Octopath Traveler
by Gabriel Gutierrez in
Nintendo Switch PC

OT is probably one of the most beloved games that wink at the 16-bit era that many gamers grew up with, bringing a nostalgic feel that few games manage to touch. But now without its good share of issues.

Octopath Traveler is NOT A BAD GAME AT ALL… The graphics are stunningly beautiful. The music, especially the boss themes, is an absolute blast. The battle mechanics, a great update to the classic 16-bit era.

However, unlike other games, I started to notice the exact same critique: “it’s stunning… but boring”. And personally, it’s a sentiment I absolutely share. This game was so promising but… it lacked something and I grew bored of it.

Driven by curiosity, I made several polls about which JRPG game you WOULD NOT recommend among 4 games from the Switch (Octopath, Dragon Quest XI, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Ys VII) and Octopath was consistently voted as the least recommended (to many fans’ surprise, for a total of 382 votes), almost DOUBLING the number of votes from the 2nd less liked the game, which was Xenoblade Chronicles – Definitive Edition (with 200 votes).

Their reason? Again, “It’s boring!”, “I couldn’t bother to finish it”, “the storyline is bland”.

As an aspiring Game Developer, I found this case intriguing. It’s the first time I’ve seen such a successful game get the same type of critique popping up in a constant way that I decided to dive and search which aspects made the game so boring after a while for a lot of players.

After playing other JRPG’s, OT’s flaws were immediately evident to me, and I hope this list will serve as a footprint of how NOT to make a JRPG:

1. LINEAR DUNGEONS WITH COMPLETE LACK OF ‘DYNAMICS’

In the games of the 16-bit era, it was common that RPG’s dungeons had some linearity to them, an aspect that OT emulates pretty well… while being incredibly boring after a while. Something that didn’t really didn’t happen in older games like Final Fantasy 6, and the reason is that OT lacks something that other games had that I call “Dungeon Dynamics”, which is the way you complete a dungeon.

In Octopath Traveler you just go from “entrance” to “boss spot” like if you went through a loooooong corridor with little deviations to get some chests. And that’s it. EVERY SINGLE DUNGEON IS PLAYED THE SAME, making this aspect a very linear, boring, and unengaging experience for a lot of players, where the only difference of one dungeon from another is a slightly different layout, different visuals, and the monsters.

LESSON:

If you take a game like Final Fantasy 9 you will notice the exact opposite of this issue. NO DUNGEON IS PLAYED THE SAME. Every single one has its quirks beyond the visuals: The Ice Cave where Vivi can melt down some walls, piquing your curiosity to see what could be behind that frozen wall. In Fossil Roo you have to pull switches to change the flow of water to either reach hidden chests or to be able to go forward. In FF6 you have to search and push some buttons in the Magitek factory to keep going. In few words, every single dungeon has its very own and unique dynamics in form of mini-puzzles that are easy enough to solve and keep you entertained, making the experiences very different despite having the same basic structure.

2. SAME STORY STRUCTURE

After getting through the 1st chapter of each character you would have already noticed something that makes you feel like it has become repetitive. The story structure, which goes like this:

Octopath traveler towns

1) Go to Town A.

2) Story development. Expect some “plot twist”.

3) Go to the dungeon that is just besides the town.

4) Go through linear dungeon to find the boss.

5) Defeat boss.

6) More story with some “plot twist”.

7) Go to Town B. And repeat ad nauseam… 32 TIMES!

It’s a structure that has NO VARIATIONS and adds another layer to the whole experience that makes it feel very mechanic, predictable and repetitive.

LESSON:

It’s pretty evident why this structure was made, though: To save time since the team had to write 8 different stories, so they couldn’t really give themselves the luxury of writing stories that had “arcs” that lasted longer than the others, thus, sacrificing a lot of spontaneity that a proper story development has.

3. LACK OF MEANINGFUL CHARACTER INTERACTION

Another CRITICAL aspect of a likable story is not only how well fleshed out the characters are, but how they actually interact with each other and watch how their actions impact other characters that make them evolve in interesting ways. But in OT that is nonexistent too.

OT’s defenders argue that “they are 8 different stories, they were meant to develop independently.” And they are kinda right in theory, but in practice, the game falls into a very contradicting issue.

What could possibly make Olberic help a complete stranger break into a mansion and steal? Why would Primrose help an acolyte complete a pilgrimage that is entirely alien to her goals?

The potential for a very deep, intriguing, interesting, and even unpredictable development is there to take… only to sit on the sides with all that lost potential for a story that could have evolved into epic proportions.

