Rating: T for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol
Available for: Nintendo Switch, PC
This review will contain minor spoilers for Octopath Traveler. I should also note that I have faced the true final boss a couple of times, but have not actually beaten it at this point. That said, I was able to collect the final pieces of lore that pull the story together, which is why I’m doing the review now.
Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler (2018) is an epic journey that unites 8 adventurers, each on their own personal quest and each with seemingly unconnected stories. Each story has 4 chapters, taking you across the land and into new areas as every character tries to piece together the mysteries that surround their personal quest. It is only in the end that they discover just how intertwined their destinies are.
In Octopath Traveler, you follow 8 characters: Olberic the Warrior, Cyrus the Scholar, Therion the Thief, Ophelia the Cleric, Primrose the Dancer, Alfyn the Apothecary, Tressa the Merchant, and H’annit the Hunter. You select one character to start with and for whatever unique reasons, they leave their current town and start off on their quest. It doesn’t matter who you start off with, and you will eventually recruit everyone within the first chapter. Whether it was to explore the world or take revenge on those who had wronged them, each character has a specific goal they seek to accomplish before their journey ends. Together, these 8 adventurers will learn from each other and help each other overcome their own obstacles in their fights for answers.
There is so much I loved about playing Octopath Traveler: the different personal stories, the innovative combat that was a joy to experience, and of course, the phenomenal music that has stayed with me since I first heard the tracks. However, as someone who focuses on stories in my reviews, it is difficult for me to recommend Octopath Traveler solely on the basis of its story. The personal stories were wonderful, some were definitely more interesting than others, and each story felt so unique that you never felt like you were playing repetitive storylines. That said, the personal stories were just that: so personal to the individual characters that they felt isolated from each of the other stories. Other than the small instances of travel banter that would occasionally pop up, it was difficult to feel the unity between the cast and even more difficult to see why they decided to start traveling together in the first place.
Octopath Traveler succeeds in giving each character their own personal story with their own personal motivations but fails to give the proper foreshadowing and build up to the final unification of these stories. What would have significantly helped the story was to provide motivation to recruit and unite these characters right off of the bat. The first chapter in this game is all about visiting each of the marked towns to recruit the next character, but I would have liked a reason to do so other than the player already knowing these characters were recruitable. It wouldn’t even have to be something significant: it could have been as simple as finishing one chapter and an NPC stating “[Recruitable Character] has the answers you seek. You can find them in [Town].” It would have been a little more restrictive on who you recruited next, but it would have tied things together earlier. This would have worked as a basis for the introduction of Travel Banter later, which hints at conversations the characters might have had between them during their travels, unseen by the player and seemingly jumping forward in friendship development.
Travel Banter is used at occasional points during the personal quests in order to give acknowledgment to the fact that these characters are traveling together, but that’s about it. These characters spent a lot of time with each other (and with the amount of level grinding there is, even more time), so I definitely would have wanted to see the development of those relationships. Travel Banter is unfortunately tied to whomever is in your party during the personal quest and is triggered only once per character, meaning party companions only give one remark on the situation and that’s it. Even more frustrating was the fact that there are some definitely moments in the game that should have been accentuated with banter, particularly moments that united characters’ stories and especially after the entry logs revealed at the Gate of Finis. Later on in the stories there is tavern banter that occurs but placing these earlier in the game would have helped the player further understand the relationships between characters before hitting the 80 hour mark.
So, when do the stories finally come together? Unfortunately, not until the conclusions of the Chapter 4 stories does the player get the hints of something bigger and more sinister at play, and it’s only mentioned in half of the Chapter 4’s! The stories at the end of their respective Chapter 4’s also felt so complete that there wasn’t necessarily a push to investigate what is that larger thing at play. The player could happily finish all the Chapter 4’s and think the game is done, albeit with some questions but complete nonetheless. After a little research, you find, however, that there is still a lot more to be said about the motivations for these adventurers to start their journeys, even if they themselves were unaware of these machinations. The hints needed to have started earlier, strange connections between stories that seemingly shouldn’t be, with comments of how “weird” it is that they all happen to come together. I will say that one thing that Octopath Traveler did do quite brilliantly was using the first side quest giver and making him critical to the last quest to unlock the final boss, as well as giving him great significance to tying it all together. The stories finally come together upon entering the Gate of Finis and finding entry logs uniquely tying each character’s conflict to the larger evil at play.
Octopath Traveler takes you on an epic journey and is an excellent call back to the JRPGs that influenced the genre we know today. With its uniquely defined characters and excellent gameplay, this game made all 100 hours enjoyable and challenging in all the right ways. My lament in fully recommending this game solely on the basis of story is that it ultimately did not put enough effort in connecting these characters together and preparing the player for that final story-unifying moment. That said, if you love the JRPG genre and want a good challenge, I would still recommend trying out the game!