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Octopath Traveler Review

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Octopath Traveler draws inspiration from a lot of places that makes it feel almost like a classic Final Fantasy game from the early nineties. It is said to be a sort of spiritual successor to these classic games and from the opening right until the end, this is clear. It is a long and joyful experience that ties eight characters together as you explore a beautiful world filled with stunning classic art styles and a decent combat system that will make all JRPG fans happy. While it does a terrible job at making these eight characters seem remotely interested in each other's backstories, each character has a deep sense of being throughout the game. 

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You start Octopath Traveller as any of the eight characters. After a short intro story, you are then set off on a mini-quest to fulfil the foundations of the character you first chose in the game. I went with H'aanit, a hunter that has dedicated her life to her clan after her master went off on a hunt over ten years before the game picks up. She gets a warning that he may be in danger and sets off to find him. The is set in a ring-like map where whichever character you choose to start the game off with, you will then move to the next town, hear the next character's story, play a little quest and get them to join your party. These first intro quests are dubbed as "Chapter 1" of each person's main goal in the game and they do a great job at delivering an interesting and meaningful opening so that you actually care about them. 

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Each character's first chapter is fully voiced and with a stunning soundtrack, unique language and accent, and various towns and dungeons to explore, the game gives you this sense that you are in for a grand adventure that will take you across the lands to meet people of all shapes, races, sexes and cultures. This is where Octopath Traveler does a great job at delivering a wonderful world filled with so much discovery that you just want to press on to the next chapter or town to meet the next character. 

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Speaking of which, all eight characters in the game I immediately fell in love with. Ophelia Clement, the orphan who sets off on a journey to kindle the Sacred Flame, Cyrus Albright, the ignorant professor who is on a quest to find a missing tomb, Primrose Azelhart who wants to avenge her father's death and Olberic Eisenberg, a once famed soldier now hiding from the world. All eight of these characters somehow make their way into your heart as you meet them, watch their tragic stories and set off to complete their goals which plays out in a much later part of the game dubbed as their "Chapter 2". 

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Each character has a unique loadout, skills and attacks systems that give them the edge in battle over other characters. The combat system in Octopath Traveler will please many JRPG fans out there as it is turn based but also pretty simple. Everyone gets placed in a combat line which appears at the top of the screen. As you execute attacks you move up. Enemies have specific weaknesses to various weapon types and elements but you need to discover these weaknesses first or rely on Cyrus' insight ability that is able to spot the weakness at the start of the battle. As you attack or cast spells against the enemy's weakness it will drop its defence before breaking it and leaving it stunned for a while. This means it is pushed out of the battle log and is unable to attack for a few turns. All attacks dealt to the enemy while its broken is also critical so you have to pump as much damage in as possible. 

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The Break system is vital to succeeding in battle especially boss fights where the enemy starts to power up an attack and you have 7 turns to Break him before he unleashes the damage on your party. Your party also racks up a charge after each turn which can then "boost" your attacks be it magic or plain melee attacks. Power four charges into a melee attack and he or she will deal four jabs with a polearm, or shoot four arrows, again bringing down the total defence of the enemy if they are weak to the attack type you are using. 

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It is a simple yet effective system that works very well. Some battles you breeze through as Cyrus' Blizzard attack can reach four enemies who just happen to all be weak to ice. They then Break and you take them all out one by one in a few turns. Some battles are not so easy as you get a group of enemies which you have not learnt their weaknesses yet. This takes a while to master as you find out just what frog is weak to what attack and if you do not have that weapon type on you as you did not take the character with you then you lose out. Eight characters mean only four can enter battle with you so choosing the right setup is also key to fighting seamlessly. 

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Characters also have abilities that can both be used in the real world and in battle. H'aanit, for example, can capture weak enemies and then summon them in the battle to do set actions like dealing damage to enemies using a specific melee type, healing party members and much more. Tressa can steal money from weak enemies and Primrose can summon people she lured into battle with her to help her fight. These abilities are great but not all of them are equal. Some I barely used in battle and even in the real world they felt pointless. H'aanit can start a fight with any random NPC, Tressa can purchase items from people, and Cyrus can question NPCs about crimes during various parts of his chapters. 

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Some characters felt a bit underwhelming compared to other and this even pushed me to use them less in battle too. While skills are useful, once you have the perfect party divided into power, healing, magic and support, it is hard to welcome someone back who may just bring down your winning team. This is where the job skills come in as you can purchase new skills using points gained at the end of a battle. The more you buy, the more expensive it gets so you have to choose wisely. Do I buy Cyrus' Lightning Blast before Blizzard or get a better healing spell for Ophilia? Later on in the game job classes expand greatly giving you more control over each character's sub-class but for the most part, each character is better at doing one specific role for much of the game's duration. 

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Gear is also handled differently in the game too. Instead of stats increasing after the battle, which they do, you can also decide on a character's specific stats by equipping specific gear you buy and find around the world. One shield may have better elemental defence while the other more physical defence. Even SP, which acts as your mana is increased by purchasing rather expensive gear. Some characters can also equip two weapon types which give them the edge in battle too. 

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Octopath Traveler looks great. It is a mix of 2D sprites that are placed in this 3D world that acts as sort of a pop-up book. Sand shimmering in the distance, snow blowing in the wind and the bright reflection of the sun in the ocean gives you the sense of scale. You are in this large land with so many different ecosystems and it all ties together very well. Its art style is captivating and even with the smallest of details on enemies moving in battle, everything feels alive. 

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Some of Octopath Traveler's weakest moments is in its story arcs. Eight characters are brought to life quite well but the story never feels as if they are on one set adventure together. Even when you meet your next character in the town, the entire chapter is played out without any past heroes in on the screen. The new character then just goes along with the party as if they are just tagging along with strangers on an errand. There is very little connection between these eight characters to make them feel united at all throughout the game. Later parts of the story this changes a bit but it still feels like the investment in these characters' backstories and bringing them all together is never fully realized on the scale I hoped for. Most JRPGs sees people band together for one single purpose outside their own goals and Octopath Traveler just misses this mark.

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That is to say, it is not a bad thing entirely as it lets you focus on the set goals on hand for each character. The game introduces them brilliantly and their stories are gripping, to say the least. It is something I have yet to experience and Square Enix brought these strangers to life in the game and did so with love. 

Octopath Traveler is a stunning JRPG with some dips in its character developments but that should not deter you from experiencing it for yourself. It draws a lot of inspiration from the classic Final Fantasy games and has a great combat system that carries it through. Anyone craving a good JRPG should look at this without fail. Its 40-50 hour story will stay with you for years to come. 

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This review was conducted based on a review code sent to us by Nintendo.

Available On: Switch | Release Date: 13 July 2018 | RRPR749

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