SWITCH | $89.95 | WWW.NIN­TENDO.COM.AU A gor­geous, staunchly old-school JRPG.

APC Australia - - Contents -

High-per­for­mance play­time

Nearly 50 years since Pong, games have evolved at a star­tling rate. And yet here we are, in 2018, with a high-pro­file Nin­tendo ex­clu­sive that feels more like some­thing from the 1990s than most other games that ref­er­ence that era. Oc­topath Trav­eler is a staunchly old-school JRPG: its gor­geous 2.5D pixel-art aes­thetic is the only fac­tor separat­ing it from a ye olde 16-bit Fi­nal Fan­tasy game.

Mix­ing 2D char­ac­ter sprites and 3D, al­most pop-up-book-like en­vi­ron­ments, Oc­topath Trav­eler is quite un­like any other os­ten­si­bly ret­rostyled game on the mar­ket. The way its sands shim­mer and its wa­ter­ways glis­ten, catch­ing the sun’s rays just so, is beau­ti­ful. Its snow fields ap­pear so crisp you’ll swear you could reach into your Switch and touch them. But your party — re­cruited one by one, around the cen­tre of the map’s least­dan­ger­ous re­gions ­— can’t wan­der freely, soak­ing in the sur­round­ings. Com­bat en­coun­ters oc­cur ran­domly when out­side the game’s towns, and th­ese turn-based rough-and-tum­bles rep­re­sent an­other of Oc­topath Trav­eler’s sig­nif­i­cant strengths.

It, how­ever, de­mands pa­tience. The game’s in­tro is in­ter­minable, with each of the eight pro­tag­o­nists re­ceiv­ing their own open­ing chap­ter, show­cas­ing both their back­ground and their unique abil­i­ties. Even if you’re averse to whim­si­cal fan­tasy and have lit­tle pa­tience for ran­dom over­world en­coun­ters, it’s sur­pris­ing how much of the frus­tra­tion is off­set by how beau­ti­ful the game looks.

That th­ese eight sep­a­rate tales never sat­is­fy­ingly tie to­gether is Oc­topath Trav­eler’s great­est fail­ing, though. That cer­tain char­ac­ters’ quests are clearly de­signed with more love than oth­ers, an­other. But player at­tach­ments to their dis­tinct hopes and hard­ships must of­ten be put aside to guar­an­tee a bal­anced party of four, split be­tween com­pat­i­ble classes.

When you’re try­ing to move from A to B, only to be in­ter­rupted by some weird bug that needs killing, the fact that killing it looks so beau­ti­ful makes up for a lot.

The com­bat sys­tem is turn-based, but it re­veals sur­pris­ing com­plex­ity even in the open­ing hour of the game. As you steadily re­cruit the whole ros­ter of char­ac­ters, you’ll have a large va­ri­ety of at­tack­types and strate­gies to choose from. En­e­mies must have their guard bro­ken be­fore any se­ri­ous dam­age can be in­flicted and, most of the time, this can only be achieved with mul­ti­ple at­tacks per turn. The com­bat evolves from slightly awk­ward to al­most bal­letic, as you seek to earn mul­ti­plier points with weaker at­tacks, re­sult­ing in an even­tual mael­strom of fury.

And while ex­plor­ing the serene over­world is pos­si­bly this game’s great­est plea­sure, you’ll need to pre­pare your­self for a lot of this com­bat. For that rea­son, de­spite its unique aes­thetic, this is a game that likely won’t con­vert JRPG naysay­ers. But if you’re in the camp of those who adore them, Oc­topath Trav­eler is ut­terly essen­tial.

Shaun Prescott

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