Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ten things I adore about Octopath Traveler

I was pretty sure I'd like Octopath Traveler as soon as I finished watching the teaser footage of it that was featured in the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017."

That hunch persisted as I played its first demo, which hit the Switch eShop late last September.

How do I feel about Octopath Traveler now that I'm making my way through the full game? Well, I've put nearly 40 hours into it so far--what do you think?

If that's not enough detail for you, keep reading for a bit of commentary on the 10 things I most love about this throwback of an RPG.

The ability to steal--When I first added Therion ("the thief") to my party, I pretty much ignored his "steal" path action. I mostly used Tressa's similar ability, "purchase," instead. It quickly became clear to me, though, that buying armor, weapons, and items in this game is a fool's errand. Random battles just don't give you the kind of money you need to outfit your crew properly. So, I started stealing from non-player characters (NPCs)--and now I can't stop. Hopefully the game doesn't penalize me for it down the road.

The battle system--You know what excited me most during my four-hour playthrough of the first Octopath Traveler demo? The battles. They gave me powerful Bravely Default vibes--a very good thing as far as I'm concerned. Actually, I think the fights in Octopath Traveler are better than those in Bravely Default. They're certainly more visceral--especially when you "break" an enemy and your system's Joy-Cons offer up an impressive series of rumbles and jolts.

The effects and "filters"--I know a lot of people think the lovely spritework in this game is ruined by the effects its artists and developers applied to those assets, but I'm not one of them. Admittedly, there are times when the vignette and depth-of-field filters make it hard to see paths and easy to miss treasure chests, but I'd rather deal with that than have a game that's flatter and far less aesthetically pleasing.

The freedom--One of the most SaGa-esque aspects of Octopath Traveler is it allows you to go anywhere and at any time. Or, to put it another way, the game lets you do what you want, when you want to do it. This is far from the first RPG to offer such freedom, of course, but it still feels fresh here because of the eight characters--and on-going storylines--at your disposal. Get in over your head while trying to complete a particular chapter and you can simply switch to another. Or you can tackle an optional dungeon. Or you can search for one of the shrines mentioned below. Basically, what you do and when you do it is up to you.

The locales--If I had to hold up one visual element of Octopath Traveler as being more impressive than the rest, I'd go with its towns. Every one does its best to take your breath away the second you stroll past its entrance. This is mainly due to the unique and ornate architecture that fills each burg, but there are other reasons, too--such as the rivers that wind through a number of them and the bridges that cross those burbling waterways. When combined with the environmental details and backdrops, this game's hamlets basically beg you to explore them--and so far I've happily obliged.

The NPCs--In some ways, I like Octopath Traveler's NPCs more than I like its protagonists. There are so many of them, and almost every one has a story to tell. You're able to hear these tales not only by chatting up townsfolk as you would in any other RPG, by the way, but also by using Alfyn's "inquire" and Cyrus' "scrutinize" abilities. Accepting and completing side quests from and for some of these NPCs sheds even more light on their intriguing backgrounds.

The party members--I know Octopath Traveler's eight protagonists are kind of clichéd and trope-y, but I don't care. I like them anyway. I especially like the plucky merchant, Tressa, and the out-for-vengence dancer, Primrose. OK, so I have a soft spot for the cluelessly dreamy (not to mention Sherlock Holmes-y) scholar, Cyrus, and the wet-behind-the-ears apothecary, Alfyn, too. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm pretty fond of all the game's party members, though I'll admit the hermit warrior, Olberic, and the stoic hunter, H’aanit, are my least favorites.

The sense of mystery--Something I've often wished RPGs would feature more of are secret locations. Well, Octopath Traveler has loads of them. Hidden within the landscape that stretches between the game's towns and forests and caverns are caves and tombs that double as optional dungeons and shrines. (You learn secondary "jobs" in the latter.) Believe me when I say stumbling upon one of them is among the most thrilling and satisfying aspects of this globe-trotting adventure.

The soundtrack--It's been apparent since Octopath Traveler's initial tease that its soundtrack was going to be a stunner. Even so, I was unprepared for the brilliance that wafted into my ears the minute I hit "start." The tunes I've heard so far are elegant and emotional and wistful in ways that remind me of the ones I fell in love with while playing Final Fantasy V and VI for the first time back in the day. Need I say more?

The "travel banter"--As you may have heard, Octopath Traveler's eight protagonists never really acknowledge each other during the normal course of play. Those walls come crashing down after certain events, though, and when they do, pressing the plus button on your Switch lets you listen to the banter between two or more party members. These chats aren't exactly deep--they're usually just a few lines long--but they still provide a welcome look at the behind-the-scenes relationships of this tit;e's colorful cast of characters.

Are you playing Octopath Traveler, too? If so, what are your favorite aspects of it?

See also: 'five more (kind of silly) things I adore about Octopath Traveler'