Most Final Fantasy-style JRPGs are about Heroes, but Octopath Traveler is different – it’s mostly just about heroes. The capital H is important; it means that they are the Chosen Ones, the Heroes of Light. They are in fact on a Grand Quest. Instead, you will find yourself spending most of Octopath Traveler working at a more individual level, overcoming personal struggles and defeating enemies who may not be the Demon King but have instead committed far greater crimes, such as going 15 years without returning an overdue library book. After you’ve completed all of the main quests and a variety of the side-quests, you will find post-game content that ties the game together, but it is presented more like an optional side-quest than a required part of the game, with the credits having already rolled maybe 20 hours before I even got to it.
The main concept of the game can be found in its title. Octopath: in other words, eight paths. There are eight main characters, with the first letters of each of their names spelling out the word Octopath (Ophelia, Cyrus, Tressa, Olberic, Primrose, Alfyn, Therion and H’aanit) and each has their own story, split into four chapters each and told in whatever order you like. You start with a main protagonist of your choosing and once you’ve completed the introductory chapter of their story, you are free to wander the earth picking up other characters to join your party (which will trigger their introductory chapters). This decentralized approach to storytelling was a positive for me; I’m the type of player who really enjoyed Breath of the Wild and put more than 200 hours into Skyrim while studiously avoiding the main storyline. If you prefer a more linear Grand Quest approach to your storytelling though, Octopath Traveler‘s story may not be to your tastes.
The individual character stories themselves can be interesting, but don’t expect too much depth to them, and don’t expect your main characters to interact much with each other during them, as any character-specific chapter is just going to act like the relevant playable character is the only one there (presumably a limitation of being able to tackle the stories in any order). Each story tends to follow someone on their personal journey – in the introductory chapters you’ll be met with characters such as a former knight who failed to protect his king and has lost his purpose, a hunter from a rural village who has to leave the nest to find her missing father-figure, and a talented lone-wolf thief who needs to learn how to trust again. One story that dug deeper than I expected was that of Primrose, a Kill Bill-like tale of a former noble who now works as a dancer and sex worker for an abusive owner while she tries to track down the assassins who killed her father. I’m not sure the writers had the high level of expertise required to navigate some of the tricky topics involved in that sentence and in my opinion it came across as somewhat hamfisted, but considering how averse JRPGs usually are to going beyond vague implications, it was noteworthy that they even tried.
The real story of interest though isn’t something you’ll find in an individual chapter, but that you’ll encounter instead by slowing down and interacting with every town and village. The setting is full of hints that the Octopath Traveler world has more history and depth than what you’re exploring just through the character chapters, and every single villager is individualized. Any NPC you inspect has not only a backstory of their own but varying individual combat strengths as well as items to steal or purchase. If you interact with them as the right character, you can invite the vast majority of them to join your team as support characters, but my favorite hobby in a town is challenging random townspeople to a duel and beating them up. The game lets you do this to practically any NPC who isn’t a child and all of the townspeople seem happy to accept it as a completely reasonable thing to do. Be careful though, as appearances can be deceiving. At one point in a quaint rural village I met an Elderly Woman, not even notable enough to have a name of her own, only to discover that she had a terrifying level of strength and according to her backstory was living out the rest of her life in hiding after a life of incredible crime.
A good JRPG needs a good combat system, and luckily Octopath Traveler comes to us from the creators of Bravely Default, which had one of the more interesting JRPG combat systems in recent years. You can feel the influence of Bravely Default, as the ability to “save up” turns in order to have more powerful boosted turns later on makes a re-appearance, though in my opinion it has been streamlined significantly. The variety of classes and the way that you can mix those with a sub-class for each character means that each player will be playing through the game in a different way – I settled on my main party of four through personal preference and partly through the order in which I chose to unlock the characters, but would have had an entirely viable time with any other setup. I could definitely imagine coming back to this game for a replay and playing it completely differently so that I could interact with several game systems I didn’t really use this time around.
I don’t want to spoil the reveals of the “true endgame” that ties some of the disparate plot threads together, but it’s worth clarifying that one exists at all, as the fact that it’s completely out of your way and requires the completion of several seemingly unrelated side-quests meant that a range of early reviews missed its existence entirely. I myself was only able to find it after consulting with the internet, so it’s no surprise to me that a pre-release playthrough would never discover it. Throughout the game via your regular interaction you’ll hear sporadic hints that something aside from your characters’ personal stories is going on – names and locations that keep coming up in conversation, for example – but the game will never flash up a big World of Warcraft-like Quest screen to let you know that you’re now eligible for the post-game, so if you feel like you’ve near-100%ed the game but are still lost on what to do next, don’t be afraid to ask Google. The “true ending” is worthwhile so give it a try, though you may need to level up first as there is some hard content in there.
Overall, I’m glad I played Octopath Traveler. By the end, each of the eight main characters was distinct in my mind, but the real surprise was how many of the random townspeople are now distinct in my mind too. As a fan of games like Majora’s Mask and Earthbound, I love it when even some of the most minor characters have a lot of character, which is not something I’ve traditionally associated with Final Fantasy-esque games. If you love the style of 2D Final Fantasy games, and you’re not bothered by the idea of a story that’s not a Grand Adventure, but is instead eight seemingly disconnected smaller stories designed to build up the character of the world itself, then Octopath Traveler is definitely a game I would recommend.
|Score||Similarity to other games|
|8/10||Bravely Default – ★★★★★
Final Fantasy VI – ★★★★☆
Divinity: Original Sin – ★★★☆☆