Octopath Traveler - Eight Paths, One Journey
It's easy to reduce every game down to a few oversimplified characteristics. Halo is just a game about a guy who shoots other guys. Mario is a game about a plumber jumping around random places, and so on. And while there's nothing wrong with having a standard approach or gamplay loop, it can be a problem if the experience dull and the monotony is exposed. Octopath Traveler unfortunately falls into this camp, starting strong with its unique approach to classic turn and class based JRPG games, but ultimately becoming a little repetitive and monotonous before the end credits roll.
Rather than tell a single story about some lad from a small town suddenly being the key to saving the world the game tells eight completely unique and independent stories, starting with whichever of the 8 travelers the player chooses. You're free to collect the other 7 characters at will, and can even completely ignore them, each story is completely isolated. The only times characters interact are in small dialogues that occur between cutscenes. This isn't actually that big of a negative as long as you can accept that this is how the stories will play out. Most of the traveler's journeys are gripping.
All stories are split into four chapters, and feel very episodic in nature. This is both a pro and a con as it allows for easy planning of game time, most chapters take about 45 minutes to complete, but does get a bit too repetitive as the game goes on. Each chapter sees the character entering the objective town with a cutscene, using their path action, traversing a small dungeon with a end boss, and then ends with another cutscene.
Path actions are interactive abilities that each character can employ with NPC townsfolk. There are four in the game, allowing the player to learn new information about the town, buy or steal items, take NPCs along for the journey, or simply fight them. Much like the rest of the game, path actions are a fun and interesting way of interacting with townsfolk, until it gets old and repetitive, as you tediously investigate and steal from every single person in a town.
Dungeon and map design overall is very disappointing as well. Most areas have a single path that leads through it, with only slight and brief branches leading to dead ends and the occasional chest. No location feels like a place to be explored, but instead a conveyor belt of random encounters leading you to the next area or a boss fight. Even the optional and end game dungeons follow this design approach, leaving them feeling a little underwhelming.
Combat is where Octopath really shines. Much like the Bravely Default games before it, this is more than a standard turn based battle system. Each turn characters earn BP, which can be spent to allow for multiple attacks, or stronger abilities. Every enemy has a number of weaknesses that if activated enough will cause them to lose their position in both the current and next turn's order. The system really lets the strategy of turn based combat shine, even better than the Bravely Default games did, and is a lot of fun. Each character has a unique class, and can equip any other class as a secondary job, provided you explore the world to find that job's shrine. It's a great system, as some skills learned from secondary jobs can be mixed and matched into a character's build, even without the job equipped. There are also 4 secret jobs hidden in level 50 dungeons that provide more powerful versions of the standard classes.
Overall Octopath Traveler is an amazing game. For the first 30 hours or so I could not put it down at all. However, once I realized how by the numbers each of the chapters are, and saw the somewhat lacking payoffs and sometimes random and unexplained antagonists that appear in many fourth chapters, I had a harder time convincing myself to pick the game up again. That said, if you're a fan of turn based JRPGs like Bravely Default, or the older Final Fantasies, then I don't think there's currently a better game that you could buy to scratch that itch.
Value: Worth Full Price