I bought Octopath Traveller on release for my Nintendo Switch and still haven’t finished it, not because it’s an exceedingly long game but because it takes effort for me to keep going.
Now, that opening statement might make you think that I don’t like Octopath Traveller or that it’s a bad game, and the truth is the complete opposite on both counts. It’s a phenomenal game with some really cool character abilities for both combat and interaction and an absolutely gorgeous implementation of 2.5D, with those wonderful Super Nintendo Final Fantasy era sprites in stunning 3D environments.
My problem with Octopath Traveller is on storytelling on the fact that it’s literally eight individual paths. I’m used to characters with their own backgrounds and personal quests, that’s a given in any roleplaying game, particularly in the table-top ones I love, where more often than not I’m the one weaving the tales.
But usually, both for myself and other video rpgs, those personal stories mingle with one another and with the main plot. Sometimes you resolve them in side quests and in others, the main quest will have moments that wrap up the individual narratives. And beyond the simple fact of advancing or resolving those personal quests, the moment you have a party, a group of people travelling and fighting by your side, it all changes. You’re no longer that brooding lone knight seeking retribution. No, now you’re a brooding knight with friends or a family that wants you to get what you want and deserve about as much as you do. Parties change characters and in that way they also have an effect on the personal quest and on each other member’s growth.
And that’s where Octopath Traveller loses me, where I struggle to stay interested. You have a party, a pretty big one by the end but they don’t matter, because they don’t become a part of each other’s story. They’re just a cast of characters for the sake of combat and exploration, not storytelling.
It might seem like a minor thing but without those interactions, without the party dynamics, for me there’s something missing and so my attention wanders or I simply get bored and sleepy. The stories aren’t as rich and even the encounters, up to and including boss fight, simply aren’t as exciting.
I mean it’s a turn-based fighting system, a classic one, the story that gets you there is a big part of the excitement. Sure, the abilities the characters bring are pretty fun and the boost system is a less punishing version of the Brave system from Bravely Default, but where the game falters is in the connecting thread between those encounters.
Still, got lots to play through and I’m not abandoning the game. I’m picking it back up this week and will keep a good pace with it. After all, between Let’s Go Pikachu and the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Expansion: Torna, The Golden Land, I must finish Octopath Traveller so I can focus on these new experiences, lest I leave another game abandoned in my unending backlog.
But if there should be a new game in this same style, if Square Enix develops SedecPath Traveller, with sixteen different characters, then please, let them mingle. It’ll be difficult, of course, to write plot threads for the various combinations of party members, but something like that is hardly new for role-playing games both on the table and off.