Octopath Traveler demo impressions: Primrose >>> Olberic

I might blog more in the coming weeks. I’m kind of in the mood, but I make no promises. It took me a long time to type up this post, haha. Totally need to get back into the groove. Anyway, I really can’t not talk about the demo of Project Octopath Traveler, the Switch-exclusive neo-retro JRPG that Square Enix is going to bless us with next year. When a trailer for the game popped up in the Switch presentation at the start of this year, I was immediately in love with it. Visually it was amazing. Not just nostalgic, but atmospheric and full of detail. The soundtrack was excellent. The trailer also promised a large world and nonlinear gameplay – which made Octopath Traveler sound like the game of my dreams, more or less.

Last month’s demo shed some light on how this is going to work out, although I suspect that there are still things we don’t know for sure. There are going to be eight playable characters, each with their own backstory, starting location and reason to go on an epic journey. The other seven characters can be recruited into the party during the story, but the demo does not answer how exactly this aspect is going to be handled. For the most part, the demo shows off two of the eight characters, and demonstrates how their unique abilities influence both the battles and the exploration portions of the game.

The warrior Olberic can challenge NPCs to a duel, with different results: defeating an NPC in battle might get you access to a door they were blocking, or it might be the solution to a sidequest where they need to have some sense knocked into them.

The dancer Primrose has the ability “Allure”, where she seduces NPCs into going with her. You can have these characters help you in battles, or you can take specific NPCs to specific places as part of a sidequest.

Interestingly, the demo contained a few sidequests that could be solved with either of these abilities, but with different outcomes. I got the vague feeling that these different outcomes might have further consequences later on, although that may just be wishful thinking on my part. It would certainly result in every player getting a somewhat different experience, just as advertised! Especially if we assume that everyone is going to be using different characters and thus have different abilities at their disposal to solve sidequests.

But now I must talk a little bit about why Primrose >>>> Olberic.

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Regarding the Bravely Second sidequest changes

Another sort-of-addendum to the old post about ethical choices in videogames, where I talked about the Bravely Second sidequests. You probably remember that Bravely Second‘s release in the west was met with some backlash due to several localisation changes. One job outfit was changed to avoid racist stereotyping, a few other outfits were slightly modified to show less skin, but most importantly: the way that the sidequests worked was amended.

Spoilers!

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Chrono Trigger: thoughts on a certain yes/no choice …

Remember when I wrote something about ethical choices in videogames? Uh, I won’t blame you if you don’t, it was a long time ago. Back then I said that there was a specific choice in Chrono Trigger that I wanted to write about in more detail. And then … erh, I didn’t do it. Months passed! But it’s been nagging at me all this time!!!

So I’ll write about it on this fine, sunny day! Spoilers for Chrono Trigger will follow, and I recommend you play this game, because it’s vey good.

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Nintendo Switch becomes relevant to my interests with Octopath Traveler

Yes, I set my alarm clock to 4:55 am, just enough time to get my laptop and a glass of water and huddle back into bed to watch the Nintendo Switch presentation. I thought it might be fun to watch live, certainly more fun than to get all the news via other people’s opinion-tinted reports. Glad I did, btw.

And when Square Enix previewed an upcoming Nintendo Switch RPG with the amazing title of Octopath Traveler, I was in. Square Enix making an RPG for the latest Nintendo console? And it sports beautifully detailed graphics in a retro style reminiscent of the SNES? ;___; Be still, my heart.

There isn’t much concrete info about Project Octopath Traveler at this point. Phrases such as “vast world of adventure”, “every road is yours to take” and “embark on an adventure all your own” certainly imply that it won’t be a strictly linear affair. Octopath … eight paths … there are eight characters in that artwork? My first idea was that this’d mean eight playable characters with parallel storylines, but the battle screenshot appears to contadict this: There are several of the characters featured in the party at the same time. And eight linear storylines would still be linear, and not ~all my own~  … The mystery remains!

But all this emphasis on freedom, paired with the word “Traveler”, really makes me excited for this game. I just want to explore a large RPG world so, so much. And the world of Octopath Traveler looks quite cool. Just those two locations in the trailer – a cave and a harbour town – convey a lot of atmosphere. I can’t wait to talk to everyone and steal all those apples, and find a way to the pier in the background and and and. Yeah, I’m stupidly excited, so what? =P

Octopath Traveler is said to be a game by “the makers of Bravely Default“, which ought to mean Silicon Studio, but I don’t see the company actually named anywhere. That’s a bit confusing right now. But the game definitely has the same Final Fantasy Tactics look that was the basis for Bravely, and the logo even uses the same design. Then again, it might be a working title and placeholder logo. Then again, that’s probably what people said about Bravely Default. =P

Question: Last year a cooperation between Silicon Studio and Hironobu Sakaguchi was announced. Is that this game? Another game? I’m confused and require an update!

