"There are a few recurring threads I've spotted between the characters' stories, but I'm eager to know just how much everything ties together at the end."
Octopath Traveler is the new IP on everyone's lips. From the visual feast of 2D and 3D graphics to the melodic, enchanting music, there seems to be a lot to love, and while we've had a brief taste of what's to come, Square Enix wants to give us a final glimpse of the product before it releases. Aptly named the Prologue demo, this allows you to play through the first three hours of the game and transfer all of your data to your main game, so who can say no to that? Not me.
The demo starts with a choice of eight characters, and this time all of them are selectable. Your journey will start in a different town, with a different story, depending on who you pick. With this many possibilities, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, but go with whoever sounds most interesting. While the dancer Primrose and the knight Olberic were playable in the last demo, there are now six other characters for you to get invested in, such as Therion the mysterious thief and Tressa the excitable merchant. It doesn't matter who you pick as your starting character, though, as you'll be able to see all eight stories in one single playthrough. The idea of having eight concurrent stories, each unfolding at your own pace, sounds delightful,
I chose H'aanit as my first character, a hunter who searches for her master when he goes missing after taking on a difficult hunt. As soon as her story started, I was immediately immersed in the game. H'aanit speaks in an archaic Elizabethan style of English, emphasising that she's cut off from the outside world, out of touch with modern language and the evolution of the world beyond the greenery. It's a bold move to localise her this way, and initially, I found her speech a little jarring, but once I realised this was her (and the other residents of the woodlands') voice, I warmed to it. It suited her and contrasted fittingly with the rest of the world, where many of the characters speak in traditional English, but not so archaic you need a vague understanding of Shakespeare. This minor difference, as well as the look and feel of each location, made Octopath's world feel alive, and that's more than I can say for some other games.
Battles haven't changed much between the two demos, but one thing I noticed is how smooth and fast battles were. Even without major changes, I was equally impressed with how much choice there was in battle and how I never felt overwhelmed. As every character has access to different skills, you need to decide who attacks what. Enemies have weaknesses which you need to expose, and these range from elemental- or weapons-based weaknesses, like piercing and slashing, meaning you can't just mash attack to win. Out of everything, I adored the boost system the most; being able to choose how many times to attack in one go is amazing. It really speeds up the pace of each fight and adds an extra tactical layer I sometimes find missing in traditional turn-based RPGs.
After defeating the first boss, I was given a choice — continue with H'aanit's story, or explore the world to my heart's content. I chose to explore. On my adventures, I ran into another of the eight main characters: Ophilia. Her story is much more tragic than H'aanit's, following her duty to kindle a flame across three different cities. Then I ran into the scholar Cyrus, who is a renowned lecturer at a prestigious school. Each adventure carries a different tone, some more serious than others, but every single story promises to be unique.
If there's one thing I am worried about, there seemed to be little interaction between my three party members, both in and out of battle. While these are eight separate stories, I'd like to see some kind of party dynamic, even if it's just light banter or some scenes where they try to get to know each other. From the quality of writing I've seen already, I know the team are capable of creating this kind of dynamic, but I haven't seen it yet. There are a few recurring threads I've spotted between the characters' stories, but I'm eager to know just how much everything ties together at the end.
Every single character's tale starts off by teaching you how to utilise their skills. Each of them has a Path Action (like a field skill) and a Talent (battle skill). H'aanit's Path Action is Provoke, where she calls one of her bestial allies to attack someone and fight them in battle. This is similar to Olberic's NPC dueling skill, but in H'aanit's case, only the beasts can attack for you. She can capture these in battle with her Talent, Capture. You can also use the beasts to fight alongside you, but they have a limited number of uses. I love how they've incorporated the Path Actions and Talents into the game so they complement each character perfectly, and that they affect one another. Some Path Actions can have positive or negative effects on the townsfolk, so you should be wary of overusing certain skills.
As you can tell, the latest Octopath Traveler demo has demanded my attention and more. While it looks like a simple love letter to the old days, it plays like a decidedly modern turn-based RPG. If you haven't already downloaded the Prologue Demo yet, get to it! It might only be three hours, but those three hours will carry over into your main game and give you a head start. My excitement for Octopath Traveler went up tenfold after playing this demo, but luckily we don't have long to wait until it's out.
"Project Octopath Traveler is already looking like one of 2018's best RPGs."
When the Switch had its big presentation back in January, one of the games that stood out from the rest was Project Octopath Traveler (working title) from Square Enix. It was presented in a gorgeous 2D style that mixes pixel art and rendered backgrounds (the developers call it HD-2D). We didn't know much about the game until the Nintendo Direct on September 13, where Nintendo spent a good portion talking about the upcoming game. The big surprise about Project Octopath Traveler was that it got a demo right after the Nintendo Direct finished, with Square Enix wanting fan feedback on what they had so far. Naturally, I jumped on board.
In Project Octopath Traveler, the game's structure is in the name itself. There are eight characters that will be playable; each one of them has their own separate backstory and are not connected to each other in any way. How these eight characters will come together in the final game is still unknown. In this demo, Square Enix has provided two characters to start off with: the warrior Olberic and the dancer Primrose. Each character has their own exclusive contextual actions that they can use outside of combat. Olberic can challenge almost anyone to a duel, where you can earn items and experience. Primrose is able to seduce villagers or soldiers to follow her and she can use them in combat to help her. Olberic is a former knight who is haunted by his failure to protect his liege and kill the person responsible, and Primrose is a noble turned street dancer in order to track down her father's murderers. Their opening stories, especially Primrose's, were very intriguing and I can't wait to find out more about them.
Speaking of combat, there's a fair amount of depth to it. Each enemy has a weakness to a particular weapon or element. If you hit the enemy's weakness, the enemy's Break gauge (denoted by a shield with a number on it), will go down. If you take it down to zero, the enemy will be stunned and lose their turn. You then have an opportunity to follow up with more damage than usual. To help out, the game also gives you the "Boost" system, which is similar to the "Brave" and "Default" system from the Bravely Default series. Every turn, you are given a Boost Point. You can spend Boost Points to either do more damage with a skill or do multiple standard attacks in one turn. Skills cost SP, which is only recovered by using items, resting at a town inn, or leveling up. It takes a few fights to get the hang of it, but when you do, it makes for some extremely fun fights.
The sound aspect of this game is looking really good. One thing I was shocked by is that they already have English voice acting for the game. From what I've heard so far, it is a really good dub. I usually don't get into English dubs very often at all, but I could get into this one. If Japanese dubs are your preference, the demo is dual audio. The game has full audio for story-related dialogue, but otherwise relies on text. The music for the game right now is incredible — the opening theme had me staying on the title screen for a long time. During some of the most dramatic parts of the demo, the music just drew me into the story. Hopefully, the rest of the musical score is this good.
This may seem early, but Project Octopath Traveler is already looking like one of 2018's best RPGs. The brief story I did play for both Olberic and Primrose was compelling, and they're only two of eight characters. The combat is fairly deep, the game looks fantastic, and the music is amazing. It can only get better after this as well, since Square Enix is taking feedback from this build. If this brief taste is comparable to the rest of the game, we may have an incredible experience on the way for 2018. This is a game I will now be hotly anticipating. 2018 can't come soon enough!