Project Octopath Traveler Demo Review

The JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) genre and I have never been able to get along, but despite this proven fact I can’t seem to stop trying. It’s as if I’m in denial, because every time I try to cast this opinion aside and try out a new game that practically everyone is raving about I’m seemingly always brought back to the same conclusion. The free demo for Square Enix’s upcoming Nintendo Switch exclusive RPG adventure Project Octopath Traveler (a working title, thank goodness) has proven to be no different.

Project Octopath Traveler’s horrible but temporary name is derived from its core idea of being able to play as one of eight characters, each with their own unique stories and abilities (which they affectionately call Path Actions). In the demo, you can play as two of these characters: a dancer/princess named Primrose, and a warrior named Olberic. This “eight different heroes and stories” idea intrigued me, and when coupled with the the game’s beautiful and unique “HD-2D” art style—which combines classic 8-bit sprites with beautiful HD environments—proved to be downright irresistible.

Octopath’s gameplay is simple and basically just like any other 8-bit RPG you’ve ever played in the past, complete with turn-based battle system, with the one key difference being that it’s managed to find a way to make these kinds of retro graphics feel fresh and new. After all, the visuals are the one real triumph of Project Octopath Traveler, which combines CG, pixel art, and “HD-2D” visuals in a way that is utterly stunning and truly original. Its turn-based battle system, on the other hand, offers nothing new, but it works since Octopath’s intended purpose seems to be a celebration of the classics while at the same time attempting to adapt them to the future. What I had a problem with—what I always seem to a problem with when it comes to JRPG’s—is Project Octopath Traveler’s archetypal characters and downright poor excuse for narrative.

If you haven’t already played it, Olberic is a warrior who’s spent the last eight years of this life in exile after the king he was sworn to protect was killed on his watch, and Primrose is a princess who’s similarly spent the last ten years of her life in disguise as a dancer/prostitute after witnessing her father’s murder. On the surface these premises have the makings of something at least mildly interesting, but the game quickly establishes them both as little more than cliché. Primrose is passive, even when she claims to be in charge of her own destiny; Olberic is active, even though he claims to be defeated by his personal failures; and both are glaringly unoriginal. For a game whose central idea revolves around playing as eight different characters “with their own origins, paths, and goals,” this is a huge let down.

For this reason, playing Octopath feels like playing a classic, in spite its beautiful new graphical approach, and while most people would say that’s a good thing, I’m not so sure. I understand that most of the complaints I have with this game and its over-simplification of complex emotional issues, stereotypical gender roles, and inorganic, robotic dialogue are actually staples of the JRPG genre, but I also know that plenty of other games, whether I’ve liked them or not, have still found a way to be progressive in their own way, if only within the realm of Japanese culture and JRPG’s as a whole.

Since it’s free, and since I have plenty of time to think about it, I’ll most likely do what I always do and replay Project Octopath Traveler’s infuriatingly disappointing demo, if only in an effort to understand if the game is even remotely aware of its own problems. After all, it’s blatantly obvious that any one of the other six character that will be featured in the full version of Project Octopath Traveler could capture my interest in a way that Primrose and Olberic could not. But I’m doubtful the full version will be able to make up for the downfalls of the demo, and I’m even more doubtful that I’ll ever be one of the many I’m sure will be heralding the game’s release. Until then, however, all we can do is wait.

What did you think about the demo for Project Octopath Traveler? Do you think I’m completely nuts for not liking Primrose and Olberic? Let us know in the comments, or shoot us a message!

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