Having done the rounds on PC, Nintendo Switch and Google Stadia since its initial release in 2018, Octopath Traveler has now arrived on Xbox consoles and straight into Xbox Game Pass. For a near three-year-old game, the standard Xbox Store asking price of £49.99 can be a hard pill to swallow; for Xbox Game Pass though, this is yet another essential game to play on the subscription service.
Immediately after starting the game you are met with a decision; don’t worry about this for too long however – this will be to decide which of the eight playable characters will be your ‘main’ character ie. the one constant in your party that cannot be switched out. After completing their opening chapter, you are then free to explore the world and recruit any/all of the remaining seven.
If anyone is interested, I opted for Alfyn: an apothecarist who was inspired by a travelling stranger that saved him as a child with a potion of his own creation.
There are seven others you can choose from to start with. Each of them starts in their own unique town with their own specific job that should be taken into account when making the initial choice. Primose for example is an exotic dancer and former noble who is seeking revenge. Her job to start with is a more support-oriented affair. Then you have Cyrus who sets off on a quest for an ancient tome after being wrongly accused of having an illicit affair with a pupil. He is the mage of the group, but even he does not have access to all of the different spell types. These are perhaps my personal favourites to have in a party, but with Octopath Traveler, there really is no wrong choice; each character has their own pros and cons, but are all extremely well-balanced.
Whether you choose one member or have a full party of four, the difficulty spike in Octopath Traveler feels a bit cyclical. Starting with each character’s first chapter and moving through this way will see the game feel very easy by the time you have collected five or six characters. Then, as you start the journey to chapter two locations, there is a big jump up in difficulty. You can see an area’s recommended Danger Level when transitioning to a new area and you should take heed of the warnings.
The Danger Levels can change though, and this is because Octopath Traveler will scale to your main character’s level. On one hand this never lets your grinding get too out of hand but, conversely, certain characters could get left behind in terms of their levels. And if you choose to continue their stories, you will be forced to use them in those sections and dungeons. But the beauty is, you can ignore them completely should you choose.
What is immediately striking is the art style employed for Octopath Traveler. Coined “HD-2D” by the developers, it is a very traditional aesthetic with character sprites roaming a 2D environment, but modernised at the same time. The same retro textures are then pasted onto polygonal models to give a unique look to Octopath Traveler; one that continues to look gorgeous even many hours into the game.
Your chosen starting character will have a unique story split across four chapters and four towns in the world of Orsterra. It’s a world full of traditional towns and dungeons to explore. Each of the eight characters will have a starting town and introductory chapter. After completing the first one the world map is fully open to your chosen character, yet you can choose to recruit more or go lone wolf and finish the entire game with just the one character.
These characters aren’t all exclusive from each other though; there is a reason these eight in particular have been chosen.
And yet, despite this hugely open-ended nature to Octopath Traveler, it is a very traditional JRPG at the same time. Between the towns you will encounter plenty of turn-based battles, chests to open or even shrines to unlock extra jobs for your party.
However, all the traditional JRPG tropes have been given modern twists. Take the battle system for example; each enemy has a shield that acts as a defensive barrier. Hit them with the attacks they are weakest against – denoted underneath their sprites on the battle screen that could be either physical or elemental – and you will whittle away this shield before being able to stagger them. In this state, they can attack and will take more damage. Certain characters have abilities that will reveal an enemy’s weaknesses but there is so much satisfaction in also revealing them through trial and error.
Another feature that brings Octopath Traveler forward is the interactions you can have with NPCs. It isn’t simply a case of talking to them and exhausting all conversation options; each member in your party can interact with them differently. Olberic, a warrior type, can challenge enemies to a duel; Tressa, a merchant, can buy items from them, sometimes unique items. Then there is Therion, who as a thief is able to steal items without payment… so long as he passes a skill check, indicated as a percentage when selecting an item.
There is also a world map and a mini-map to guide you on your journey, but these can be a little confusing. The world map will uncover more as you reach a new location, but the twisty/turny routes of the overworld don’t always appear to be the correct path. A location could be north, but the correct route is to take the path leading south-east and can sometimes leave you a bit confused.
The mini-map isn’t much better either, as it only shows points of interest; no roads or paths leading to them.
But this is the only real criticism. Octopath Traveler on Xbox is a game that expertly marries a traditional JRPG with more modern ideas. It should be immediately obvious that this is the intention with the “HD-2D” visuals, but even after only a short time playing it feels so well-executed. Some character backstories are more engaging than others, but this is a purely personal choice and there will definitely be someone here for everyone. It is a game that can be completed in many ways, and like any good open-ended RPG, it encourages conversations with other players about how they tackled it.