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