Octopath Traveler is a very hard game to pin down. At its core it's a JRPG with turn-based combat, a unique art style, and a huge wealth of content to dig into - so far, so standard.
But its combat is full of tactical depth beyond simple buffing and effective spell use, and its approach to storytelling and character development is unlike anything you'll have encountered anywhere else.
It doesn't all pay off - the story in particular is hampered slightly by its devotion to its eight characters - but it makes for a truly fascinating JRPG which is remarkably easy lose hours of your life playing.
Octopath Traveler starts with you choosing from one of eight protagonists. This determines your starting location and who is going to be in your party for the entire duration of the game.
Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and each has their own way of interacting with NPCs in the overworld, but your choice only really affects the opening hour or so - you'll pick up the other characters pretty quickly afterwards.
You'll mostly find yourself running around towns, buying new equipment, healing your party, and completing the odd side quest here and there to earn some coin and get extra items.
Your "path actions" also come into play here, allowing you unique interactions with each of the villagers in a town.
Primrose, for example, can Allure NPCs, meaning that they'll then follow you around the world and can be summoned to battle. Tressa, the merchant, can buy items from folks, while Olberic can challenge just about anyone you see.
Handily, there are only four unique path actions. Two characters share a similar action, but with a slight quirk – Tressa and Therion can both gain items from NPCs, but while Tressa opts for buying the items, Therion can attempt to steal them, saving you a bit of cash if he pulls it off.
Boost me up
When you're done exploring, you'll set out into the overworld and its many dungeons, and it's here that Octopath Traveler truly shines.
Its combat system looks fairly standard at first. Characters take turns to attack, use skills, or defend, and your opponents do the same.
The twist is that your opponents have a guard level, which needs to be chipped away by finding their weakness and hammering at them with those attacks before you unleash hell with your spells.
You also have Boost Points, which can be used to power up your attacks, either by upping the damage your spells do, adding extra hits to physical attacks, or simply increasing the number of turns a status effect will last.
You also need to consider when you're going to break your opponent, when to use your Boost attacks, and much more. Combine all that together and you have a beautiful combat system with tons of strategy.
Battles across the board are tough to boot. Monster levels around the world scale with your level, so you'll never enter a fight with an enemy you can outright trounce with a single attack. But every fight carries a sense of danger, and you need to keep your wits about you wherever you are.
Thankfully there are save points in every corner of the map, so you're never too far from some measure of safety, and you'll rarely find yourself taking on an enemy which can wipe your party out in a single move - unless you go looking for one in the higher level areas.
You will want to explore though, because there's plenty to see and do outside of the main quests.
There's tons of side quests in towns and out in the wilderness, bonus caves to explore, shrines to find which unlock new jobs to give your characters, and rare monsters to fight which can seriously buff your XP if you beat them.
Tell me eight stories
The only thing holding Octopath Traveler back is its central conceit - eight unconnected stories with eight different protagonists.
For starters, it means having to pick up eight different plot threads in the early stages, leading to a lot of repetitive tutorial-esque quests and a fair bit of grinding since each protagonist starts out at level one, despite their quest difficulty scaling up to match your party's level.
Beat a main quest and you'll find yourself locked off from the next chapter due to a huge difficulty increase, requiring you to either go out and grind until you're ready, or keep playing everyone else's stories to level up while retaining some kind of purpose.
In theory, you can pick up and drop storylines whenever you like and avoid characters who you couldn't care less about. But in practice, doing so leaves you open to hours of aimless grinding just to see the conclusion of the stories you're interested in.
Overall, however, there's still a lot to love about Octopath Traveler. Its combat is tense and exciting, even when you're tens of hours into the game, and the overworld interactions bring plenty of interesting things to do when you're not beating up monsters.
But the experimental approach to storytelling doesn't quite pay off, and in some ways artificially adds extra hours to an already huge game by essentially forcing you to play in a certain way to see the stories you're actually interested in.
And yet the rest of the game is so good, it's approach to story is almost forgivable. If you're looking for a huge JRPG to sink your teeth into for hundreds of hours, with a great combat system and a world you'll happily lose yourself in, then this is the game for you.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Project Octopath Traveler articles!