Octopath Traveller for Switch is a beautiful game on many levels, it also has the best title I can remember in years. There are 8 protagonists, therefore Octopath makes perfect sense. It can be a game for all people that should lead to a renaissance in JRPG games on the small console.
The game is split into the tales of 8 people in this fantasy world. Alfyn the Apothecary, Cyrus the Scholar, H’aanit, a hunter, Olberic the traditional Warrior, Ophilia a Cleric, Primrose, an exotic Dancer, Therion, the Thief and finally, Tressa, a merchant. You are then left to your own devices at the beginning to pick one and then get the team together by going after the others at your leisure. It is a simple and approachable as you can imagine and leaves you to pick the one that appeals most.
I picked Olberic the warrior just because I thought he would be easiest to get to grips with. After a couple of hours with the character, you are then in the open world where you can either go onto the next mission or destination with Olberic or head to one of the towns you saw on the character selection map to get another team member. Along the way, you will be subject to random battles between towns that allow you to grind and level up your character. Here is where the games JRPG trappings come in, you need to grind and level your characters up so that you can unlock the next chapter in all their stories. Olberic needs to be in the early twenties before you can attempt chapter two of his story. Luckily unlike some games, the combat is interesting enough to make the grind seem less painful.
Combat is simple, turn-based and effective. You have the ability to use a boost every other turn that doubles your strike power and as a result, can make the random battles end much faster. By finding enemies weaknesses you can break their defence and leave them stunned for a turn allowing you to queue up a devastating attack and hopefully end the fight. You never see the energy bar of the enemy so each hit you land could be the last or you may only be halfway, it keeps the danger and enthusiasm going, but can leave you open to wasting potions and special moves. In any case, health doesn’t regenerate between battles so you will need to use the healing grapes or spells anyway. Of course, different characters have different abilities both in and out of battle.
The class-specific character abilities are useful and this is what makes Octopath unique in a crowded field. Olberic can challenge NPC’s to a training fight to help him level up quicker. Primrose the dancer can enchant them to join her party and aid in battles and Alfyn the Apothecary can inquire and find out more information from townspeople. This combined with your actual interest in the characters storylines means that you can combine your team as you see fit to whatever combination you think works the best. This is where Octopath strays from other games and appeals to me. There is little to no character interaction. In other games, you may have to manage interactions within your team. Mass Effect and Dragon Age come to mind immediately when you are having to balance the harmony of your team with the combination you actually want. Octopath ignores this primarily because the 8 are all main characters in their own right so it wouldn’t make sense to have them be relegated to minor characters who need their own squabbles sorted out. It also cuts down on the small talk between missions. In games this size, it can be a blessing to get rid of some lesser quests. I appreciate some may find it strange that there is so little interaction between the 8 travellers but if you kept getting distracted between missions some people would never finish the game.
Of course, the meat of the game is the gameplay and grind but many people will be drawn in by the gorgeous graphical style. In what can best be described as a remastered, style the backdrops and lighting are rendered and the sprites walk around the scenery. Screenshots and even my attempt at a description don’t do it justice and I think it is the best looking 2D game since Dragons’ Crown. Your small characters are in keeping with classics like Illusion Of Time, Secret of Mana and of course Final Fantasy, yet the backdrops are more modern and when you get into a fight you have a sprite-based enemy that looks much larger than your character and has its own unique styling.
If there is a complaint about this game it can only be in the way the story and dialogue are handled. I feel I am constantly pressing the button to skip it along. Some scenes while well told and interesting are coming close to Metal Gear Solid levels of length and while the story is good the fact that there isn’t much happening during this means your attention can drift, especially if you are a quick reader. In a game where there is a noticeable grind, you want to see some reward for getting to a stage where there is no combat. Being rewarded with a long text-based cutscene is not always what you want to see. It’s a hard feeling to nail down in words but the reward for your hard work is not always there. Luckily the hard work of Octopath Traveller is very enjoyable and makes it one of the best experiences on Switch.