Game: Octopath Traveler
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: T for Teens
Nostalgia has had a renaissance as of late. From the act of collecting retro video games and vinyls to remakes of classic console games like the upcoming HD re-release of Shenmue 1 and 2. Now comes the revitalization of the definitive Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) on the Nintendo Switch with Octopath Traveler.
Return of the King
During the late 80s and early 90s the JRPG was king. Names like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana ruled the Super Nintendo. Now, a new generation of Nintendo fans get to experience the return of the king. Octopath Traveler begins by affording the player a choice of which character to begin the story as. Players can choose from one of eight individuals, each with their own unique desires and skills: the thief, the warrior, the scholar, the hunter, the cleric, the merchant, the apothecary, or the dancer. The class you pick deter-mines where you start on the world map and in which order you meet the other seven protagonists. Each character’s narrative is engrossing albeit not quite as well-written as each other’s. I selected the thief and soon discovered I must steal three valuable stones, which led me to the warrior, who must leave the village that he protects in order to find an ally turned enemy, which led me to the apothecary, so on and so forth. Before long, you will be knee-deep in quests and missions and you won’t want to put the game down.
Perfecting the Formula
The classic JRPG formula is made up of turn-based combat. You command your party’s attacks and defenses before watching your team dispense with your orders. This is a somewhat slower pace than today’s gamers may be accustomed to, but that does not make it any less entertaining. Developer Square Enix has perfected this old-world gaming formula by changing up the mechanics slightly. Each enemy will begin the battle with a shield beside their health meter, preventing you from dealing vast amounts of damage to them. The only way to break this shield is to find their weak point. It could be fire damage, or simply a good whack from an axe. Once the barrier has been brought down, all team members can attack with full strength. Not only that, once an enemy’s weak spot has been found it will show up the next time you meet them in battle, giving you that extra edge. When you are not engaged in battle, you will travel the lands, stopping at the villages and cities, talking to townsfolk, recovering at the local inn, buying new items and equipment, basically just doing what adventurers do. Your heroes also have their own unique abilities outside of combat, too. For in-stance, the thief can pickpocket items from citizens, while the apothecary can learn an individual’s back story by chatting with them, letting you discover their secrets.
Old and New Make a Good Combo
Octopath Traveler’s visuals are made to look as though they could appear on a Super Nintendo system. We see the world from a bird’s eye view and the characters are cute, 16-bit sprites. The graphics have been supplemented, however, with incredible lighting mechanics. As you traverse the kingdom you will notice light twinkling off the horizon or dancing on the water’s surface. This mixture of old and new has come together to create a loving amalgamation that both retro and new players can enjoy.
Octopath Traveler is—this soon after release—already sitting firmly atop the Switch’s RPG totem pole. The story is riveting, and the combat has a nice thick layer of strategy. Undoubtedly, the game’s pace will be too slow for some. Nevertheless, if you are patient you will discover one of the greatest gaming experiences the Switch currently has to offer.