The free demo of Square Enix’s new JRPG is available on the Switch right now, and our reporter Chase found lots to love in the first 3 hours.
Octopath Traveler is a new RPG coming to the Switch by way of Square Enix, in collaboration with Acquire. You can experience what’s promised to be a lengthy, character-driven campaign in just two weeks, on July 13. Or…
…you can download the demo and start playing immediately!
Now, you might hold the rational opinion that demos, while great for sorting out your feelings on a game before purchasing, are for sampling, only. You’ll be starting over with a new file once you purchase the full game. Don’t waste your time.
And normally, you would be right. But Octopath Traveler allows players the rare opportunity to transfer over any progress accrued in the demo to one file on the retail version of the game. This gives you a legitimate reason to download it immediately for the low, low price of zero real monies.
As the name would imply, you can begin Octopath Traveler in one of eight ways, each corresponding to a potential party member. These prologues are character unique and also serve as tutorials, teaching you the basics of interaction, combat and the special Path Actions they possess.
This is the first of Octopath Traveler’s unique characteristics. The eight main party characters each possess a tool for interacting with the world around them, fitting thematically with their backstory and persona. For example, Cyrus the Scholar can Scrutinize people and things, granting him insight into events he wasn’t around to witness firsthand. In the demo, Scrutinize gathered clues for an investigation, and I can see it being used to uncover well-hidden sidequests and optional content. On the other hand, Olberic the warrior can Challenge NPCs to combat, which strikes me as a fairly static and barefaced ability.
Other path actions allow you to recruit NPCs to aid you in combat, each with various strengths and weapon skills. Hopefully, the game will provide opportunities to reward players for cunning use.
Depending on the character you choose at the beginning of the game, your experience might be drastically different. I started with Olberic, once in charge of protecting a king but who now lives out a quiet existence in a small hillside village – some fantasy as heck stuff. Throughout the demo, the old warrior regarded the circumstances of his disgrace with sadness while also protecting the townsfolk from smalltime brigands.
In another playthrough I was Tressa, the daughter of a merchant family looking to prove herself after meeting a charismatic trader with a gorgeous boat. Her head was full of big dreams, and her heart is full of adventure. I was immediately enamored with her prologue and Path Action, which allows you to trade with a wide variety of NPCs for items you might not find otherwise.
But not all of the prologues were winners. Primrose was a dancer who witnessed the murder of her father and now searches restlessly for the three tattooed man who perpetrated the act. Except, she’s accepted a job as a “dancer” in a dirty town for a dirtier master. Her prologue was paved throughout with constant reminders the people in her life treat her like garbage. At a particularly low point she is being assaulted and coerced by her master, and Prim thinks to herself that she can bear anything except letting those who murdered her father get away. Yuck. Hopefully, her story takes a more positive and balanced tack in the full release.
Even though my mileage varied on the characters, the combat was refreshingly engaging. More complicated than simply whittling down a health bar, encounters in Octopath involve a careful dance of breaking an enemy’s shield and exploiting their weakness. Shields can vary in strength depending on the enemy, and once broken you get a single turn to unleash hell before they recuperate. Teammates help with this – diversifying your available weapons and magics make sure someone is poised to blow up the armor chink everyone else opened up.
But there’s one more wrinkle: Boosts. If your character used a regular attack on their turn, they will gain a charge of power called a Boost. These stack several times and can be spent to power up any attack or spell by a maximum of four magnitudes. Want to pierce a large baddy with a spear strike? Boost it, baby. Scourge the earth with a multi-target firestorm? Boost! Heal your party from nigh mortal wounds? You guessed it: Boost. You won’t gain a charge on the turn you used a boosted attack, so make sure to plan smart.
Beyond everything else, Octopath Traveler looks gorgeous. The developers describe it as having an “HD-2D” aesthetic, but I see it more as a pop-up book decorated with lovingly crafted 16-bit artwork. Buildings and trees dot a 3D landscape like papercraft dioramas while stunning light effects play off rippling waters and moody skies. The visuals make traveling about both towns and the overworld a constant delight.
I’ll have more complete thoughts once the game is released on July 13, but you will be hard pressed to find a better 3-hour free experience on the Switch right now. Even if you aren’t normally a JRPG fan, Octopath Traveler’s novel approach to visuals and storytelling might just win you over.