Octopath Traveler: Return to the Golden Age of JRPGs

Octopath Traveler is a highly anticipated Japanese RPG from the RPG masters themselves, Square Enix. First announced at the official Nintendo Switch unveiling in January 2017 with a teaser trailer, we are finally nearing the game’s release date of July 13th. During Nintendo’s E3 2018 Direct, the prologue demo was announced to be released on June 14th exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, with progress from the demo carrying over to the full game upon its release. I spent a lot of time playing this demo over the past week and I am excited to share my thoughts on the early chapters of the game.

There are eight playable characters in Octopath Traveler and the game gives the player the option of choosing the starting protagonist, each with unique abilities, and allows them to explore the world and take on quests while recruiting the other characters—or not, if they wish. Each character comes with a unique set of skills, path actions, and talents. While each character can learn skills from other job classes, the path actions and talents are unique to each character. In the full release, hero’s will be able to take on sub-classes to learn active and passive skills from the other heroes’ skill list but will not be able to learn the unique path actions or talents.

octogroupKeyart used from the initial Nintendo Switch reveal event. Looks like our heroes are planning a grand adventure.

Path actions are non-combat abilities that allow the playable characters to interact with non-playable characters. Such actions include the ability to steal or purchase items from citizens, challenge them to a duel, or temporarily recruit them to summon in battle against enemies. These are then broken into a Noble action and Rogue action. Noble actions can be used without consequence but the hero must meet level restrictions in order in interact with certain citizens while the Rogue actions can be used on nearly anyone but carries with it a chance for failure which would then lower your reputation in that town. If reputation falls, no path actions whether they be Noble or Rogue can be completed unless paying the local barkeep to spread word of your renown to regain the trust of the townsfolk. Once reputation is restored, you may resume using the path actions unless reputation falls again.

The aesthetic and combat in Octopath Traveler are very much inspired by classic RPGs, most notably from the Super Nintendo generation but are given a more modern approach. This game uses an “HD 2D” art style using pixel-based graphics in high definition. It sounds a little bit like an oxymoron but it looks fantastic. They also make great use of depth, focus, and lighting to accentuate the beauty of the environments. I’m a sucker for water effects in games and the water in this game is buttery smooth with a little bit more realistic look, creating a wonderful juxtaposition against the pixelized settings.

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Combat is turn based, much like RPGs of yesteryear. For those that typically didn’t like turn based combat (I’m not one of those people), Octopath introduces a more tactical, hands-on approach thanks to the “boost” system and hero abilities that “summon” captured beasts or recruited citizens to aid in the fight. Each character gets one Boost Point (BP) per turn, to a max of 5, that can be used to increase the power of the next attack or increase the duration of buff and debuff moves. Each hero has limits on what weapons they can equip based on their class and sub-class, this creates an added layer of strategy. Party composition will be important as you will want to have a wide variety weapon types and magic elements ready to exploit enemy weaknesses. Enemies begin the fight with a shield level, meaning they are more resistant to all damage until the shield is broken—which can only be done by attacking them with one of their weaknesses. When multiple enemies are on the field of battle with varying shield levels and weaknesses, it’s easy to see that this won’t be your basic “mash standard attacks until you win” JRPG.

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The hardest part is deciding which character to start with. It’s already been stated that you can recruit and play through all story lines in a single save file of the main game but in the demo you are unable to swap out your starting character. As of now, it’s unclear if that will change in the main game so it’s a good idea to start with someone you will be happy with. You might be saying to yourself, “Octopath Traveler is kind of a weird name” and I agree with you but the developers did find a way to make it sort of relevant outside of just the number eight:

Ophilia the Cleric – Path Action: Guide. A Noble action that can be used to lead characters to complete side quests or summon following citizens to aid in battle. Her skills make her a magic user focused on healing and Light magic.

Cyrus the Scholar- Path Action: Scrutinize. A Rogue action that can be used to glean information from citizens used to complete side quests or find locations scattered loot. Another caster, focused on high elemental damage.

