The Final Fantasy series of games were the ultimate roleplaying experiences, with gorgeous cutscenes, memorable characters (and even more memorable costumes and hair), immersive storylines with 50+ hours of play time, and incredible music.
Most video games you play these days are live action. You have to aim and shoot, or punch in complicated sequences, to get your character(s) to fight. Everything happens in real-time. But the reason I was so into Final Fantasy, and other RPGs like it, was because they were turn-based. With turn-based games, every person in the battle gets to take a turn dealing damage. You don’t have to hurriedly mash buttons in order to make sure you don’t die before you can fight back. It takes out the frantic element so you can focus on skill and strategy. It’s a godsend for anyone who, like me, has terrible hand-eye coordination and is really, really bad at video games.
Turn-based battle meant I could play these games to my heart’s content. I’ve gotten better at video games over the years and have branched out from my RPG roots. But I’m always still on the lookout for a good role-playing game.
Enter the Nintendo Switch and Octopath Traveler, a game that will remind you of the RPGs of your youth. It came out a few weeks ago (you can download a free demo from Nintendo), and I booted it up on launch day. And friends, it was the RPG I’d been waiting for.
When you start Octopath Traveler, you can choose to play as one of eight characters (hence the name). Once you play through your chosen character’s storyline, you can go out and collect the rest of the players as members of your party. I chose Ophilia, a slightly holier-than-thou priestess who opts to go on a dangerous pilgrimage so her sister can stay with their dying father. After I started her quest, I went and found other characters and embarked on theirs as well.
Each character has their own reasons to leave their towns and venture into the wider world. A hunter looking for her long-lost master, a scholar who wants to find a lost book: Ophilia met up with these characters, and I got the chance to play as each of them, learning a little about them on the way.
This is where the game’s main flaw is: Once the characters are members of the party, there’s little interaction. They don’t become friends, they don’t tell jokes by the campfire. They’re in a party together because they’re traveling; there’s not a larger story, a twist of fate, that brings them together. It makes for a somewhat haphazard storytelling experience.
Despite that, Octopath Traveler is the game that RPG fans have been waiting for on the Switch. The gameplay is excellent, and the battle system is innovative, yet it’s completely intuitive for anyone with the barest experience with turn-based battle. The overarching story might leave something to be desired, but the individual ones are interesting and satisfying. It’s certainly enough to keep me hooked on gameplay for hours at a time. It also subverts the traditional RPG stereotype that the women are good at magic, while the men are better attackers.
All in all, if you’re looking for a game to play that’s reminiscent of Final Fantasy and will suck you in when you want it to, but that you’ll be able to put down and go about your day when you need to, Octopath Traveler is what you want. Twenty hours in, and I’m enjoying every moment.