As a fan of Japanese RPGs, Project Octopath Traveler was one of the most intriguing games shown during Nintendo’s Switch reveal in January. Even though it was a brief trailer, we learned that Square Enix was supporting the platform with a previously unannounced RPG, a gorgeous looking one at that. Details have been scant since that January event but after last week’s Nintendo Direct, a demo was released. Now that I’ve had hands-on time with the game, I’m more confident it’s right up my alley.
Beginning the demo, I was given the choice of two playable characters: Primrose the dancer or Olberic the warrior. Biographical information accompanied their portraits, displayed upon a map with silhouettes of the six other adventurers that will feature in the game. Primrose worked as a “dancer” while trying to find her father’s three murderers and avenge his death. On the other hand, Olberic was a former knight seeking the truth behind his king’s assassination. Regardless of choice, their paths eventually cross and they join together. Despite this, it was worthwhile to start a game with each, as the first hour or so focused on their personal storyline.
While Olberic sought the truth of events passed, he remained incognito as protector of a small town. Accordingly, when a group of brigands kidnapped a young villager, he set out to single-handedly rescue the child. Journeying between the village and the brigands’ cave, I encountered many random battles. With only one character under my control for most of the demo, the turn-based combat system was easy to understand, a little basic even.
Enemies had shield counters that decreased after being struck by a weapon they were weak to. When their shield counter hit zero, they remained stunned for a turn and my strikes did more damage. Just for a turn however; afterwards their shield counter regenerated. Evening the odds were the Boost Points that my characters accrued each turn. Up to three could be utilized on an action, adding additional strikes or multiplying damage dealt. Although the battle system was simple, fights were not, especially against bosses. Ultimately, success came down to managing enemy shields and timing my Boost Point usage to quickly take down shields and maximize damage to stunned enemies.
Apart from the two main storylines in the demo, there were a few sidequests to undertake. They were simple to solve and revolved around each character’s unique way of interacting with NPCs. For instance, Primrose could perform a dance and allure an NPC into following her. When I stumbled upon an obelisk with unknown writing on it, I remembered the researcher from Olberic’s village. Sure enough, this was just what she was looking for! Alternatively, Olberic could challenge an NPC to a duel. After learning that a father was siphoning funds from his daughter to support his alcoholic dependency, Olberic whooped up on him.
In the three hours I played the demo, I marveled at the visuals nonstop. Inspired by RPGs of the 16-bit era, environments were brought to life in a pseudo pixilated/polygonal manner that absolutely popped. What 3D Dot Game Heroes was to 8-bit RPGs, this game is 16-bit RPGs. I was earnestly eager to explore different environments just to see what they’d look like. Most characters were portrayed as chibi-like sprites familiar to anyone who’s played a similar RPG. In battles, enemies were much larger and much more detailed, especially bosses. A good portion of the demo was voice-acted and competently done, but the ancillary roles and filler dialogue was hit-or-miss. Some snippets suffered from poor audio mixing as well, where the soundtrack muffled the voice-acting. On the whole it was an enjoyable soundtrack and I’m interested to hear more.
I’m keen to play more, as well! The demo highlighted the introductory chapters of two character’s storylines and I’m curious to not only continue those, but learn of the other characters and see how their paths intertwine. Hopefully, the sidequests and character actions wind up being as plentiful as they were in the demo, too. As implemented, the combat system seemed to focus on the fundamentals. It’ll be interesting to see how it gets expanded upon as the party increases and enemies grow stronger. And, if all else falls flat in the final product, I’ll probably still trek through the game just to explore the world and take in the visuals. Thankfully, if the demo is any indication, that won’t be the case. I thought it was a promising look at Project Octopath Traveler and if I wasn’t already looking forward to it, this would’ve done the trick.
Lastly, as Jason Schreier puts it: