During yesterday's Nintendo Direct presentation, we saw what Nintendo has in store for the Switch and the 3DS through the end of the year.
There's some great-looking stuff on the holiday horizon, but one of the games that really got everyone chattering, Project Octopath Traveler for the Switch, isn't due until sometime in 2018. Boo. Thankfully, you can sample a mouthful of the game with a free demo. I grabbed it, played it, and now I'm way stoked for 2018.
Project Octopath Traveler (official name pending) is a Square-Enix RPG that shares some blood with the Bravely Default series. Octopath Traveler is definitely the more serious sibling, though: The demo is only a few hours, and I already doubt the final product will give us Cat Mancers and adorably naïve heroes who express themselves through corny catch phrases.
In fact, I doubt Octopath Traveler's much-noted visual similarity to Final Fantasy VI is a coincidence. Final Fantasy VI is one of the most sombre games in the series, and Octopath Traveler's opening hours are filled with murder and betrayal.
The game's character sprites are borderline super-deformed in an obvious tribute to Square-Enix's 16-bit classics, but there's nothing cute or silly about them – or about the world they inhabit. Octopath Traveler takes you through windy mountain paths and burning desert towns that literally pop out at you. Audio touches supply additional atmosphere: The clinking of glasses in a tavern, the gentle baa's of sheep grazing in meadows, the cackling of chickens at a market, and more. Wherever you are, the land is alive.
If Project Octopath Traveler was simply a traditional turn-based JRPG with unique visual flair – or if God truly loved the world and it was an actual Final Fantasy VI remake with unique visual flair – it'd still be a game very much worth getting excited over. But Octopath Traveler's battle system is an even more noteworthy trait than its handsome graphics. It's also where the game demonstrates its kinship with Bravely Default.
Like Bravely Default, Octopath Traveler requires you to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em – your attacks, that is. Every enemy has a weakness to a certain type of weapon (swords, daggers, spears, etc), and when they're hit with the weapon-type they detest, their shield gauge depletes. When a shield counter reaches zero, the enemy "breaks." Their defense drops, and they're dizzied for a turn. That's when you ideally jump in with a heavy attack, one you might choose to launch with the aid of your Battle Points.
You earn one Battle Point per turn, and every Point you spend scores an extra hit on a foe. You can stow up to five Points and "cash in" three at once. If you find yourself up against a hulking bandit with three shield points on their counter, those three Battle Points are exactly what you need to whittle down their defense and stun them. Of course, that means you've no Battle Points left to spend on a devastating blow to their hit points.
It's already apparent balancing how you use Battle Points is going to play a major role in players' strategies. There's plenty of room for mistakes, particularly in struggles against bosses. I died while taking on one of the demo's bosses, which brought one of the game's flaws into focus: I had to repeat the lengthy story scenario that precedes the fight.
I also wonder if Octopath Traveler will take more gameplay cues from Bravely Default. For example, will we be able to control the random encounter rate? Will we be able to chain battles to earn more experience? Octopath Traveler's battle system is fun to play with, and breaking through an enemy's defenses is a weighty, satisfying feeling made even richer by the game's barrage of light effects. But low-level encounters quickly grow tiresome (not to mention they're useless for level-grinding), so I'd welcome the chance to axe them at my discretion.
Make no mistake, though. I'm very looking forward to Octopath Traveler. Square-Enix assures us it's coming in 2018. I hope we don't have to wait too long. I hope we're talking about January 1, 2018, at 12:01 AM. Something tells me this'll be a good winter for cuddling under a blanket while weaving a tale between eight star-crossed adventurers.