“Octopath” half sounds like it could be a bad Japanese/English pun on “octopus”, too. We all know that the Bravely series is all about bad Japanese/English puns. Ganbarevenge.

Link: Official Octopath Traveler site (with trailer video; warning for pretty background music on autoplay)

Controversial opinion: I don’t like Dragon Quest’s music.

OK, I do enjoy listening to the music from the Dragon Quest games. It is not bad music. But I don’t think I’ll ever form an emotional attachment to any of the tracks, and that’s because of the way that the music is actually being used in the games.

I’m playing Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS right now. There are many moments that are emotionally touching and dramatic, but it’s like – the music doesn’t care. A cut scene occurs, featuring a sad moment between some characters, but the background music never changes from the same, cheery town theme that you hear all the time anyway. The visuals tell the game’s story. The music is disconnected from it almost entirely. So instead of supporting the mood of a scene, it just plays on as if someone forgot to put it off, which can be pretty jarring.

This is made worse by the fact that the same musical tracks are repeated a lot throughout the game. And by the fact that there are very few sound effects, not even walking sounds for the party.

Music is so important to build atmosphere, it’s really weird to play a game that so squanders an easy opportunity to engage the player emotionally. I am used to games where the music changes for every cut scene, where characters have their own character themes and each town has its own town theme, where there’s music for every occasion, sad, cheerful, creepy or exciting – and even tracks that you only ever hear once during the entire game, and that are nevertheless unforgettable.

Does anybody feel the same? Or am I overly sensitive to that sort of thing?

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia

There is a Kotaku article titled Maybe This Is Why Dragon Quest Never Took Off In The West. Jason Schreier’s main point boils down to: DQ sticks too much to its old traditions, although some of them feel clunky and outdated now and slow down the gameplay, like the save feature for example.

OK, well. I am a bit wary of the idea that there’s some fundamental difference between Japanese and “western” players, and the article never explains why Japanese players are allegedly not “used to more streamlined design” like the Americans. Oh, yeah, in this article “western” means “American”. Because there isn’t really any mystery to why Dragon Quest never took off in Europe: None of the games came out here, until Dragon Quest VIII in 2006. Compare his to Final Fantasy: Europe got their first entry into the series with Final Fantasy VII in 1997 – absurdly late for sure, but still considerably ahead of Dragon Quest. I cannot talk about the UA, but I would wager that there are all sorts of reasons – from timing, to marketing to who knows what – that influenced the games’ reception in the USA. I mean … I don’t think there has to be something fundamentally wrong with a game for it to fail to “take off” in a secondary market.

Still, the article raises an interesting point: The Dragon Quest games do seem to undertake less experiments in style and format than the Final Fantasy series. The look is always Akira Toriyama, there’s iconic monster designs like the adorable slimes, recognizable weaponry and armour, recurring musical themes and many other things that give DQ  its own, unmistakable aesthetic and a strong identity. On the other hand, Final Fantasy seems much less beholden to its own legacy, and is quite happy to abandon its brand and fans and turn into a completely different but ~modern~ game. Honestly, Final Fantasy XV might as well be called Undo the Finality: Fantasia of the Road (I just made that title up – and now I like it???). It might as well not be a Final Fantasy game.

Anyway, back to Dragon Quest. Yes, some of its traditional mechanics are a bit clunky. Aside from the save feature, I dislike the battle system of the older titles, because if I cannot see my characters during battle, I cannot relate to what the hell is even going on. This is something DQ has since moved away from, though, so it’s not as if they are completely averse to change and modernization. I think that Dragon Quest IX – where you could see your team – had much more dynamic and fun battles. Perhaps that’s why it is the only DQ game to date that I managed to play from beginning to end (and then some).

There is a lot I want to write about the Dragon Quest style of saving your game, but it might be best to save it for its own post, no pun intended.

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia. It’s a sense of nostalgia so strong even I feel it.  I have only played three games, completed only Dragon Quest 9 and read the Dragon Quest manga Dai no daibouken, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever! I think this is because of DQ’s strong sense of tradition and identity. It is all a feature, not a bug. I see a slime, and it makes me happy! I see a certain design of armor, dress or weapon, and I know its’ Dragon Quest! I’ll always love Dragon Quest – and I’ve no idea why.