I have always found that role-playing games are the hardest to preview, and Octopath Traveler fares no differently. Starting with a save file that’s six or so hours into this grand adventure, I return to the world of Orsterra not knowing the events that came before and, more troublingly as I would soon discover, without having had the chance to steadily relearn the intricacies of the battle system in that time.
It’s worth mentioning that is not a cause for concern for when the upcoming Nintendo Switch exclusive releases, but it was certainly daunting for me when I had to glean as much information as I could within a short play session to be able to recount my experiences. Like many, I had thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Project Octopath Traveler Demo Version but now, rather than journeying as Primrose or Olberic, I was able to see what path Cyrus the scholar will tread.
Our brief time together is spent in Quarrycrest, where Cyrus continues his search for a lost tome called “From the Far Reaches of Hell.” He learns from an old friend, Odette, that the book is a compendium of ancient rites and rituals, believed to have some connection with necromancy. And, after learning that men and women in the town have been going missing over the last six months, he decides to investigate. This is where I could use Scrutinize, the character’s unique Path Action, to see if the villagers have noticed anything suspicious that has been happening.
The Path Action can be used to try to extract useful information from other characters whenever you like, meaning that it is not an ability that is restricted to specific points in the story like this. But, its use carries a chance of success that, if failed, will risk seeing your reputation in that particular town suffer for it. You eventually learn that the missing villagers had vanished near to the inn, and, searching there, soon uncover a sewer that’s made from underground aqueducts that predate the town.
As can be expected Cyrus chooses to explore further into the sewer, a decision that was made slightly less worrying to me thanks to Olberic, Primrose and H’aanit rounding out my party. While you start Octopath Traveler with a single protagonist of your choice, you will meet the other seven as you travel around Orsterra who can be freely swapped into your party at any tavern. While the random turn-based battle encounters aren’t as regular as other games in the genre, it wasn’t long before I was met with Marionette Bones, Wind Wisps and other gnarly creatures. These encounters will challenge your strategic prowess and ability to think ahead more than most, however.
There are three things to keep considering: turn order, inflicting Break on your enemies and using Boost to strengthen your party’s actions. The turn order is shown at the top of the screen, and will largely help you to pre-empt what attacks may be incoming and to prepare accordingly. One pointer that I was soon given is that you can delay enemy turns by relying on skills like Shackle Foe that H’aanit has, and, as we all learned in the Demo Version, you must look to exploit enemy weaknesses whenever possible. These can be weapon types or specific elements and, once exposed, will be listed next to your enemies for quick reference. You may have to exploit their weaknesses multiple times before you can Break your foes, the number shown on a shield icon, which will then reduce their defense and leave them unable to act for a short while.
This was the opportune time to use Boost mode, presenting the chance for me to strengthen my attacks while their defense was reduced at the same time. You will earn one Boost Point per turn, can store as many as five and can choose to use up to three at once to increase the potency of a character’s attacks and abilities – red, yellow or blue flames surrounding them based on how many points you use. These boosted attacks can be enough to turn the tide of battle back in your favour or mercilessly slaughter your enemies.
Every character has their own part to play, whether that be healing, exploiting enemy weaknesses with strong magic, acting as a tank to keep damage away from your other party members or debuffing your foes. This was my undoing in my preview session, in not having enough time to really grasp all the skills that were available to me in such a short space of time – with Olberic’s secondary job throwing in more to consider. It doesn’t worry me for when I will get to play the game right from the start, but there is certainly a lot to wrap your head around. Whether that is a good or a bad thing will depend on your familiarity and fondness for the genre, the many layers resulting in a battle system with tremendous depth compared to most – even if it can intimidate at times.
It still looks and sounds the part, though. The “HD-2D” term that the developer has coined had sounded strange when I first heard it, but it’s the perfect way to describe the game’s potent mixture of CG, pixel art, and visual trickery. While that has more than enough appeal to attract genre fans both old and new, what really excites me most about Octopath Traveler is exploring the story that will accompany each character and the events that bring them together. The best part being that we don’t have long to wait.
Octopath Traveler will release exclusively for Nintendo Switch worldwide on July 13th.