This week, Yahtzee reviews Octopath Traveler.
"Octopath" is, sadly, not what Chris Eubank calls his favorite kind of marine life; it just means "eight paths". Octopath Traveler is a game about going through the stories - or traveling the paths, if you will - of eight characters. Might seem a bit on the nose, as titles go, but then, it is a Japanese game; probably sounds cooler in a foreign language. "Yes, it actually literally means 'eight paths' in English." Gosh, you're so clever and worldly, Square Enix-san! It's like how any food sounds classier if you give it a French name; "merde de chien a le gravier" probably sounds a lot more palatable than "dog turds in gravel".
Anyway, Octopath Graveler is a JRPG, but don't hold that against it, 'cos it's liberally trying to evoke an older era of JRPGs, when they were more tolerable and weren't all overdesigned bogwash and prolonged fashion parades on the Planet of Melodramatic Emotionally-Stunted Shitheads. Actually, thinking about it, that's been less the case with JRPGs lately, possibly because we haven't had a new Final Fantasy in a while, and the last one we did have was about people going around relatively soberly dressed.
But while we're on the subject, it's games like Final Fantasy VI that Octuplet Unraveler is most trying to ape: the seminal 16-bit Final Fantasy that hit the perfect sweet spot between the series beginning to indulge more complex plots and less standard fantasy settings and everything turning into convoluted magi-techno visual diarrhea, and whatever the fuck was going on with Final Fantasy X. At least everything was visually consistent in 2D times: nice, readable tile-based environments, and every character is "super-deformed big-head lad" with exactly the same face, so they all look like chronically-overdressed lemmings. That's the visual style Octopus Rattler is going for, although the little 2D character sprites are all running around fully-3D environments with pixely 16-bit textures stretched over them, all rendered in accordance with the graphical standards of the modern age, meaning everything is lit like an overexposed photo and slightly brown.
So here comes my challenge, viewers: in order to gauge the effectiveness of the game's story, I'm now going to attempt to list all eight characters and their story arcs from memory alone. There's Tressa, an underage girl who vows, with the lofty ambition of youth, to dedicate her life to becoming a really good traveling merchant, this being a more innocent time before Child Protection Services; then there's Cyrus, a teacher who gets fired because of some "mean girls" drama, and goes looking for an overdue library book or something. Um... oh yeah, Primrose; she's a stripper-assassin who shows her commitment to revenge by refusing to put trousers on regardless of the weather.
Um, this might be easier if I tried to remember their classes rather than their personalities. So there's Standard Warrior Man with Sword, who is seeking justice on the man who robbed him of honor, because aren't they fucking always; the thief, Therion - I remember his name because it contains most of the letters of "thief" - and his story involves having to steal some things, 'cos if you've only got one thing going for you, might as well own it, I say. Priests? Yep, got one of them: some blonde lady, going on a pilgrimage 'cos the lady who was supposed to do it called in sick or something.
How many is that? "Six." Shit... Oh yeah, there's the Hunter Lady looking for her missing master, who comes from the village where everyone talks like they got really drunk at a Renaissance fair and decided they were just going to have fun with it. Lastly, Apothecary Lad; their friend gets poisoned, they cure the poison, then they decide to travel the world because the format demands it. Well, I suppose we can't all be stripper-assassins. But all stories are created equal, so it's weird that while you can freely swap out three members of your four-man party, whoever you picked first leads the party permanently, so don't pick Apothecary Lad first, as you'll be stuck with him like a piece of toilet paper trailing from your shoe.
What I find iffy about the whole presentation is that I rarely get a sense that my ragtag bunch of anime misfits are actually interacting with each other. The first part of the game, you tour all the home villages, randomly touching people until one goes, "Hello, random group of strangers! I'm about to embark on a very personal quest that will define the rest of my life! Why not tag along?" And that's your new party member, smilingly joining up with a group of what might be cannibalistic serial tax-dodgers, for all they know, accepting that they're going to have to mutely witness the personal bullshit of seven complete strangers before they come back around to sorting out whatever put a hair up their own arse. It's particularly jarring with characters like Primrose, doing the "I am dishonored and alone and have nothing left in this world but my quest for violent, bloody revenge" bit, never acknowledging the seven colorful dudes in varying stages of adolescence with whom she shares a sleeping bag every night.
It's only right at the end of the game that any connection between the eight stories is established; before that, it's eight separate stories rather than a story about eight people. Every time you go through a new chapter of one party member's story, everyone else just disappears up their butthole for the duration of the cutscene. Sometimes, after a cutscene, a little button prompt comes up, and you can teleport the relevant character and one other party member to the Interaction Dimension, where they discuss what just happened, but I don't see why they couldn't have worked that into the scene; made it look like some actual organic relationship-building was going on, not just a spot of post-match commentary like Statler and fucking Waldorf.
The structure of Octagon Waffler's gameplay, meanwhile, is kind of formulaic; every chapter goes through the same motions: you pursue whatever villain d'episode is through a little maze of random combat encounters, confront them at the end and they turn into twenty-foot, realistically-drawn version of themselves, and you fight them for absolutely bloody ages. As for the combat, it's fine, I guess; you take it in turns to twat each other, which is, to my mind, essential to turn-based combat. There's also this whole system based around figuring out enemy weaknesses to knock out their defenses, and saving up our glowing Power Testicles so we can scrunch them all up at once to do an extra-damaging attack. But I think Square Enix are indulging the modern JRPG tendency to overthink things; I mean, I liked how the combat in Final Fantasy VI was straightforward and didn't get in the way much: enemies attack, twat twat twat, enemies go away, the universe uncrosses its legs. Here, even the random battles drag on a bit, and not the fun kind of "drag-on".
All in all, I would classify Otacon Reveler as a time-killer; it doesn't trouble my story-liking brain or tickle my gameplay gonads much, and too much of it is rampant cliché and grind, which is, funnily enough, the name of my usual law firm. After the first round of story chapters, I was about six below the recommended level for the next one, and thus did things get grindy, once I'd fucking found somewhere to grind, of course, considering the game map refuses to tell you what level each area is suitable for. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have equipped that passive perk Cyrus had that reduced the number of random encounters; it was his only perk at the time, and it took ages to learn, so what was I supposed to do? Not equip it? That's like giving me a long, cylindrical object and telling me not to stick it up me dog's bum.
- I'm 'Enery the Eighth I am: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And now I shall take a break from my determined pursuit of bloody vengeance to explain to this prepubescent girl what a brothel is
- Eight of one, half a dozen plus two more of the other