Critical Consensus: Octopath Traveler

Links:

Transcript:

How’s it going everybody, Adrian Simple here from The Gaming Observer. Octopath Traveler is making its way to PC today, so I thought I’d take a look at how the game has been reviewed when it first launched on the Switch last year. There are important things to know about it before you make your purchase, and I want to give you an overview of the various professional opinions of this game. Head over to thegamingobserver.com for links and transcript of today’s show. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Critical Consensus for Octopath Traveller.

 

First things first, a rundown. It released on the Nintendo Switch in July of 2018. Developed and published by Square Enix, in collaboration with Acquire. It’s a turn-based JRPG that was marketed as a new game in the old style, which is represented most prominentely in the aesthetics. Labelled and trademarked as “HD-2D”, it presents sprite characters running around an environment covered in particle effects with a fixed camera. The title describes the gameplay; you follow eight characters, octo, through each of their unique storylines, path. You can start with and engage any of those characters in any order. Combat is simultaneously traditional and innovative for the genre. While the stylistic aspects are predictable, the mechanics of how to take down one’s enemy ultimately became the main selling feature.

 

Overall, reviewers are happy with Octopath Traveler. 88% of them recomended it on OpenCritic, and it has a score of 83 on Metacritic. Interestingly, the positives and negatives are almost universal across publications, what differs is how much the reviewer cares about those specific things. For example, the combat. Jeremy Parish of Polygon considers it one element of a brilliant unification. Jason Schreier of Kotaku on the other hand, essentially calls it the saving grace of the game’s success. So when you’re deciding whether or not to purchase, you need to first decide what aspects of the game are most important to you. What I’m going to do next is cover some of the major points that might be of interest to you.

 

The biggest criticism that stood out among these reviewers is the narrative. It became evident that having too many branching storylines led to some unfortunate downsides. Alex Donaldson of VG247 was big on this,

“It’s just that damn story structure – it’s the design equivalent of a bucket of cold water being poured over a product that’s otherwise sizzling hot. The problem, to be clear, isn’t the lack of a large over-arching plot, it’s the lack of character cohesion. Early on this doesn’t bother, but … Slowly that issue evolves from a tugging nag to a genuine problem with how the game conveys its story – because in this genre, story is typically the thing that primarily keeps you pushing on.” He goes on to talk about how it becomes a catalyst for a grindy gameplay loop, as well as characters who have limited interaction with one another.

 

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell of Eurogamer didn’t see this as such a huge problem. He proposes that the lack of story and dialogue overlap is to minimize complexity for the writing team. He feels that the characters are strong enough to compensate, and that “the writing is adventurous and textured enough that you rarely feel like you’re just levelling classes while popping the odd speech bubble.” Schreier disagrees entirely, “To buy that these eight adventurers would team up, putting aside their own motives to help each other out, requires a suspension of disbelief well beyond what most video games ask of the people who play them… [it feels] like someone took out pieces from eight different Lego sets and stuck them all together. The game is not elegant enough to make up for that.”

 

Despite this unfortuante downside, the game is oft lauded for it’s combat. The system is designed with familiarity, but introduces unexpected innovations. There is a big focus on targeting weaknesses, and the more you do it, the more likely you are to initiate what’s called a “break”. This stuns the enemy for a turn, costing it a round, and making it vulnerable. Much of the strategy is built around this system, meaning you can’t just button mash your way to victory. From Thirlwell, “The brilliance of this system is the firm line it draws between harming and undermining a foe, which counters a common frustration with party-based RPGs where characters not in your hand end up under-powered.” While there is no specific quote from Jason Schreier I can provide, he was a big proponent of the combat as well. He thought there were a lot of great ideas that should be used in future Square Enix games, and it appears evident that he probably would have hated the game without it.

 

The last thing I want to bring up today are the visuals. I mentioned it earlier and you can see it on screen, but this was really a big enjoyment factor for these critics. Chris Carter of Destructoid said this “…there’s one thing I never got tired of — the aesthetics…Winding vertical dungeon layers hide secrets without making navigation too frustating, small towns have their own charm about them, and character models…are emotive. That charm also extends to the beautiful soundtrack.” Parish counters this, “The look doesn’t always work; character sprites often appear haloed by ugly dark outlines, and the blurry filtering on certain environmental details will remind you of Nintendo 64 graphics, in a bad way. However, aside from those small aesthetic flaws, Octopath Traveler’s 2D sprite diorama style can be absolutely striking.”

 

It’s no doubt that Octopath Traveler is a worthwhile purchase to many. It sold over 1.5 million copies. They got the Golden Joystick award for Nintendo Game of the Year, and a SXSW award for Excellence in Art. Parish calls it the RPG that the Nintendo Switch needed. As an outside observer who read a ton reviews, I don’t think it’s for everyone. If you need a cohesive story, you’ll be left dissappointed. It’s also not well suited for those who don’t enjoy JRPG’s, despite the innovations, “Octopath Traveler is an old-school JRPG through and through. You can’t save anywhere, there is fast travel, and there’s a very linear leveling system that sometimes involves grinding random battles.” I will now counter that point with the final quote of this program. From Thirlwell, “Octopath Traveler is the kind of game that gets hand-waved aside as being for “the old school”, but that’s to overlook its charismatic innovations in battle and the strange, detached, even austere construction of its narrative. For good and a little for ill, it’s a lot more eccentric than it seems. JRPG detractors will bounce off the hoarier elements – changeless villages, that well-thumbed handbook of classes and abilities, those sparsely animated sprites – and so, miss the peculiarities those devices hide. Genre aficionados may take umbrage at being forced by the levelling curve to alternate characters, and never quite seeing those stories entwine as fully as in, say, the Mass Effect games. Give the game time to bed in, however, and you’ll find it a bold contribution to a genre that has always been a little too in love with its past and the past in general. There’s much here to inspire nostalgia for the classics, but Octopath Traveler is at its best when following its own nose through a history of its own creation.”

 

And that is the Critical Consensus for Octopath Traveller. I hope you enjoyed this, and please let me know what you think. Should I do something like this again when a new game comes out? I had a lot of fun reading from these reviewers, so I could see myself doing it again. Anyway, thank you so much for tuning. Be sure to check out the rest of what I do on Youtube.com/thegamingobserver, or catch me on twitter @gaming_observer. A big thanks to Brandon who supports me on Patreon. I’ll see you next time, and until then, happy gaming everyone.

Leave a comment