Octopath Traveler Heralds an Oncoming Wave of Switch JRPGs

Examining the Switch's prospects as a JRPG platform ahead of Octopath Traveler's release.

Opinion by Kat Bailey, .

It's the middle of the summer, traditionally the period when expected hits emerge, and one candidate for surprise success is Octopath Traveler. Square Enix's throwback RPG has been enjoying a healthy wave of positive buzz in the run up to release, which is thanks in no small part to it being an original JRPG for the extremely successful Nintendo Switch.

Octopath Path's strong word-of-mouth extends back to its original announcement in early 2017. Its eye-catching "HD-2D" art style stood out immediately, its art style earning it favorable comparisons to classic favorites like Final Fantasy VI. The excitement only increased with the release of the prologue demo.

Octopath Traveler reviews aren't due to hit until tomorrow, but barring a major upset, it seems on track to be a solid success on Switch. And it's apt to be joined by many more JRPGs in the near future.

Octopath Traveler has generated a considerable amount of positive buzz since its initial announcement last year.

While the 3DS is still chugging along in the U.S., and the Vita has some life in it in Japan, both are on the verge of retirement. Their impending departure from the market leaves the Switch, which tripled the PS4's first year sales in Japan, as the obvious successor.

The shift has already begun in earnest. Bandai Namco confirmed during E3 that its remaster of Tales of Vesperia would be coming to Switch, and more recently ported SD Gundam G Generation Genesis to the platform. Atlus announced Shin Megami Tensei V would be a Switch exclusive last October, with SMT producer Kazuyuki Yamati telling Famitsu, "I realized once again as development was progressing that the Nintendo Switch is a compact piece of hardware on which you can play HD quality games, easily carry around, and that it truly a charming console."

Square Enix is reportedly devoting an entire division to Switch game development with the intention of creating more games like Octopath Traveler. "If Octopath Traveler does well and this is something that appeals to fans, we want to focus on Switch. Please pick up the Switch if you want to play games like Octopath Traveler," Square Enix division executive Tomoya Asano said.

Between Square Enix, Atlus, Bandai Namco, and Sega, many of Japan's largest JRPG developers will soon be represented on the Switch. And that's on top of Nintendo's own efforts, including Pokemon, Fire Emblem, and Xenoblade Chronicles.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is one of several JRPGs making its way to Switch.

The shift to the Switch is apt to only accelerate as the 3DS and the Vita are fully phased out. Its modestly powerful but nevertheless attractive graphics make it accessible to mid-range studios, and it's the ideal platform for ports of last-generation releases. Sega's Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Octopath Traveler are each indicative of the sorts of games we can expect on the Switch going forward.

By the end of next year, the Switch figures to have a wide range of JRPGs, from budget ports like Disgaea 5 to much more ambitious efforts. Octopath Traveler, it seems, is only the beginning.

Factors That Could Hamper JRPGs on the Switch

But for all of its promise, the Switch isn't guaranteed to reach the heights of the Nintendo DS or even the PS2. Its favorable outlook is tempered by the difficulties that have faced the Japanese gaming industry for more than a decade now.

Consider, for example, that Japanese gamers don't seem to enjoy playing the Switch on the train. Where the 3DS and PSP were once ubiquitous on morning commutes, the Switch has failed to follow suit. The Japanese developers I spoke with chalked it up to any number of factors, including the overwhelming popularity of mobile games, and the Switch being just a smidge too big for a packed train.

Games like Nier: Automata have Japanese developers looking westward for sales success.

This would seem to put a damper on one of the Switch's primary selling points: its portability. It hasn't stopped the Switch from enjoying strong sales at the outset in Japan, but it could hurt its long-term viability.

Performance is another issue to consider. While the Switch isn't expected to have blockbuster graphics, it has labored to output some of its more ambitious games, such as last year's Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I wrote during E3 that Valkyria Chronicles 4 had some issues in handheld mode, and as games get more complicated, its struggles could mount.

