Octopath Traveler (Switch) Review

Eight is Enough

Over the years, Square Enix has become synonymous with role-playing games. For many fans, the SNES era hit a sweet spot with classic RPGs like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger. The company has continued to develop nostalgic throwbacks like Bravely Default and Lost Sphear, so it was no surprise when it initially unveiled Octopath Traveler during the first ever major Nintendo Switch presentation. Its brief reveal trailer was like nothing I’d seen before, yet it felt so familiar. After finally playing through this gem, I realize why. It evokes the classic era through modern takes on retro game design – striking visuals that marry 2D and 3D, truly daring storytelling, and a deep, engaging battle system.

Be sure to watch my Video Review to see the game in action!

The retro influence is most evident in the game’s presentation. Octopath Traveler features 2D 16-bit sprites superimposed on a 3D background, resulting in a unique pop-up book visual style dubbed “HD 2D.” Gorgeous lighting and blur effects transform the colorful world into stunning set pieces. It’s amazing that the designers essentially slapped retro assets onto a diorama and somehow created something so aesthetically pleasing. I’m just as amazed by the magnificent orchestral score, with both exciting battle themes as well as slower, thoughtful pieces that hearken back to classic medieval and Celtic soundtracks. Additionally, the impressive English voice acting sells every character perfectly without feeling too forced, which is important considering the sprites’ limited expressions.

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I can’t get enough of Octopath Traveler’s pop-up diorama artstyle.

Octopath Traveler tells the story of eight travelers on their separate journeys across a vast world. More accurately, the game portrays eight distinct stories, each an isolated vignette starring one of the protagonists. Unlike other RPGs that feature one main hero and a merry band of sidekicks, Octopath Traveler puts equal weight on each person. Everyone has their own four-chapter arc that shares their personal adventure from beginning to end. Although the travelers all eventually join up, they don’t play a visible part in each other’s stories and don’t even formally show up in one another’s cutscenes. It’s a risky form of storytelling that may alienate some used to a party with a shared goal.

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Cyrus the scholar, not to be confused with Miles Edgeworth from the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series.

However, in place of a unified tale are eight absolutely moving stories with genuinely endearing protagonists. I prefer character-driven plots, and Octopath Traveler effectively details everyone’s plights to an even greater degree than in some other standard RPGs. The twists may be a bit predictable, but the deep, engrossing storylines led me to adore each party member. Each has a personal reason for adventuring, like searching for a murderer, hunting a legendary beast, or seeking the meaning of one’s life. Every story dives into their inner struggles with mature arcs highlighting ethical dilemmas, self-sacrifice, and scholarly debates. Needless to say, I fell in love with this strong cast. I only wish that there was more natural character interaction. The limited party banter skits, while enjoyable, only give a glimpse of their camaraderie. Although there are some unified sections, mainly buried under sidequests, they’re not as elegantly implemented as the individual anecdotes.

Octopath Traveler handles its unorthodox structure with nonlinear gameplay. At the beginning, you choose any of the eight wayfarers as your starter character, who must stay in your party until you complete his or her storyline. Each of a character’s four chapters has a similar structure: exposition, followed by a dungeon, culminating in a boss. After you complete your protagonist’s initial episode, you are free to recruit any of the other seven party members, explore the lands and optional dungeons, or even attempt their second chapter – likely a difficult feat.

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Tressa the merchant is one of my favorites.

The game has an open-world nature; you can proceed as you wish, and your only barriers are your level and skill in facing stronger enemies. That said, the map is designed to lead you across predetermined pathways to ensure balanced teams, which are needed not just for battles, but also in the overworld. Every character has special talents, such as the merchant’s ability to purchase items from NPCs or the thief’s preferred method of stealing from them. I appreciated the NPC interaction, which played heavily into the game’s numerous sidequests. Each one has multiple solutions, depending on how you approach them. For example, scrutinizing a villager for information may result in a different outcome than alluring an individual.

Encounters are random, which may disappoint some. I never minded getting into fights, though, since that’s where the gameplay truly shines. Battles are turn-based, and a handy display shows when each person or creature will perform their action, whether attacking, defending, or using an exclusive ability. For instance, the hunter can capture and summon creatures for a Pokémon-like feel. Some characters are easier to use than others, but I overall felt comfortable no matter who was in my four-person party.

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A new spin on classic turn-based battles.

