Octopath Traveler (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Octopath Traveler (2018)

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Octopath Traveler confuses redundancy for depth.  Its eight characters, each with their own prologue and four chapters of adventuring, are a collection of differing accents occupying what seem to be unique spaces until you progress just a bit into its far-too-long narrative.  Then the similarities become too apparent and I started to wonder why developers Square Enix (SE) and Acquire focused so heavily on stretching out the concept instead of delivering a smaller choice of tight stories.

They did a fine job crafting Octopath Traveler as I felt compelled to stop then take in the often gorgeous soundtrack and meticulously constructed environments (dubbed HD-2D as diorama is apparently too old-fashioned a word). But the total is akin to a finely fluffed pastry puff around a hollowed and dusty center.  Yet this is all by design, the absurdly named HD-2D gives the travelers a stage show feel though one offered through a dusty looking-glass.  Its aesthetic feeds into the distance, compounded by inter-party conversation where these travelers occupy separate spotlights and talk to one another over a wide gulf.Any sense of nostalgia from its needlessly rehashed plotlines from RPGs of yesteryear is a shallow facsimile of those earlier games' success.  A casual glance might make you think of Square Enix's Final Fantasy series but a more appropriate comparison point lies with their SaGa games.  The SaGa series is something of an outcast of weird systems and independent storylines stretched across multiple characters sometimes intersecting...sometimes not.  The "sometimes not" is where I wish SE and Acquire considered writing rich internal lives of the characters in Octopath Traveler as they exist less as people and more a series of plot lines to be resolved whenever I slap the next to say, "Tag, you're it - get in the spotlight now."

Save for one intriguing example, none of the playable characters brings variety to their own stories.  From plucky merchant Tressa (my starting pick) to disgraced knight Olberic, they all have chance encounters with mysterious strangers that escalate in further shadowy goings-on with each chapter.  I picked the plucky merchant because I wanted to see something different, not a forced journey for journey's sake due to influences outside their control.  The only exception is Therion, a thief who takes pride in his skill and gets roped into heroism because of his hubris instead of a grand mystery.  I loved that Therion was unrepentant in his thieving - he's good at this and dammit he'll steal what he needs to prove he's the best.Even Therion's plotline eventually falls prey to the copy/paste feel of the others. They have out of battle special commands that are supposed to help differentiate one from the next but it just comes down to two different names for doing mostly the same things. Knight Olberic and hunter H'aanit are functionally identical in challenging NPCs to combat while the Madonna-whore combination of cleric Ophilia and dancer Primrose tempt NPCs to follow them into battle.  In the case of merchant Tressa and thief Therion it's a matter of, "Do you want to pay for this thing or not?" Therion's steal rate is so high and the punishment for getting caught so laughable (you pay off a bartender and that's it) that there is rare functional reason to pay for items when the stakes are so low.  I did enjoy the difference in success rates between the investigative skills of scholar Cyrus and apothecary Alfyn as the former has less success grilling people than the latter does by striking up conversation.

The redundant skillsets outside of battle are unfortunately copied in battle as well.  Octopath Travelers battles are enticing at first with enemy weaknesses that need to be targeted with specific party member skills to achieve quick success and more rewards.  Yet the individual skills they bring to battle are also made redundant by the introduction of a fairly early game subclass system that allows a character to use their skills and that of another.  If it weren't for my dogged determination to see through to the bitter end every generic quest, I'd have no reason to use more than four characters as I could rotate subclasses in and out to power them up.  The blandly interchangeable roster doesn't even have a battle connection with no team attacks nor duo maneuvers that would at least suggest they try to fight as a team.So the plots are redundant, their NPC skills interchangeable, and battle roles made unnecessary early on.  The only saving grace would be some robust characterization and boy howdy does Octopath Traveler fail terribly.  I knew about the awkward Ye Olde English approach of H'aanit's tribe and Octopath Traveler was once more reliably disappointing.  The writers show no grasp of English's beautifully guttural roots by instead adding the letter "e" to words and throwing in a, "Thou" now and again.  What I wasn't expecting was the cornpone idiocy of Alfyn's dialogue. There are so many moments of, "Aw shucks" or likewise reused phrases that I swear the writers only know of country dialect from watching the same truncated episode of The Andy Griffith Show on repeat.

Octopath Traveler ends as a generic RPG copied eight times over with its inspirations better experienced than its final product.  Even the diorama aesthetic has more player and world intrigue in the Paper Mario games. It was nice to dust off my Switch for something that had the potential to feel fresh but that initial rush quickly gave way to a dull RPG grind.

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Posted by Andrew

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