Finally, Japan's domestic market still hasn't quite recovered from the crash that accompanied the transition to HD. Dragon Quest and Monster Hunter are still capable of generating big sales numbers, but its more common to see games that sell only a few thousand copies. The flipside is that the weak domestic market has increasingly pushed Japanese developers to look westward for sales. Monster Hunter: World, Persona 5, and Nier: Automata are all Japanese games that have made it big overseas.

It's hard to get a read on the Switch's long-term prospects, especially heading into the next generation, but it seems to be a good home for the middle-tier games that tend to thrive in Japan. There's even an argument to be made that we're in a post-graphics world, and that mega-blockbusters are less important than accessible hits like Fortnite. This is a favorable environment for JRPGs in general and the Switch in particular.

In the short term, Japanese developers seem to be embracing the Switch in large numbers, and Octopath Traveler is emblematic of that shift. Regardless of whether Octopath Traveler meets expectations, JRPG fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future.

Octopath Traveler is out July 13. Check out Axe of the Blood God for our initial thoughts on the review build.

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Comments 19

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  • Avatar for pdubb #1 pdubb 4 months ago
    I get where the Japanese players are coming from. I hope that one day we get a Switch mini that is about 20% smaller cause it's just a tad too big to be a proper portable system imo.

    But then it becomes a direct competitor to the 3ds so... Yeah.
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  • Avatar for januaryembers19 #2 januaryembers19 4 months ago
    When the Switch was announced, I kind of wanted a bigger screen. I was wrong. Going from playing my Switch to my Vita (a somewhat chunky portable in its own right) makes it clear that the Switch is just a bit too big for true portability. Yet, it also can’t pump out graphics like a PS4 Pro (and you may argue that graphics don’t matter, but if I have the option of paying the same amount for the same game but it looks better, it’s hard to not get the PS4 version). I love the Switch, and wish it well, but even as the success it is, I’d still rather have an RPG on PS4, Vita, or 3DS.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #3 link6616 4 months ago
    @januaryembers19 Right?

    I kind of lived the switch JRPG a few years ago with the vita tv and vita, just moving memory cards around, and I got more out of that I think than I have the dual modes of the switch. It's nice for home use undocked, but out and about it just doesn't quite sit right in my hands.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #4 SatelliteOfLove 4 months ago
    Given the "smallish, cartoony game" market seeing marked increases in sales over Steam/PS4/et al, I'd at least see this as a real market overseas.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #5 Godots17thCup 4 months ago
    I'm definitely hoping that Switch can fill the "mid-tier Japanese development" projects void that the 3DS and Vita will leave in their wake, but that lack of full portability still gives me some pause. As much as I love my Switch (and I do), basically all of my off-TV play is still inside my home.Edited July 2018 by Godots17thCup
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #6 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    There is some good stuff coming out soon, I am pretty happy with my Switch! I think it's doing pretty well.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #7 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    So, I'm probably in the minority in this site at least, but I will never understand playing games outside of the home. Maybe it's not fit for LA where we spend more time driving than we do using public transportation, but I have never met up with anyone to play games in public unless it was a video game bar. And even then I'd rather just drink and play Mario Kart with friends at someone's home lol

    As far as JRPGs on Switch go, bring them on. I haven't played a single JRPG yet on my Switch, but Valkyria Chronicles and Shin Megami Tensei have my name written all over them, and Ys 8 I will be purchasing on Switch over PC just because I really like playing on my Switch.

    I haven't fallen for the Octopath Traveler hype train though, and to be honest I was quite surprised to see that it costs a full $60. I thought it was going to be a smaller-scale game. At that $60 price range it changes my expectations. Right or wrong, they're going to have to win me over because Yakuza 0 and Monster Hunter World both release soon and those have won me over. And at $60, it is not an unfair comparison in my opinion.
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 4 months ago
    I predicted that the Switch could inherit the 3DS and Vita segment of the market and I’m happy that prediction is becoming true, especially considering all the cool things that are coming to the console in the next few months.

