically sound and offers some great music. It also has 16 bit graphics with some stunning effects mixed in. I loved the character designs and the environments, they added a feeling of depth in a shallow world. Surprisingly the sand, water, and snow look realistic. The water looks especially good.
The collection of characters don’t really offer any original stories which was the biggest disappointment for me. It started out bland and continued to be so. It was a run of the mill set of stories, a person is missing, or someone died, or they feel guilty for a situation. You then just travel around the world gathering up the remaining members of your group. What I did like about the story was the lack of a looming crisis, or world ending weapon or calamity. Having self-contained stories, to me, was a nice change of pace.
Moving to new places felt like a mixture of Legend of Zelda and Assassins Creed. Getting from one place to another is just a constant grind. Every five steps there is the same enemy with the same weaknesses and strengths. It was a slog for the first hour of my play time. I had to put it down because I was so irritated with what the story was and the constant bombardment of the same boring enemies. There seems to be depth in a living breathing world but it’s just shallow and you have no investment in the world or the people who inhabit it. I was hoping for a game that had depth like the Mass Effect series but was denied it.
Another bright spot was the combat system. It shifts away from the traditional turn based combat and moves toward cleverness and using each characters strengths. To really become effective you have to find and exploit the enemy weaknesses and how to play your characters strengths off of those weaknesses. You can use character abilities, strengths, and items to poke and prod until you find the weaknesses. It turns the uninspired rock, paper, scissors system into an expanded combat system that forces you to experiment with timing and skill.
This adds a nice depth to the combat but that soon becomes tedious when you face off against the same toads, snakes, wolves, and flying creatures with scythes. Once you figure it out the fun is gone after the 50th creature attacks you between two towns. It is the same axe I have to grind with the Farcry series, there is an endless mass of enemies that are just copy and pastes. However, by adding this to the combat system this forces you to balance how you attack. Sometimes using the weaker attack works out better because it might break their defense or steal SP so you can attack twice in one move.
The variation comes during the boss battles and this is where you really need to experiment and discover weaknesses quickly or you will get destroyed. Some of the most powerful ones are guarding the idols that grant you better powers. I have only gotten a few of them because it is painful to get through but not so much so that I think it is unfair just super difficult and you have to approach it with the right strategy.
Octopath Traveler is exactly what the JRPG genre needed. It’s got great 16bit aesthetic that homage to its predecessors. It changes the combat formula to a deep and complex web that requires experimentation and patience. I think that this is definitely a step in the right direction and one that could bring the JRPG genre from the brink (In the US at least). There are massive problems though and they cannot be overlooked. The formulaic and boring stories definitely hurt its appeal. The nail in the coffin for me was the constant battles. I know that JRPG’s are filled with grind but I honestly think this is what is holding it back. The story and grind are what made Octopath Traveler a disappointment for me and a slog to try and get through. I guess I have grown out of the JRPG genre and I tabled my bias for the score but I had to give people my honest opinion. The combat system, the amazing visuals, and boss battles are why I would recommend Octopath Traveler to any die-hard JRPG fan.