Are these eight heroes able to take their place at the top shelf reserved for classic JRPGs? That was the question we asked of Octopath Traveler as we prepared to write this review. This time on the Nintendo Switch, Square Enix has delivered a story set in a fantasy world but which actually deals with contemporary topics, all realised with nostalgic sprites and a dash of 3D. It looks and feels great, and there are some elements on display here that, at times, made us think that the baton had truly been passed on by the genre greats.
The eight stories alluded to in the title left us feeling a bit cold, however, but at least the warmth surrounding the rest of the game can't be denied. Octopath Traveler has a lot of positives, as we're invited to explore Orsterra, enjoying our journey at the kind of slow pace that is advisable when you're playing this kind of RPG. But, for all its promise in terms of storytelling, the game's biggest problem is a lack of synergy when it comes to the eight-way narrative, and that's especially disappointing in an RPG from a company that has built its foundations in this area over the past few decades.
Don't get us wrong, we're saying this because we had high expectations, and all told it's a still a noteworthy game. The traditional RPG mechanics, such as the turn-based combat and job systems are key, but there are also newer elements such as a Boost system which lets you gain points in each turn and then use them to make multiple simultaneous attacks or enhance certain abilities. It's far from being completely fresh and unique (we saw similar ideas in Bravely) but it works well enough.
The break and defence systems are even better. When you fight an enemy you have to look for their weak points with a combination of attacks using swords, axes, spears, bows, and spells, again and again until you work out what hurts them the most. At that moment, you have to spam your enemy with the attack continuously, keeping them stunned and ensuring that they're unable to attack you in the following turn.
It may sound simple on paper but in practice, with the different monsters and the various restrictions in play, it's a complex system that makes battles harder to win. If you look at the sequence of turns (which is always depicted by a line at the top of the screen) you'll see that it's mixed up and condensed, and it becomes increasingly difficult each time you play because the enemies also improve and once-quiet areas soon fill up with new opponents to defeat.
Octopath Traveler doesn't want to be a walk in the park, then, even if the whole map is available from the beginning and lets you go wherever you want. Over the course of the adventure, you have to play with the various character classes as you try to build the perfect team. There are no easy fights, especially if you're not properly prepared. However, if you are ready for action, it's satisfying to find a group of creatures and finish them off while your party remains intact.