Follow The Eight-Fold Path

HIGH Excellent storytelling, compelling NPCs, wonderful locations.

LOW LOTS of grinding, sidequests aren’t well documented.

WTF Lianna… just… what?

67 hours is a long time to play any game in this day and age, so I need to give Octopath Traveler credit for an impressive amount of content.  But perhaps it’s too much?

For the first 20 hours or so I was enthralled by the characters, the sprawling world, and the interesting, nuanced NPCs. After 40 hours, I began to grow a little weary of all the combat and backtracking, but I still was eager to see how all eight protagonist stories played out. 

At hour 67 I was party-wiped twice in a row by a boss whose weaknesses changed every two rounds, and who smacked my characters around like they were nothing despite my party being 20 levels higher than recommended. And did I mention that each of these battles took over 30 minutes each before we got wiped? 

It was at this point that I needed to take a break from Octopath Traveler.  I do want to go back and complete it, just… not now.

The world of Orsterra is a dangerous one, especially when travelling alone.  Brigands roam the roads, beasts beyond comprehension lurk in the woodlands, and a great evil, thought to be forever sealed, appears to be stirring.  Fortunately, the eight heroes of Octopath Traveler encounter each other and find kindred adventuring spirits. 

They begin as a motley band, but before long Therion (distrustful thief), Ophilia (cleric with a heart of gold), Cyrus (scholar with a penchant for getting into trouble), Primrose (dancer with a thirst for vengeance), Alfyn (youthful apothecary starting his career), Tressa (inexperienced but skilled merchant), H’aanit (wise hunter), and Olberic (wandering warrior with a troubled past) realize they are true comrades that don’t have to live the lonely lives they’ve chosen for themselves.  

Each character has four chapters’ worth of individual story where they advance their plotlines which hint towards a larger overarching narrative, but despite this unique setup, Octopath plays much like any standard turn-based JRPG, but offers a fascinating twist — foes have a shield icon next to their name.

Each enemy’s shield is only vulnerable to certain weapons or spells, the identities of which are unknown until discovered either by trial-and-error, or by specific scholar abilities.  In order to do maximum damage to an enemy, the heroes must “break” the shield which then stuns the enemy for a turn. Knowing when and how to break an enemy’s shield takes a bit of getting used to, but is a critical skill since stunning a foe at the right time can prevent them from using their most powerful attacks or spells. 

Eventually shieldbreaking becomes second nature, and that’s when Octopath Traveler throws in bosses who have the ability to change weaknesses every few turns.  This freshens up combat at the cost of being almost completely unfair, as the player will expend abilities and waste attacks trying to suss out new weaknesses while the boss pummels the party into paste. 

Another issue I had was that party members need to be swapped too often. As each one wields different weapons and magic, it can be easy — especially in the early going — to be completely unequipped for enemies, forcing players to either brute force through or return to town to switch party members.  On top of this switching, Octopath wants players to keep all eight characters at approximately the same level, which means even more swapping and lots of grinding for experience.  It feels like an artificial lengthening of the campaign and becomes irritating after many hours. 

To aid in exploration and information gathering, different characters possess abilities suited to their function.  Therion the thief can steal items from townsfolk, allowing access to expensive items early in the quest.  Cyrus the scholar can glean additional info from people, such as the location of hidden items or special knowledge required to complete a task. 

The abilities are interesting to use, but again, since the player can only have four characters in a party at any time, frequent trips to an inn to change squad members may be needed in order to efficiently perform all tasks in a town. 

Also, Octopath requires a great deal of backtracking since many sidequests can’t be completed until characters reach a certain level, or find an item or character which may not show up for quite some time.  A journal keeps track of the status of all side quests, but without quest markers or reminders, it becomes difficult to remember which items are needed for which quests.

Narratively, the interactions between party members are limited to banter where the team offers advice or encouragement to whichever hero is the focus of the current plot.  It’s disconcerting, because each storyline acts as if the current protagonist is the only one going through the adventure. The stories are intriguing because the NPCs are well-designed and have real human wants and needs, but there isn’t a true sense of flow between the tales. 

While it makes sense that every chapter ends with a boss battle, the narrative doesn’t always provide enough reason for the enemy to be there — it’s as if the designers stuck with the formula of “find out what the locals need, venture into the wilderness/dungeon, fight boss, repeat.”  I suppose this modular narrative is due to the fact that any hero’s quest can be completed in any order, although the player will almost always have four of the eight heroes in the party at once they’ve been recruited. 

In the end, I love what Octopath Traveler is trying to do with its shieldbreaking and its eight-way narrative, but it’s probably better suited to the Switch than the PC.  It feels like a title that needs to be played in short bursts, as is fitting for Nintendo’s portable platform.  Perhaps I wouldn’t be as frustrated with its quirks if I walked away from time to time and did something else — I will go back and complete the quest, but for now, I just need a break.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Square Enix and ACQUIRE Corp and published by Square Enix.It is currently available on the Nintendo Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 67 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol. The official ESRB description is as follows: This is a role-playing game in which players follow a story, through the perspectives of eight different characters, in the fantasy world of Orsterra. As players explore villages and caves, they interact with locals and battle brigands, monsters, demons, and other fantastical creatures. Combat is turn-based, with players selecting attack moves from a menu. Characters use swords, spears, and magic attacks (e.g., ice spikes, fireballs) to defeat enemies; battles are highlighted by cries of pain, impact sounds, and light effects. One boss character is depicted with a bloody sickle and a bottle of blood; a pool of blood also appears in a cutscene. A handful of female characters wear outfits that reveal large amounts of cleavage; the dialogue also contains suggestive material (e.g., “That naughty mouth of yours belongs to me. Put it where it belongs…” and “Master…go pleasure yourself.”). One sequence requires players to spike a barrel of wine and give it to others; another scene depicts a slurring, hiccupping man called “Crest-bearing drunk.” The word “b*stard” appears in dialogue.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, but subtitles cannot be resized, nor is there an option to change the subtitle font. As ths is a turn-based game, there are no necessary audio cues. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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