    Granted, there is the issue of the Switch being underpowered and not entirely fit for portable gaming while commuting (although I still find it pretty good to use at the office during the lunch break periods). Nevertheless, provided that the demand for both the console and the games remain strong (and that Nintendo releases some hardware revisions later), I’m not that worried about its future.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 4 months ago
    Honestly, I would be more excited about Switch being a modern jRPG machine if I could tolerate more modern jRPGs. Even back in the DS era my jRPG interests were more in remakes of the good ol' SNES days than in the new blood.

    Do wish Octopath Traveler the best, though. I might have bounced off Bravely Default 'cuz I disliked some of the ways it differed from the PSone era RPGs it was channelling (I NEEDS THOSE LABYRINTHINE CITIES), but Octopath looks like the kinda game I could more easily take on its own terms. I'll definitely at least give the demo a look when I get a Switch
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  • Avatar for docexe #10 docexe 4 months ago
    @pdubb I’m expecting that the successor of the 3DS will be some sort of “portable-only Switch”: Still capable of running the entire Switch library, but with a smaller size, non-dockable, non-detachable controls, and probably cheaper.

    Granted, Nintendo might… well, “be Nintendo” and do something completely different and unexpected, but that seems like the most rational movement on their part going forward.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #11 Gamer-Law 4 months ago
    I bought my Switch on launch day in large part because I was sold on the portability feature. As one who commutes/travels quite often for work, on-the-go gaming has become the default option. As such, I have found the Switch to be pretty ideal for both airline and rail travel.

    I still believe that the next iteration of Switch will be a “Lite” model with a slightly smaller screen, no detachable joy-cons, and improved battery life. This could certainly have even greater appeal for travelers/commuters.

    Adult responsibilities leave me without the hours I once I had to sit at home in front of a console and my television. I suspect that an increasing number of gamers will discover this reality at some point in their lives and it is nice that consoles like Switch have found a way to meet us where we are in life.Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2018 by Gamer-Law
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  • Avatar for garymah41 #12 garymah41 4 months ago
    I know this sounds silly but I think if they got rid of the Switch dock, people would probably be more open to travelling and playing on the go. For me personally, if I'm in a rush in the morning for work and I have to go through the process of attaching the joycons and taking it out of the dock, I'm not gonna do it. I know this sounds ridiculous of how simple the process really is, but people in the morning like myself needs every convenience possible. Grabbing my keys, phone, and wallet is all I have time for. The next company that figures out how to make a phone into a portable gaming system as well as a home console will definitely win the console war. And it's probably not too far off looking from the Switch. If the Switch were smaller, and a phone, and instead of the dock have something like chromecast to the TV.
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  • Avatar for Kirby-Queen #14 Kirby-Queen 4 months ago
    I didn't like the look of the new Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for Switch. I thought the character designs were too much for me and I had already spent HUNDREDS of hours on previous Xenoblade games not too long ago. I was burnt out and turned off. HOWEVER I am WAY more excited for Octopath Traveler. The art and characters looks AMAZING. I love it's whole vibe way more. It's going for something really charming and distinct and I really respect that. It's nostalgic but new. I can't wait for gameplay that takes me back as well. I played the demo and wish the writing was a bit better but overall I'm most hyped to see the worlds and enjoy the combat. Can't wait till tomorrow to finally dig into a jrpg like this in SO LONG. Might be the first JRPG I play in awhile tbh.Edited July 2018 by Kirby-Queen
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #16 Number1Laing 4 months ago
    I always thought the Switch was where all those slightly niche Vita games were headed, and I still think that's the case.

    The Switch graphically can't compete with the PS4, obviously, but neither did the Vita of course. The Vita rarely got ports of full, brand new, current gen games either. Is it better to get a port that's a bit compromised or nothing at all? I think "the market" has clearly said the former as lots of devs are working on Switch versions of these games.

    I've seen a lot of Switches in the NYC public transportation system, for what it is worth.
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