The producer of the gorgeous upcoming Switch game Octopath Traveler made waves this week with a quote in which he said that mechanically it was a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy VI. Other people have made similar comparisons. But Octopath is nothing like Final Fantasy VI—it’s more like a SaGa game, with some experimental ideas that work, and some that really don’t.
I’ve played around 20 hours of Octopath Traveler, which comes out next Friday, and I’ll have a full review up next week. It’s a deep, beautiful game with a very good combat system, an excellent soundtrack, and a cast of characters who are mostly interesting but almost never interact with each other.
That’s the most disorienting thing about Octopath Traveler. Each of the game’s eight protagonists has his or her own story—Olberic the knight wants to track down the man who killed his liege lord; Tressa the merchant wants to be the world’s greatest shopkeeper, etc.—and from what I’ve played so far, none of these stories connect in any way.
That could definitely change later—again, full review coming next week—but as of the third chapter of each character’s story, they’re all entirely self-contained. Your party of characters will only interact through brief optional vignettes called “banter” that you can watch between cut-scenes. During each character’s main story, that character is the only one who talks or appears on screen. Everyone else is just invisible.
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So how does all this work? You start off with one of the eight characters, play through their Chapter 1, and then it’s up to you what you want to do next. You can either go around the world, recruiting the other seven characters by playing through their own Chapter 1s. Or you could grind for levels and try to do your main character’s Chapter 2 solo, which will probably take a while, because there are some hefty level gates.
Let’s say you start the game as Cyrus, the scholar, like I did. By the time you’re finished with Chapter 1, you’ll be around level 4 or 5. You’ll check your world map and find that Cyrus’s Chapter 2 has a “recommended level” in the 20s. So instead of going there straight away, you might go recruit some new characters, doing all of their Chapter 1s. By the time you’ve recruited three more characters, your party will be around level 12. Still not high enough for all those Chapter 2s. So you may again do what I did, and go around the map and recruit all eight characters before jumping into the second part of Cyrus’s story.
This is unsettling for several reasons. For one, all of these chapters follow the same exact rhythm (cut-scene, explore town, go to dungeon, fight boss), so doing them all in a row is quite repetitive. But what feels strangest is that no matter how big your party is, the game will always act as if the protagonist of any given chapter is on their own. As you progress through each story, some of which are very interesting (Tressa’s is my favorite so far), that story’s hero will interact with a few NPCs, and that’s about it. It all feels very off-putting, and contributes to some structural problems that you’ll start to notice after playing for a while.
So yes, this is nothing like Final Fantasy VI, with its grand setpieces, imposing arch-villain, and meaningful character interactions. I like Octopath Traveler so far, and I’m especially digging the game’s combat system. But this is a unique game—comparisons to JRPGs of yesteryear are not particularly useful.
More to come next week.