Tressa the Merchant- Path Action: Purchase. A Noble action that can be used to purchase items from citizens, often at lower prices than shops or on items that otherwise would not be purchasable. She can also sometimes find money randomly while walking and can spend money in battle to summon mercenaries to land high amounts of damage.

Olberic the Warrior- Path Action: Challenge. A Noble action to commence a duel with citizens, this seems most useful to remove people blocking doorways, completing side quests and winning experience and items from the duels. He is the heavy hitter and tank of the group.

Primrose the Dance- Path Action: Allure. The Rogue counterpart to the Guide action. Complete side quests and summon followers in battle. She is a support character, using dances to buff teammate stats in battle and can cast Dark magic.

Alfyn the Apothecary- Path Action: Inquire. The Noble counterpart to the Scrutinize action. His “Concoct” skill in battle allows him to combine items to create powerful healing or to debuff enemies.

Therion the Theif- Path Action: Steal. The Rogue counterpart to the Purchase action. He can steal items that citizens carry but odds of success can vary greatly based on the item or person being stolen from. A self-sufficient character able to heal himself and debuff enemies. Able to steal items from enemies in battle.

H‘aanit the Hunter- Path Action: Provoke. The Rogue counterpart to the Challenge action. She can also Capture beasts in battle and summon them later, captured enemies have many effects that can heal or help cover missing weapon and element types from the party composition.

Notice the pattern here? The first letter of each hero spells out Octopath! ANYway, this game is beautiful, interactive, strategic, and overall a perfect love letter to/evolution of the golden age of JRPGs. This will be an absolute must have if you are a Switch owner and it may make one of the best cases to buy a Switch we’ve seen yet. The full game is out in a little less than a month and should give players 50-60 hours of play through just the story and an estimated 100-hours if you play through all side stories. I’ll be sure to share a full review after the game launches next month. Until then…

Keep grinding.

 

 

 

Recapping E3

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In a nearly week long wave of hype, the Electronic Entertainment Expo came and went. The press conferences began on Saturday 6/9 with EA then continued over the weekend through Tuesday with Xbox, Bethesda, Square Enix, Ubisoft, PC, Sony, and finally, Nintendo. Following Nintendo’s digital conference (known as Nintendo Direct), the showroom floors opened and so commenced the live demos, deep dives, and interviews with the developers which carried on through Thursday 6/14.

There was a lot of negativity from the gaming community as each conference concluded. Between bad pacing, awkward deliveries, missing games, and missing release dates, it’s understandable that not everyone was pleased at first glance. It certainly didn’t help that there were so many leaks of big game announcements prior to the event, games that would have made great surprises otherwise.

Taking a step back, however, to digest and take stock of everything that was shown rather than just waiting for the next big surprise, should leave gamers feeling better about the coming year. Looking back, nearly every conference had a little something for everyone and a whole lot to look forward to. Some of them even launched games directly following their conference! There was way too much information to cover it all now so I’m going to talk about a few of my favorite games and announcements from the week. You can see more of Level Grind’s favorites from the show including Spiderman and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate here.

Bioware’s new title, Anthem, looks to be perfect for those who enjoy multiplayer exploration, team based combat, and want to fulfill a fantasy of being Iron Man. Anthem contains what appears to be a massive, shared, open world full or lore and mysteries. Players can choose and customize their exosuits (Javelins) to fulfill different roles in the team with gadgets and armaments that not only affect how you play but can also be used to set up combo attacks with other players. Javelins can be changed between missions to fill different roles as needed. Anthem is sure to draw comparisons to Activision’s Destiny as the latter has certainly been an extremely major influence on the team exploration shooter genre but it’s clear Anthem will have a lot of systems and mechanics to make it unique.

Octopath Traveler is being published by Square Enix and is coming exclusively to Nintendo Switch on July 13th. This was dubbed game of the show by Level Grind contributor, Stephen. A prologue demo was released during the week of E3, allowing players to try all eight characters’ opening chapters. I’ve spent a lot of time with this demo and will be covering more in depth soon.