The setting was INCREDIBLY promising: 8 stories that would slowly connect, but that actually never happens UNTIL THE NEAR END, when you have already completed like 95% of the game! Sure, they have some chit chat between chapters that are optional to see, but they are superficial and provide almost nothing to the development of the story, which makes them a chore to read after a while due to how irrelevant they are to the story and their evident disconnection from one to another.

LESSON:

While it’s possible to make the stories connect, it’s impossible to do so without sacrificing the player’s freedom of how s/he wants the character’s stories to develop since some linearity will be inevitable. But giving the player COMPLETE freedom will result in disconnected stories that feel bland.

4. OVERFOCUS ON THE BREAK SYSTEM

octopath traveler break system

OT’s Break System is an innovative system, but at the cost of making the player too overfocused on it.

One major flaw is that if the player doesn’t take advantage of the Break System, the game severely punishes him by dragging out the battles because the damage done is too low.

Another issue is that if you happen to run into a dungeon full of monsters with X weakness and none of your characters have attacks of said element or weapon, prepare for a LOOOOONG battle, an issue that is even more accentuated with the Boss battles that can feel like hours if your team happens to lack the skills or weapons needed.

This sole issue is enough to make the player focus so damn much on the Break System that it leaves little room for other strategic elements because the player feels rewarded to break the enemies as fast as possible or else face a dragged on the battle, making other choices less relevant.

This means that once you get a complete understanding of which attacks to use, almost half the battles will be finished in your 1st turn without ever giving the monsters a chance to act by using the SAME attacks and skills in the SAME ORDER, something I have never experienced before so constantly and that strips a lot of the challenge to the game, making a lot of the journey easy and too linear

LESSON:

I believe the reason for this overfocus was because the reward was too high and the alternative was a dragged and long battle. If you want a player to use a certain battle mechanic, make the reward good enough, but not to the point of making other options irrelevant. Personally? I would’ve made the Break System like this:

1) If a monster is weak to lightning, fire attacks still deal the same damage instead of less.

2) Instead of knocking the monster and lose a turn, it would only make it weaker to all attacks. That way most battles would’ve been more challenging.

5. LACK OF ENGAGING SIDE QUESTS.

While it’s understandable that not everyone likes side quests (or even mini-games), they are also a staple in every good JRPG. OT’s side quests? They are barely there in the figurative sense.

In OT they were so damn obscure, with barely any tips that after a while you would completely forget about them and even not care due to how little details you would get from them.

LESSON:

In (again) FF9 most side quests are easy to remember because they had little and constant reminders as you progressed in the game in very subtle ways without the need of a log.

When exploring you would find coins that are part of the Stellazio coin collection. Every mog you met that served as a save point was also part of the Mognet letter delivery quest. Every new marsh you arrived at reminds you of Quina’s frog gathering. And every Chocobo track seen on the world map was also a reminder of the friendly monsters’ battles.

6. IS THE STORY REALLY THAT BAD AND BORING?

Let’s face it, story quality is one of the most subjective aspects of any videogame, but one thing is undeniable: the story quality is one of the most valued aspects in any JRPG given how they are strongly story-driven games.

Again, in a small poll, Storyline had more than double the votes as the most valued aspect in a JRPG, followed by battle mechanics.

Octopath Traveler’s storylines are not bad, they are just average at best, and barely memorable due to how the structure had to be made. So, if you are a player who loves a very well fleshed out character development, good plot twists and an intriguing story, for most critics (myself included), this game will fall short for you.

But again, it really depends on your standards and how much you value this aspect that may be a breaking point into buying this game or just avoid it.

CONCLUSION

OT is undeniably stunning with its visuals which is one of the best among the “retro” trending that really itches that tick for a 16-bit look and a return to that glorious SNES era. But the issues like repetitive gameplay, repetitive dungeons, lack of puzzles, lack of meaningful character interaction and bland storylines leave A LOT to be desired from this game.

Sure, a lot of players won’t mind a linear dungeon, or repetitive gameplay, or a bland storyline as long as other aspects of the game make up for it… but all of them together is a sure recipe to make A LOT of players incredibly bored of your game, and even drop it midway.

OT feels like that REALLY BEAUTIFUL girl (or boy, if you’re a gamer girl 😉 ) that you would LOVE to have a girlfriend and happens to like you back… only to find out after a couple of dates that she’s boring, with a severe lack of topics to talk about and with little in common. You really want to love her due to how stunning and cute she looks, but… the spark is just not there.

Gabriel is an aspiring Game Developer, currently in the works for a Final Fantasy Tactics inspired game.
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One Comment

 by RJ Go in January 30, 2021

This is really on point and I love how brutally honest the opinions here. Great read!

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