Eight Travelers, Eight Stories
Few companies hold as hallowed of a place in the halls of gaming legend as Japan’s Square Enix, the home of not one but two major powerhouse franchises in the realm of Japanese Role Playing Games (Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, respectively).
The masters and founders of a lot of the conventions we now take for granted in JRPGs, these series can be considered pioneers in narrative, presentation, mechanics, and even in the art of translation. Calling Square Enix the gold standard in JRPGs is not hyperbole – it is a fact.
And when it comes to recreating the classic experiences of yore, few companies are as well-equipped to do just that.
Octopath Traveler, developed Square Enix, is a turn-based Japanese role-playing game in the vein of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games albeit with updated graphics and sound. It’s truly like watching a Super Nintendo game on steroids when you view Octopath Traveler in action and it is this nostalgia that helps cement its connection with many older gamers. When it comes to gameplay, Octopath Traveler shows up and delivers one of the most engaging battle systems to hit the JRPG scene in some time. If you’ve yearned for the days of old turn-based epics then Octopath Traveler is a true breath of fresh air. Don’t get us wrong, while this game may aim towards an older gamer audience it has enough charm to entice any JRPG gamer.
One of the most immediately noticeable features of Octopath Traveler’s graphics style is how it straddles the realms of 3D and 2D gaming, offering an aesthetic that is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics but still firmly rooted in the classic look of titles like Final Fantasy VI. In a word, it is gorgeous and never wears out as so many graphical gimmicks do. You will probably walk away from Octopath Traveler wanting more games like this and that’s a good thing. We can only hope that Square Enix pursues launching classically styled JRPGs in the future but we have to wait and see on that one.
But nostalgia can only take you so far in video games and Octopath Traveler does not slouch in the gameplay department. Featuring fast-paced action and challenges galore many hardcore players will lament that there isn’t more to grind away in this game. Trust us, there’s plenty of content for most gamers but for those of us starved for this type of game the experience is all too brief.
The combat system should be familiar to anyone who has played Square’s classic 16-bit titles. Characters employ physical attacks, elemental attacks, specials, items, and more in a tit for tat from one side to the other until the other party is totally defeated. Introduced in the battle system are “Boost Points” that can be used to boost your attacks and commands but it isn’t a completely novel system. As in classic titles, these special attacks could be the difference between a narrow victory and a total defeat. Learning how to employ weakness types and strategically “breaking” your enemy with this battle system never got old, which can definitely tend to happen but were happy to say there was no boredom here.
Another standout in this entry is in its amazing score. You will want to hear this original soundtrack again and it recalls the best of the epic SNES OSTs from the 16-bit era. The aurally rich execution is where the game shines and Octopath Traveler’s high-quality production really makes you sit back and think about “What could have been?” when it comes to Square Enix’s classic library of games.
We know the focus is all on 3D HD remakes of classic titles like Final Fantasy VII, but isn’t there room for games like Octopath Traveler? We hope the game’s sales say yes to this point.
All of that and we are just reaching the story now, featuring not one but 8 heroes, Octopath Traveler embarks the player through 8 separate storylines. What we really would have loved to see is somehow having the 8 characters being drawn together for a central plot, but to be completely fair that is not what this game was marketed to be. And in that sense, the individual stories are still an absolute joy to play through.
That said, Octopath Traveler deserves a purchase because there needs to be more titles like this. So many games try to recreate older styles of gaming and few attempt to imagine the next level of those games.
A superb effort in every way, the JRPG genre will benefit from more titles like Octopath Traveler which can not only recall the fond nostalgia people have for titles of the past but also present a possible vision of the future. While we don’t see any plans for DLC coming to Octopath Traveler we certainly hope there will be a sequel.