Do you like JRPGs? Do you like turn-based combat? Do you like great orchestral video game music? Do you like pixel art? If you’ve answered yes to any or even none of these questions, then you should play the Project Octopath Traveler demo. I mean… JUST LOOK AT IT. LOOK WITH YOUR SPECIAL EYES.
Project Octopath Traveler is the new RPG from Square Enix and the developers of Bravely Default built for the Nintendo Switch. Scheduled to release in 2018, the game was announced as a surprise exclusive title in Nintendo’s September Direct. Even more exciting than the announcement itself was the fact that there was a demo made available immediately upon the completion of the Direct presentation.
The game is set to feature 8 diverse characters each with their own stories, motivations, and unique moves and abilities. The characters stories are presumably set to intertwine in interesting ways as these 8 different people come together for some overarching tale of JRPG goodness. What that overarching story could be remains to be seen for the time being. The demo currently consists of two of these characters: Olberic and Primrose.
Olberic is the former guard of the King. Wronged and betrayed in his line of duty, he seeks to gain revenge on the man who was at the hand of his undoing. You start the game as a common hedge knight and, after uncovering a trail towards your target, begin on your quest towards redemption and revenge in earnest. Yes, it’s a bit of a trope in the RPG genre but I found it to work effectively here. Coupled with sufficient writing and voice acting, I immediately found his tale to be enticing. He’s a character with a soft heart and a stone face and I look forward to learning more about his tale.
Primrose, on the other hand, is a popular dancer in the Sunshade Tavern, a local stage in a small desert town. Driven by her desire to uncover the secret of her father’s murder, she enlisted as a dancer in the very Tavern the aggressors were known to visit. This, again, seems a bit of a trope. And yet despite that, I found myself enjoying Primrose’s story even more than Olberic’s. Primrose is a good character with real motivations and when you progress and overcome as her you feel a real sense of satisfaction and pride in your success. Hers is a story I will be quick to jump into upon release.
As far as the combat goes, this is relatively typical JRPG stuff but with some satisfying tweaks thrown in. Built by the team behind the Bravely Default series, the new RPG features a familiar turn-based combat system with a “Boost” mechanic similar to that of Bravely Default’s “Brave” mechanic. With this, you can stack a power-up with each turn and unleash them all at once to attack 2, 3, or even 4 times in succession. It feels satisfying and visceral when you execute it. Enemies are shielded and if you can uncover their weakness, be it dark magic, dagger, sword, or spear (Primrose and Olberic’s weapons in the demo), you can “Break” their shield and stun them during the next turn. Throw in special abilities and multiple turns once you pick up additional followers and you have a relatively simple yet effective turn-based combat system.
If everything I’ve stated up to this point sounds like unanimous praise, that’s because it is. But even with all of my praise of the gameplay and characters so far, it’s the visuals that are perhaps the most striking. The game is presented in full 3D, but every character and part of the environment is realized with 2D pixel art. This is an art style that Square Enix has dubbed “HD 2D,” and it looks simply wonderful. Shadows, lighting effects, bloom, and particle effects are all done excellently and make the game look almost like that of a 3D diorama in action. It’s completely unique and a bit difficult to describe so it’s best to see for yourself. If I had to make one complaint in the visual department, it’s that on occasion the bloom and vignette effects can be a tad overwhelming. But otherwise, it’s a beautiful look that I can’t wait to look at for hours upon hours.
Speaking of hours upon hours, this demo is actually fairly meaty. As I mentioned before, you can play as 2 of the total 8 characters, each with their own backstory and motivations presented in a fully voice-acted introduction. After assuming the role of your desired character, you’re swept up immediately into a conflict leading up to a nice fun boss fight. Once the fight is over, you’ll see the typical “Coming Soon” page familiar to demos, but the difference here is there is still more content to explore beyond that page. Primrose and Olberic each begin in their own towns separated by a dry desert. Once you complete your town’s story as either character, you’re free to travel to the other town and recruit the other character to your party for some more enemy battles. While there is currently not a quest or major plot point included for recruiting the other character in the demo, the game states that there will be more exposition in the full retail game.
Square Enix stated in their Direct presentation slot that they would be requesting player feedback through surveys to help shape the future of the game and they’s certainly made that intention clear. Once you play the game, you’ll be greeted by an email survey from Square Enix to the account associated with your Nintendo Switch eShop profile. It’s a nice way to gain favor from your player-base and a genuine gesture from Square Enix.
The full game is expected to launch at some point in 2018 and that point cannot come fast enough. Be sure to check out the demo and give your feedback to Square Enix for the upcoming RPG, which still doesn’t even have an official title. I was sort of hoping for something other than Project Octopath Traveler, but it just might be growing on me.