I’ve been trying to keep my list of games that I’m anticipating this year short, but ever since it was announced, Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler has been near the top of my list. Never mind the slick ‘retro’ visuals, but when you incorporate the Romancing SaGa-esque party gathering and a combat system that calls to mind Bravely Default, Octopath already has the mechanical trappings to pull me in.
Back in September of 2017, the first demo for the game was released on the Nintendo Switch’s e-shop. It offered up experience with the introductions of Primrose and Olberic, two of the choices for your main protagonist once the full game is available. I played through that demo pretty fervently and liked what I saw- Primrose’s introduction was engaging and well-written, though the demo felt a bit short. After that demo, Square Enix offered up a survey to help improve and strengthen the game before release.
After nearly 50,000 survey responses, another demo was released a few days ago on June 14th. Dubbed the Octopath Traveler Prologue Demo, it offers a larger sampling of what’s to come in the full game. Offering up a three-hour dive into the beginning of the game, the demo allows you to choose the protagonist that suits your fancy and work through their opening scenarios as well as some of the preliminary areas of the game’s world of Orsterra. While I still have an hour or so left to my demo, I wanted to get down some of my impressions regarding how my experience has been with the demo so far.
From the character select screen, I chose to follow the story of Ophilia, a cleric from the Frostlands who ends up starting a pilgrimage due to a twist of fate concerning her monastery. While the set-up isn’t the most original plotline, it does offer a lot of information regarding Ophilia and the characters she is related to, along with the town and people within it. The church is clearly a strong and positive facet of the area, and Ophilia appears to be a respected figure among the community.
Given that everyone has a special talent that they use in the overworld, this respect for Ophilia and her station plays in nicely to her ability known to ‘Guide’. Much like Primrose’s ‘Allure’ skill in the original demo, Ophilia can approach certain NPCs and interact with them with an alternate action that will request the character accompany her- which they will if she is of a high enough level. While in battle, she can then ‘Summon’ them, which will bring them in as a temporary party member who will attack, heal or perform other actions before disappearing after a few turns.
Not only is this a unique feature, but it really helps the common issue that healer types have when they start a game solo in that battles usually feel like they take too long given their focus on magic rather than physical offense. My usual issue was addressed pretty early on, though I’m interested to see how relevant it is once you’ve leveled up to the point of having a full and competent party.
After an hour or so, I reached the climax of Ophilia’s scenario which also involved the requisite boss battle. While the battle was difficult, it was nothing I felt overwhelmed by. Having a townsperson to summon- who would randomly heal Ophilia and attack- left me more time to strategize how to exploit the boss’ weak points. Given the turn-based nature of battles, exploiting weaknesses is important. If you attack an enemy with its weakness, there is a chance of inflicting a ‘break’ which will demolish their next turn card and lower their defense until they recover.
The other tactic in battle is akin to Bravely Default but does it much more effectively, at least in my opinion. Each turn, you gain a ‘Burst’ point. Once you’ve accrued enough of these points, you can charge attacks. With normal attacks, this means issuing a number of normal attacks equal to the burst points you use (a maximum of four at a time). When used with a special attack, it multiplies the power of that attack instead. Pairing these bursts with breaking your enemy is the best way to make battles turn in your favor and that fact that it’s easy to raise your burst level makes strategizing feel a lot more manageable. To be honest, I didn’t gel as much with the battle system in Bravely Default as I would have liked, but if it has been more like this, it would have felt a little less cumbersome. I know the battle system in Bravely was highly regarded by a lot of gamers, though, so the streamlining may not be a clincher to everyone else.
Outside of that battle, I’ve gotten Ophilia to the next town and met another of the protagonists, a scholar name Cyrus. Upon speaking with him, the game informed me that to have him join, I would need to play through his prologue. This is where I feel like the game took a misstep. It’s not because I’m not interested. Going into another 45 minutes or so of each character’s backstory and playing through their prologues feels like it really breaks up the action. While I’m sure the stories all tie together into the main narrative, as well, if the full game handles this the same way, this sort of tanks the replayability of the game and makes it feel less like I picked a primary character. It feels more like I picked a starting point. It’s still interesting but leaves a strange taste in my mouth about the whole choice in the first place.
Despite that qualm I have with the game, I’m honestly still jazzed that the release date is coming up fast. The game is gorgeous and the music is just as much so. While I’m not entirely sure on what the overarching plot is going to be yet, the plots I’ve gotten to look at for Ophilia and Cyrus (and Primrose, if things haven’t changed much from the original demo) have gotten me intrigued in how they will tie together ultimately. I’m glad that it seems like data from this demo will be able to be transferred to the full game and while a little bit of the content feels like padding, I’m still satisfied with how much I’ve experienced over the course of two hours.
If anything changes in my third hour, I’ll definitely update. Right now, though, I’d have to say that I think Octopath Traveler is living up the hype it’s been gaining. Have any of you played it? Do you have any thoughts? Feel free to let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!