The game awards have wrapped up and as endless debates go down in comment sections, I just need everyone to know that Octopath Traveler is the goddamn greatest game ever. Nominated for best original score? You bet your ass it should have won. No, but in all seriousness, Octopath Traveler was a flawed game but I do feel like it took old-school Final Fantasy mechanics and made them a lot better than what they use to be. I love the old NES & SNES era of Final Fantasy, I really do, but they too are obviously pretty flawed games and even though they are praised for their grand adventures and stories, I always feel like the worlds are kind of empty.
Whenever someone criticizes Final Fantasy 13, I always hear the complaint that there are no towns for the player to stop at, or shops to buy equipment from, but I never understood why people cared about this so much. I found the towns in early Final Fantasy games to usually be pretty boring and just somewhere to stock up on supplies. The NPC’s usually just said generic lines and they never gave out side-quests or anything. The RPG mechanics were fun, battling and exploring dungeons was cool, but the worlds all felt the same, and there was never anything to do besides the main plot.
Octopath Traveler was meant to be played whatever way the player wanted. If you want to only get 4 of the 8 main characters and beat their stories, that’s fine. Maybe you want to do all the optional dungeons before completing the story? It’s totally up to you, it’s truly an open world game. But some ways of playing might be more fun than others. Just going from chapter to chapter might get a bit stale since all the stories follow the same formula of go to a new town, the story leads to you going into a dungeon, you beat the boss and you finish up that chapter back in town. It’s the same thing in every chapter, for every character. Yes, it isn’t the best game design but there are things you can do in between chapters to break up the regular formula.
The difference between Final Fantasy and Octopath Traveler is that Octopath has things you can do to break up this formula. You can do one of the many, many side-quests the game has to offer. Every time you level up a character, their path action skill also goes up, so you can go back to a town you have visited, and maybe try and steal those items you couldn’t get before, divulge info from and NPC you couldn’t get, or get some new, powerful followers. You can also do optional dungeons to get better gear, extra jobs, or even secret jobs. There is even a secret ending to the game that requires you to do certain side-quests that kind of ties the lore of the world and some of the story together. There is just more to do in the world Of Octopath Traveler.
I felt like one of the biggest reasons that Octopath felt like a more fleshed out world was because of the NPC’s. You could do so much with them; talk to them, steal items from them, get information out of them, get side-quests from them, and even use them in battle. They not only provided story but worked into gameplay and the battle mechanics as well. The writers created some sort of interesting backstory for every single NPC that you could read by using some of the characters path actions, and you’d get a paragraph about every NPC’s backstory. Some characters even travelled around from town to town so you could interact with them multiple times. Not only that, but there were also multiple NPC’s that you could find on the roads, trails, deserts and meadows in between towns. Yes, towns and cities make the world feel varied and lived in, but people travel, they venture outwards and like to be in nature, so it feels natural when you meet NPC’s on the road. It’s just another small detail that I loved about Octopath Traveler that Final Fantasy never really did.
As I mentioned earlier, you’re going to be spending a lot of time exploring dungeons in Octopath Traveler and they are pretty different from the dungeons you explore in Final Fantasy. The dungeons in old-school Final Fantasy usually had multiple floors and long paths that can either lead to treasure, surprise monsters, or even dead ends. You could spend hours trying to find your way because every 10 steps you’re put into yet another battle and this becomes incredibly frustrating when you just went down a path that lead you to nothing. Octopath’s dungeons never outstay their welcome and are always just one path with smaller/secret paths that always leads to chests. Yes, they aren’t varied or incredibly creative, but the also aren’t frustrating or annoyingly long. Quality over quantity, even though the game has beyond a large amount of places to explore.
If you’re playing an old school style JRPG, chances are that you like turn-based combat, and if you’re playing Octopath Traveler, you’d better since there is a lot of it. Octopath’s combat is a bit different from Final Fantasy’s, since it revolves around finding your enemies’ weak point and exploiting them. They might have to be attack with a certain weapon type, or a certain spell type, and maybe hit multiple times with said weapon/spell, but once you do, the enemy will be stunned for a bit. This puts an emphasis on proficiency with choosing party members and their second classes, as every class can use a different weapon type, and having a wider range of weapon types can greatly help in battle. Octopath Traveler also has the boost point system; Where every turn you gain a boost point (you can have a max of 5) that you can learn to either perform consecutive hits if you use the basic fight command, or to boost the strength of your spells and abilities. So instead of hitting an opponent once with the weapon that will stun them, you can use 3 boost points to hit them 4 times in 1 turn. Boost point management is yet another layer of strategy that makes Octopath Traveler’s battles incredibly fun.
As much as I love Final Fantasy, the combat is pretty simple. Most of the basic fights can just be won by using the “fight” command, or by using a powerful spell. Even the boss fights in Final Fantasy can be considered easy since all you really have to do is try and do the most damage as possible all the time. In Octopath Traveler, you have to use the right weapons and spells to stun your foe, use BP accordingly, manage your health and SP, and utilize the job system so that you have a good variety of weapons and spells as well as support characters ( healing, buffing, and debuffing). But maybe you don’t want to fight as often and you’re sick of running into monsters every 10 steps? You can equip a skill that makes you get into battles less often. It’ just nice to have these options and shows that developers understand that the medium needs to change from its dated formula. Speaking of skills, your party also has passive skills. When you learn enough abilities in a job, you start to get passive skills. These can boost your stats, give buffs, and many other cool things that really affect battle. Party members can even use their path actions in battle! Some can bring in NPC’s to help them fight, while others might be able to steal items from enemies. This makes every character even more unique as only they can use these actions. I’ve always enjoyed the RPG elements of these types of games, picking a job, levelling up and using my favourite characters, but it’s nice that in Octopath, even the most simple of battles can be very fun.
I hope I didn’t give off the idea that I’m hating on classic Final Fantasy games because I honestly love them to death. I go back and play a few of them every year , but the fact remains though that they are pretty dated. The JRPG genre has greatly evolved over the past 30 years and Octopath Traveler was another huge step in the right direction. I should also briefly mention those goddamn beautiful graphics. Hopefully we get some older FF games remade in the same engine and with the same art-style. Octopath is by far not a perfect game but it did a lot right, like the combat, world-building, and dungeon design. It would be cool to see a sequel to this game where they fix other issue and I can’t wait to see if the next big JRPG builds off of the success of this game the same way Final Fantasy helped the genre all those years ago. As a JRPG super fan, the future looks bright!