BCG Review - Octopath Traveler

BCG Review - Octopath Traveler
Platform: Nintendo Switch

BCG Verdict: A strong RPG with some blemishes, bolstered by a compelling battle system and unique graphics. It’s a worthwhile visit for the business casual gamer, offering small, digestible chunks of story for players with little time, all while striking a strong chord for those of us who enjoyed 16-bit RPGs in the 90s.

You can get yourself a copy of Octopath Traveler here. Using this link gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

Review:

In the time leading up to its formal release, Octopath Traveler saw two demos and quite a bit of media attention. The initial promise was quite lofty: eight unique characters, each with his or her own story to tell, woven into a unique tale similar to that of a 1990s-style RPG. And if that wasn’t enough, developer Square Enix planned a truly unique visual display consisting of a marriage between modern, 3D worlds and old-school, 2D tile-based RPGs of the SNES era. What could go wrong?
 

Octopath Traveler is a unique 3D world with 2D flair.

Octopath Traveler is a unique 3D world with 2D flair.

In truth, while Octopath isn’t perfect, not a lot went wrong. While the stories for the eight characters don’t really intertwine directly, the lack of those complexities are easily forgiven for just that: unnecessary complexities to the BCG-style gamer. In fact, the intentional step to maintain relatively siloed stories among the protagonists ends up offering a bit more of an open feel to a genre that is notorious for story linearity. Players choose a starting character and quickly encounter the other seven, optionally taking time to sidetrack along the newcomer’s story before delving deeper into the original task. This type of approach, mainly consisting of small, 30-minute pieces, makes it incredibly simple to pick up and put down many times over a day or week--an ideal trait for those of us with hectic schedules. The disjointed stories never disrupt the enjoyment, as it feels quite similar to games like Final Fantasy IV or VI, breaking off to tackle a new character’s immediate needs while putting the previous task on brief hold.

Some players may argue with the story decision; however, very few will take issue with the battle system, which paints an interesting layer of exceptionality over the tried-and-true turn-based battles we’ve come to expect. Thankfully throwing the old “real time battle” mechanics out the window, battles proceed in a well-defined order, shown at the top of the screen at all times. This gives the player the ability to better understand if they can get aggressive now and still have time to heal before an enemy’s action. Each character begins with a primary job and a set of weapons that align with their role. Gone are the simple days of choosing one weapon and mashing through fight commands to victory. Instead, players must carefully choose which weapon to use for each turn as well as which enemy to target.
 

The battle system is a refreshing take on 16-bit style turn-based RPGs' offerings.

The battle system is a refreshing take on 16-bit style turn-based RPGs' offerings.

This is where the system gets fun. Each enemy has a set of weaknesses that are initially unknown to the player. As attacks are rendered against them, weaknesses are slowly discovered (and, thankfully, remembered) throughout the battle. Additionally, every enemy has a shield value that represents the number of hits against their weakness that they can withstand before entering a “broken” and vulnerabile state. During this broken state, enemies take more damage and may not take any action. Where traditional RPGs would have players focusing damage on one particularly threatening enemy, Octopath’s system allows players to “juggle” breaking one or more enemies to prevent them from inflicting damage against the party. Further, breaking enemies only lasts so long, encouraging players to hit them hard while they’re down at the expense of crowd controlling the other enemies in the battle.

Coupled with the weaknesses mechanism is the boost system. The end of each turn awards each character with one Boost Point (BP) for which they can save up to five. Then, when their turn comes back around, they may choose to use up to three of those points to enhance their action that turn (which consequently prevents them from gaining BP that turn). Is an enemy broken? Use some BP to deal multiple hits for catastrophic damage. Need a clutch and more powerful heal? Add on some BP to that magic spell. This alone would make for some interesting battles, but Octopath adds an extra twist. Each physical hit of a weapon onto an enemy decreases their shield value, allowing players to accelerate breaking enemies with strategic BP usage. This idea, coupled with the other uses of BP, creates very unique trade off situations that bring much more excitement to battles than many similar systems in other RPGs. Enemies--especially bosses--have very high hit points, necessitating a thoughtful approach at very turn. For the BCG, this means that even a 30-minute play session consisting of a handful of random battles can be just as exciting and rewarding as making strides in the story.
 

The overworld map seems small, but packs quite a lot of content.

The overworld map seems small, but packs quite a lot of content.

The game’s visuals are quite compelling. We’ve never quite seen a 2D-sprite-meets-3D-environment approach just like this one, and for most players, it is quite a remarkable sight to behold. Maneuvering through the world is simple and direct, as expected, and interaction with objects and non-player characters is straightforward. The music in Octopath is exceptional, fitting closely in with the narrative and driving player emotion appropriately, although it still can’t hold a candle to Nobuo Uematsu’s offerings from the 90s.

