Octopath Traveller
Developed by Acquire
Published by Square Enix
Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: This retro-styled JRPG creates a miniature clockwork world to explore.

I love me some Old School Japanese Role Playing Games. As a kid, I looked on with envy as my friends talked about the then mind-blowing scope of Dragon Warrior, and the Unprecedented drama of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. When I grew older and had the means to play them myself, I lost myself in their fast maps and intricate mechanical systems. But trends come and go in gaming, and while these classics are remembered fondly, they just don’t make them anymore.
Except, of course, when they do. Octopath Traveller is a return to subgenre form, complete with pixelated sprites and tangled leveling systems. But it brings a lot of new stuff to the table as well.
The player chooses their starting character from a cast of eight protagonists, from erudite but occasionally naive scholar Cyrus to cynical thief Therion. After playing through the character’s ‘Chapter’ you leave your starting town and recruit the other characters, and play their stories as well. While you can have up to four characters in your party, each character’s story plays out as though they were alone, although you can access character asides where the others will give that character advice, or other dialog that doesn’t impact the scene.
Octopath Traveller is a remarkable success in so many ways. The visuals, a mix of pixel art and modern particle effects serve to create the illusion of a miniature world on the switch’s screen. Sand, snow and water all sparkle, and shimmer on the screen, creating not exactly realism, but an almost tactile effect. The locations look like vastly complex models. The music is gorgeous and cleverly constructed. The writing is smart, engaging, and doesn’t suffer from the bowdlerization so often present in 90’s translations. Combat is strategic and tricky. It is a joy to play.
But as much fun as it is, the game never quite breaks its illusions. The systems never let the player forget that it is a game. Its use of story as another system is interesting, and fun for me, but I found myself wishing that the characters had a bit more interaction with one another. If I have a Healer in my party, why can’t he heal the Cleric’s ill adoptive father? If another character is looking for a criminal, why can’t the Thief use their contacts to speed the process along? These barriers were a distraction to me at times.
Also, having one character that never left the party made them way more powerful than anybody else. There didn’t seem to be a reason to alway have them in the group, and by the end there was a huge gap. These are both aspects I hope they address in any potential sequels.
Octopath Traveller is an incredible JRPG experience for Nintendo Switch that is both full of warm, gooey nostalgia, and genuinely unlike anything else out there. If you have a Nintendo Switch and a hundred hours to spare, this is a must play.