Octopath Traveler PC Review – Stylish Nostalgia, Now on PC

Octopath Traveler PC Review

We’ve already reviewed Octopath Traveler here at COGConnected. And we really liked it! We gave the Switch version a 90/100. And this PC port is very true and faithful. It doesn’t add a lot in the way of new content. So consider this a second opinion, a contrasting perspective on the same game. Because it is the same game is basically every way.

First the basics: Octopath Traveler is a very old school JRPG, but made today. It intentionally is apeing the graphical style of the SNES-era final fantasy games (so IV, V, and VI) but with simple modern flourishes to spice things up. The copious lighting bloom would not have been possible in the early 90s. And the soundtrack is more sophisticated than the gorgeous blips and bleeps of the old MIDIs. But otherwise, you’ll find familiar random encounters, turn-based combat, and advancement systems that you would have found in Illusion of Gaia or Phantasy Star.

The main gimmick in Octopath Traveler is the titular, uh, octo paths. There are eight characters, and really, eight different games. They sort of intersect with each other, but every character gets their own solo plot with a supporting cast of characters. These stories occasionally rub up against each other, but there’s no aha moment where the threads come together to form a greater whole. As such, it’s like getting 8 different mini-JRPGs. And considering how big a JRPG is, a mini one can still dwarf a modern action game.

Octopath Traveler

The PC port is utterly smooth from the Switch. The graphics are well-optimized; you will have zero problems getting fantastic performance on even an old clunker of a machine. The graphical tricks do a lot with a little. Bloom effect may take up a lot of power when you’re refracting it through the watery halls of Rapture or the flickering candles of Nivgrad, but in a 2D sprite game, it’s really not that burdensome. Controls and resolution are all customizable. You can play with a controller or your keyboard. It’s really as perfect a port as you could expect.

But the game itself is still worth scrutinizing. As a JRPG, it’s really well crafted. The turn-based battles are simple, but there’s enough strategy that you won’t get bored. The break system lets you stagger enemies with certain kinds of attack, and the boost system lets you charge up your attacks and spells into crazy enhanced versions of themselves. As you combine more and more of the 8 characters, more combos and strategies will emerge.

Consistently Inconsistent

A JRPG is made or broken on the quality of its story though, and Octopath Traveler is inconsistent in that department. It’s become a sort of a cottage industry of ranking the 8 travelers from best to worst or most to least annoying or whatever. And I’m amused to note that there is almost no agreement on who is the best and who is the worst. I’ve seen people who love and loathe Tressa. I’ve encountered dudes who love Therion’s “baditude” and folks who thinks he comes across as a bargain basement Gerard Way. This disagreement shows that there’s something for everyone in Octopath– but few people are going to be totally entertained by the whole game.

This is partly because of a lack of storytelling ambition. The first Final Fantasy was very based in Dungeons and Dragons, but filtered through Japan in the late 80s. Jump ahead a decade, and the genre had gotten really weird. Spiritual crystals, unexpected transformations, bastardized world mythology, and yellow ostrich-horses are just the tip of the JRPG iceberg. Octopath, by comparison, is really sort of tame. It’s more soap operatic than epic, and there’s no character as iconic as Kefka. There’s not even a character as memorable as Bartz. The stories in Octopath are personal rather than epic, meandering instead of urgent, grounded where they could be gonzo. You’ll fight giant ants and snakes, not cacturs and tonberries.

While I do wish that Octopath had a bit more off-the-wall ambition the fact is that it definitely accomplishes what it set out to do. They really don’t make games like they used to, and this is the most playable old-school JRPG I can remember in forever. The turn-based combat is very engaging, as are the soapy stories. The style is confident, from the music to the character designs, to the lighting and motion blur, this is a game that knows what it is about. And while some of the writing and voice acting stumbles in places, that’s kind of part of the charm. For good and bad, Octopath Traveler evokes the games of the past, and for a lot of us, we miss the bad as much as we do the good.

*** A PC code was provided by the publisher ***

The Good

  • Contemporary nostalgia
  • Solid combat
  • Retro-style graphics and music

The Bad

  • Tame stories
  • Poor narative instances
  • Random encounters