Combat sounds old-school, but two elements make fights stand out. First, you can exploit weaknesses by using specific weapons or magic, or rather, you must target enemy weaknesses to whittle their defenses. When hit enough times, an enemy will break, which allows you to skip their turn and strike for extra damage. Second, you can expend up to three boost points to power-up, accompanied by excited yells and a glowing aura, Dragon Ball Z style. Consequently, you can perform multiple standard weapon attacks in succession or quadruple the potency of your spells and special abilities. There’s a risk/reward element; whenever you use boosts, you won’t gain any boost points the next turn. But if you time your buffs right, it’s especially satisfying to destroy a broken enemy with a fully boosted attack. These deep mechanics kept every fight exhilarating, with the titanic bosses delivering pure strategic bliss.

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The camera angles and sound effects really help deliver the OOMPH!

Character progression is just as enjoyably layered. The eight travelers have defined roles, such as cleric or apothecary. Winning battles not only nets you experience and money, but also job points, which you can spend on battle skills, such as elemental magic or buffs. As you unlock them, you also earn passive skills that offer great bonuses. It becomes gratifyingly deep once you can set subclasses. Want a mage with strong axe attacks or a warrior with healing powers? You are free to make the team your own, mixing and matching classes and skills to find what works. It hearkens back to the best job systems from Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and is just as fun to experiment with. The clean, easily navigable menus streamline the process.

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All this game was missing was Kefka…No, no really…

This massive game may take anywhere between 50-70 hours just to finish everyone’s stories, though there are also additional sidequests, optional areas, and postgame content, which may be worth pursuing. Although the difficulty scales based on progress, I rarely needed to grind, unless I hadn’t been using a character much. For those who shudder at lengthy games, the developers address this with the chapter system. Each chapter is about an hour or two, so you can efficiently chunk them in your spare time, which fits the portable nature of the Switch.

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Which of the eight will be your Octopath Traveler?

Conclusion

Octopath Traveler lovingly embraces old-school RPG conventions while offering its own refreshingly modern take. Through placing sprites in 3D environments, incorporating a separate storyline for each party member, and spicing up battles with fist-pumping turn-based combat, Square Enix makes bold choices to reinvigorate the genre. Thankfully, many of them pay off, resulting in a game that has tugged at my heartstrings and fully engaged me to follow the paths of these eight wayfaring travelers.

Score: 9/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation in July 2018.

What do you think of Octopath Traveler? Which of the 8 characters and stories do you like or want to experience? And what are your favorite JRPGs? Please be sure to share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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29 thoughts on “Octopath Traveler (Switch) Review

    1. Awesome! Glad to hear you’re enjoying Octopath Traveler! It was a pleasant surprise for me too, probably more so since I never played the demo. I really like Primrose, too, and I didn’t expect to based on her original description. Same with Alfyn, actually, haha. Both are surprisingly wonderful characters!

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  1. I agree with that score. I’m loving the game thus far, I just feel some of the random encounters can drag a bit long, wish it had an auto battle function like Bravely Default. Otherwise, it’s amazing. 🙂 great review!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Jeff! I would have loved both an auto-battle function and an ability in the options menu to reduce or eliminate encounters. That made such a difference for me in Bravely Default. I actually didn’t find random encounters too long, but maybe it’s because I was using Cyrus, and he’s a beast hahaha!

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      1. He is, sadly he’s not the staple in my party, I started with Therion because I wanted to be able to steal from every villager off the bat! It’s a little broken with soft resets…

        But my favorite character in terms of story and personality is Primrose. I played her in the first demo and love her now as much as I did back then! Granted I’m only two chapters in with everyone… but she’s a very empowering character!

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      2. Yeah, I did a bunch of soft resets for Therion’s uhh…business, hahaha. Got some nice goods. 😛

        Primrose is such an awesome character! Great choice! I had assumed that I wouldn’t like her just based on what I thought her personality would be like from looks alone, but wow, she is indeed such an empowering character!

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  2. Fantastic review! Now this looks and feels like a classic SNES RPG–with voice acting! Octopath Traveler was definitely made for those with nostalgia for the SNES RPG era. I love this game’s neo-retro style. The sprites may be 16-bit, but the backgrounds and lighting effects are gorgeous. It’s amazing how the visuals look old school yet fresh at the same time. And the music is great too. RPGs are my favorite type of game and I love a good character-driven story. It’s cool that this one has 8 but it seems to be lacking in party interactions, which is what I really enjoy when everyone comes together. I’ve only seen a bit of the game, but I really like Therion. Something about his voice (Chris Niosi) already makes me like him. Cyrus (aka Miles Edgeworth) is second place! 😉 My favorite RPGs are Final Fantasy (almost all of them), Kingdom Hearts, and Chrono Trigger. Square Enix has perfected the RPG formula and keeps me coming back for more!

