Octopath Traveler launches in about a month from now, but you can essentially play the first three hours of the game right now for free, thanks to the “Prologue Demo” put on the eShop, which will carry over to the full game. But if you don’t care about carrying over all of your save data, you could potentially re-download the game to play as each traveler, in theory taking 24 hours. In practice, however, each traveler’s intro tale takes about an hour, after which there isn’t too much interesting stuff to do in the time allotted other than find other travelers and complete their tales, so it would likely take about 10 hours if you continuously restarted it. But experiencing these intros is likely to be very different from the majority of the game, which largely remains a mystery despite the supposed free reign given in this demo.
I was torn between Ophilia the cleric (who shares a striking resemblance to Final Fantasy XV’s Lunafreya) and Cyrus the scholar, but ultimately chose Ophilia because she was in the snowy region and I wanted to see that in the game’s gorgeous HD-2D art style. Ophilia’s story is that she was orphaned as a child in a war, when the archbishop Josef found and adopted her. He raised her along with his own daughter under his religion. When you start the game, Ophilia’s older step-sister (I think that’s the term here? Let me know if I’m wrong) is about to travel across the land to carry a sacred flame to three locations, a ritual held every 20 years. But when Josef becomes sick, Ophilia sees how much her step-sister is troubled by his reclining health and decides to carry the flame in her sister’s stead so that she can stay with her father.
I also got to play a bit as Therion the thief, but his story seems to be a bit less complex. While I didn’t get to the end of his intro tale (my own time constraints, not the demo’s), he seems to just steal stuff. He’s famed for his skills among thieves, and he had escaped from prison for theft as a child with his partner in crime as a young boy, although this partner’s current whereabouts weren’t made clear.
I chose the right place to start off, because the graphics of the snowy region with the beautiful cathedral in the background is simply breathtaking. The music also continues to be very emotionally moving throughout every note, bringing a sense of adventure, yet also one of loss, something that all eight characters share.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the first “Project Octopath Travelers” demo, where it plays very much as a traditional JRPG in which there are random encounters that lead into turn-based combat. Apparently borrowing some mechanics from the Bravely series, (although I can’t attest to that, having played neither) you have one BP build up each turn. You can use up to three BP at any turn to increase your attack power, but it’s strategic to use it when you get a “break” effect on your enemy from certain attacks it’s vulnerable to, in order to maximize damage. While combat at the beginning can feel repetitive and monotonous because of the limited options, a common problem in JRPGs, it definitely has depth to it and has the potential to evolve over the course of the game into something extremely engaging.
Each character also has a certain out-of-battle ability. Ophilia’s ability is almost identical to that of Primrose, who was playable in the previous demo, where she can “guide” most NPCs for them to be summoned in battle. Summoning takes up a turn and they’ll flee after a few more, but they can help in certain situations. Therion has a much more immediately useful ability of stealing any objects from NPCs. In the town he started in, stealing from everyone was a 100% chance, so he basically got free stuff piled on top of him.
The opening segments for the total of four characters I’ve now played through in both demos have all done an excellent job with setting up that character’s motivations and playstyle, but I’m worried about what comes after that. Other than going and meeting all of the other characters, what is there to do? Sure, there are sidequests, but is there one intersecting story or eight smaller ones? These are questions that this demo does not answer, because it yet again tells how the game starts, not how it continues. If this game is going to be $60 and 80 hours long, I need to know what kind of experience I can expect before I decide to put that much time and money into it.
One of the weirdest parts of the demo was when I finally got caught up on Therion’s backstory and had Ophilia join his party. She joins without a single line of dialogue, even though she, the pious pilgrim, has just agreed to join the morally loose thief steal a treasure for what at least initially seems as self-gain. This seemed so odd and out-of-character that it brought me a bit out of the experience. If the point of Octopath Traveler is to have these eight people interact, it would be a bit of a letdown if they don’t really react to each other at all in a story perspective.
This demo hasn’t yet sold me on Octopath Traveler, but I still think it has potential. We just need to know more about what happens throughout the game, not just the beginning.