Speaking of Nintendo, remember earlier when I mentioned there were some games that dropped immediately after the conference ended? This happened after the Nintendo Direct, releasing long awaited port of Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight to the Nintendo Switch. I’m a big fan of games in the Metroidvania genre so this was a huge announcement for me. I’ll have my review on this coming soon. In other Nintendo-releasing-games-after-their-direct news, Fornite’s Battle Royale mode was also released for the Switch immediately which isn’t big news for me personally but will be a huge boon for the system- offering console quality visuals and control on the go. Nintendo ALSO bumped the release of their Splatoon 2 “OCTO Expansion” from mid July up to June 13th, giving it a new launch date during E3! Hands on impressions coming soon!

Upcoming indie game Indivisible by Lab Zero Games received some new gameplay and details in a developer interview at the show. I remember seeing snippets of this game previously but it had fallen off my radar until this deep dive. Based on gameplay and the developer commentary, this seems to be a 2D platformer with Metroidvania elements but rather than fighting enemies in real time, when you encounter an enemy in the environment you enter a turn based RPG battle. The art style and characters look great. I can’t wait to see more information on this.

My Game of the Show: Of all the games and gameplay shown throughout the week, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima really blew me away. We covered this a bit in a previous post but the game centers on the Mongol invasion of Japan. The protagonist is a Samurai who must evolve beyond typical Samurai tradition to become a force the Mongols would never expect. The game is one of the most gorgeous to grace any console to date. Ghost of Tsushima was first shown in a teaser trailer back in December during Sony’s Playstation Experience event. Sucker Punch has been mostly known for their Infamous games which feature characters with super human abilities that must make choices to serve the people or serve themselves. Although the decisions are mostly superficial during the majority of the game, the end game decisions seem to carry a lot more weight. It will be interesting to see what skills, character progression, and decision-making elements we’ll see in their newest title. We still don’t have a release window but maybe we will know more by the time this year’s Playstation Experience comes around.

Most anticipated game: Although the personal game of the show “awards” were varied, here at Level Grind and our friends agree that we are most eager for CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. Most known for The Witcher series, CD Projekt Red leaves high fantasy behind for an 80’s inspired vision of a cyberpunk future. There was a 50-minute behind closed doors gameplay demo for select attendees at E3 (I’m so jealous). It has been said this will be a first-person RPG with some shooting elements. Had I been able to see the demo, I’m sure this would have been my game of the show. I can’t get enough of the trailer. The style and music just set the perfect mood and everything in that trailer is set during the day, imagine what the city looks like at night! I can picture all the neon now. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, take a look!

 

Favorite non-game moments: First off, the Nintendo Treehouse team covering the demos from a large number of games shown off during the Nintendo direct was almost always entertaining. They were my go-to channel for a good portion of the week due to their extensive coverage and quality of content shown. Sort of game related but not game specific was all the “and it’s released today” moments from the show. Often this was for smaller titles or indie games but it’s still great to get something instant while enjoying the shows. Lastly, Andrew W.K. opening the Bethesda show with a musical performance for Rage 2 was pretty awesome. It went a little long but it’s hard to not enjoy Andrew W.K.

What games were missing? Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square Enix’s Avengers game, Animal CrossingBloodborne 2. Given everything else that was shown/announced it’s hard to be too broken hearted. As nice as it would have been see these games, we will have more than enough to play over the course of the next year.

How did I do with my predictions?  Pretty terribly. As mentioned above we did not see Animal Crossing, Avengers or Bloodborne 2. In fact, just about the only thing I got right was the Elder Scrolls VI announcement and even that didn’t contain the subtitle, location or any gameplay. We likely will not see it until the next generation of consoles show up.

Well, it was a bit long winded but that’s pretty much my recap of E3. There’s still so much more that happened and with all the games mentioned throughout the expo I’m sure we will be talking about it plenty going forward. Keep tuned for more and of course…

Keep Grinding