Blur effects in the foreground and background can become distracting.

Blur effects in the foreground and background can become distracting.

If there’s something to be frustrated about, frankly, it’s an artistic design choice in the visuals. Whether there due to a technical limitation or otherwise, the game’s visual depth of field and bloom effects quickly become distracting, even frustration-inducing. To aid in the feeling of depth, buildings and objects in the foreground and background are dramatically blurred, more so than any game we’ve seen in the past. There are times where two-thirds of the screen is blurred, leaving only a small center segment with the character in focus. This happens more often than desired and can easily wreak havoc on a player’s eyes. It’s more than just distracting.

All in all, Octopath’s exceptional battle system is diminished by its middle-of-the-range story and visual quirks. That said, it’s still quite a lot of fun and represents one of the best RPGs of its type in many years. The fragmented story segments--while a frustration point for some gamers--actually helps the business casual gamer, offering opportunities for discrete, 30-minute play sessions without risk of wasting time. If you have a Switch and are looking for a reasonable facsimile of our favorite 90s RPGs, you won’t be disappointed in Octopath Traveler.

You can get yourself a copy of Octopath Traveler here. Using this link gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

BCG Ratings:
Multiplayer Fun: N/A (No multiplayer)
Time Sensitivity: Excellent (Start and stop quickly)
Duration: Moderate (50+ hours)
Family Applicability: Teen and Interested Gamers (Not for young children or non-gamers)

Ratings Explained:
BCG Ratings are our attempt to summarize a game’s most critical factors for the business casual gamer. See the descriptions below for details.

Multiplayer Fun - This attempts to measure the fun factor for business casual gamers that don’t have hours to sink into a multiplayer experience. Ratings of “BCG Friendly” are games that are casually-focused in multiplayer environments, whereas “Hardcore Only” ratings are generally more challenging to approach from a BCG angle.

Time Sensitivity - This measures the game’s ability to be started and stopped frequently at relatively small (e.g. 30 minute) intervals. The best games in this category offer meaningful fulfillment even in short play times, whereas games that require two-hour sessions to make meaningful progress score low in this category. 

Duration - This measures the overall length of the game to complete casually on a first playthrough. While long durations don’t necessarily mean a bad game, some players may opt to steer clear of games requiring too much of a time commitment.

Family Applicability - This measures the applicability of the game to family gaming sessions, particularly with younger children or non-gamers. A full “Family Friendly” rating means that everyone will find some fun in the game, whereas “BCG Only” is more likely to be enjoyed only by gamers themselves.

Chris
 

BCG Reviews - A Different Kind of Perspective

When we first started Business Casual Gamers, we had no intention of making this a “review” channel. There are plenty of places to get your reviews (Easy Allies, Kotaku, Happy Console Gamer are good places to start) if you’re interested in whether a game is actually good. This thought worked well for the first couple years of our show. Then, we realized something.

A large part of the “BCG” mindset that we continue to drive with the show and its related content focuses on games from a decidedly different perspective: is it good for a Business Casual Gamer? Aaron and I have consistently mentioned that the characteristic of “good” for a BCG isn’t necessarily the 10,000+ hours of gameplay that you see in the marketing for a game. Instead, it’s more focused on shorter-term return on time investment, playability in small chunks of time, and other such considerations.

When revamping the podcast content in 2018, we tried to refine the content to just one topic, delivered a bit shorter than previous episodes. While I know we’re guilty of not necessarily shortening the podcast even in the light of the new changes, we did decide to pull the Game Assignments segment in order to shorten the episodes. The problem, as it turned out, was that we’d end up short-changing our discussions on the game purely in an attempt to shorten the show. We--and from what we’ve heard, you--have missed some of the review-like discussions on the podcast.

So, in an attempt to inject that type of content back into the BCG offering, we’re going to start putting out some blogs on this site that give the “BCG” review on games, hardware, and other related gaming items. Keep in mind that this isn’t a normal review, though: we’ll most likely be providing commentary to the games based on a short playtime (in the BCG world, who has the time to quickly finish games?). If you want purely thorough reviews, please check those out elsewhere. That said, Aaron and I will try our best to give you the full BCG perspective--all with our own personal slant. We hope you find it valuable.

As an aside, we’re going to start including links to products that we discuss in our reviews. If you’re interested in those products, we’d love for you to use those links, as they directly help us 1) acquire more content to review, and 2) help us support the show through software licenses and audio/video equipment. As it turns out, this kind of production indeed costs a bit to keep rolling.

Thanks!
Chris