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    1. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement as always! It’s especially meaningful that you’ve been playing so many of the classic SNES RPG’s lately like Final Fantasy IV-VI, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger. Replaying those and seeing what worked helped me to appreciate Octopath Traveler even more not just as a retro throwback but as a well-designed game that incorporates both modern game mechanics and nostalgia. I do wish that there were more banter between members besides the short skits. The ones included are so good, and I just wanted to dive more into their relationships and dialogue! Therion was a fun character, and it helped to have a thief at times hehehe. Loved the voice acting, and someday, when we meet Chris Niosi, you can tell him you loved him as Therion haha! Also, great choices for classic JRPGs! I loved Bravely Default, and I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear were okay, but Octopath Traveler shows that Square Enix has still got it!

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  3. I’ve been looking at this game and the artwork and have been quite curious about it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. While I’m not rushing into this one, I’m certainly going to keep this one on my list of games to look out for in the future.

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    1. You’re very welcome! Thank you for your kind words! I’m a big fan of the artwork, both the 16-bit sprites and the official artwork. If you’ve played older Square Enix RPGs, you probably don’t necessarily have to rush into Octopath Traveler, but it’s such a great experience when you do dive in!

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  4. This is one game that just snuck up on me. I don’t know whether it wasn’t advertised too much or if I didn’t realize it was a Square Enix game, but I swear the first time i heard about it was reading somebody say something about the Wayfarer’s Edition being sold out. Since I wasn’t impressed by the collector’s edition, I’ll wait for a sale and pick this one up. Definitely getting it sometime though because of all the positive reviews.

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    1. Honestly, it snuck up on me too. I was really interested in Octopath Traveler since it was first announced during that first Switch presentation, but I skipped all of the demos despite downloading them. I also didn’t get the Wayfarer’s Edition, but it looked fun albeit pricey. The game itself is definitely still worth it! I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up sometimes 🙂

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  5. Great review! I love that you can recruit the eight characters in any way you wish. Sounds a little Mega Man-ish that way. This one is on my radar as a possible buy before I start my Christmas shopping in October. Once started, all physical games that I haven’t bought/pre-ordered on Amazon will have to wait until 2019. That’s been my system for a few years now and has worked well ever since.

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    1. Thanks a lot man! It is very Mega Man-ish now that I think about it. Who you have even plays a part in what weaknesses you can exploit. We just need to have the ability to copy powers (and a brutal difficulty hahaha). This is definitely a good game to have on your radar, and it will last a good, long time too, so it will fit your system!

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  6. I am usually not one to dive into traditional RPGs, but Octopath certainly looks interesting, especially after such a well-written and glowing review! I love the visuals, the battle system looks entertaining, and the game’s approach to storytelling is very unique.

    I will probably get it eventually. Congrats on the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Matt! I appreciate it a lot man! 😀 Octopath is such a love letter to traditional RPGs, but it really does go beyond the classic ones with its own spins that make for engaging battles. The storytelling takes a lot of risks, but I overall liked it as a fan of character-driven stories. It made me love the characters even more than I tend to in other RPGs where they’re bland and don’t get enough screentime. Hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up!

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  7. This is a terrible title for what seems like a great game. That 2D/3D style is really cool, and I’d like to see other games incorporate it. Also, the soundtrack in the video was solid, and good on you for not giving it an 8 just to be in theme! You’re getting better all the time!

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    1. Believe me, I thought about giving this an 8 out of 9 at some point hahahaha! I agree that the name is a mouthful, but it’s no more confusing than Bravely Default or Kingdom Hearts II.8 Final Chapter Prologue… Its current name isn’t even as bad as its original working title, “Project Octopath Traveler.” Glad they removed the word “Project”, phew. I’d love to see more games in this HD-2D style too. Speaking of which, “HD-2D?” I’m pretty sure that’s one of the Star Wars droids. Also, the music is indeed incredible, so I’m glad you enjoyed what you heard on the video!! Thanks again my friend!!

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  8. Great review. I’m currently loving about 15 hours in and really enjoying it, probably more so than any other game this year at this point. It hits all the right notes for me and the way it is designed makes it a perfect game to play in bite sized chunks.

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! I appreciate it a lot! 😀 Octopath Traveler slowly became one of my favorite games this year so far, so it’s awesome to hear you’re loving it too! The chapter system is perfect for chunks, which was a smart move on their part to make it fit with the Switch’s portable nature.

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    1. Yes!!! You would so enjoy Octopath Traveler as a Final Fantasy fan! It’s definitely one of the best RPGs and games I’ve played this year yet. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous HD 2D graphics! 😀

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    1. Octopath Traveler has such an excellent nostalgic artstyle! It looks as if someone asked a retro SNES RPG player to recall from memory what those old Square Enix games used to look like. It feels so familiar despite looking fancier. I hope you enjoy it whenever you pick it up! 😀

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