I’m in a pickle. The new demo for the upcoming JRPG Octopath Traveler lets you play the first three hours of the game a few weeks early. Instead of making three hours’ worth of progress, I’ve spent that time trying to figure out which main character to choose.
Kotaku Game Diary
Daily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Octopath Traveler is out on Nintendo Switch next month. It’s being made by some of the same people who made the Bravely Default games, which makes sense given its attractive art, beautiful music, nifty combat system and terrible name. The game is a standard JRPG in a lot of ways, but its big new idea is that it has eight main characters, each with their own backstory and motivation.
At the start of the game, you pick one of the eight. You begin with that character’s solo prologue. You could be Ophilia the cleric, or Therion the thief. Or you could start as Primrose the dancer, or Tressa the merchant. It’s a little like Dragon Age Origins, with one big difference: No matter who you choose, you’ll get to add all the other main characters to your party over the course of the game, but you’ll spend the first hour or so just with that first character. With each new character you add, you’re given the option to play through their solo prologues (viewed as flashbacks) and can swap them into and out of your party for the rest of the game. The first person you chose is still your “main” character, and you can never remove them from your party.
At E3, last week, Octopath Traveler producer Masashi Takahashi confirmed to my colleague Jason Schreier that players can see all the characters’ stories in one playthrough. “If you choose character A as your main character,” he said, “You can then meet up with character B and put B in your party, then see character B’s story and A’s story, then meet up with character C and see character C’s story, and this is generally how things proceed.”
When I started the demo, I assumed it didn’t matter which character I chose. So I picked the thief, Therion. Would you believe he’s a bitter loner who used to have a partner and now swears he’ll never work with anyone again? I didn’t love his origin story, and moreover wasn’t feeling his voice actor, who plays the character like a sceptical young man, not the cocky, world-weary master criminal the script seems to suggest he is. As soon as I got to the world map I backed out and started another game… and down the rabbit hole I went.
I started a new game as Primrose, the dancer, who has a much more interesting (if equally clichéd) backstory: she’s on a quest for revenge against the men who killed her father. Her voice actor was great and played the role with appropriate quiet steeliness. Okay, she’s a good option, but… what about the other characters?
I started a game as Ophilia. Ugh, she was such a goody-goody. Probably good to have a healer in my party at all times, though. Maybe her story would get darker? Not sure. No time, time to try someone else...
I moved on to Cyrus, a distinguished professor. Okay, this guy seemed all right, and I liked the actor playing him. A little stuffy, perhaps. Now that I had started moving through the cast, though, I couldn’t stop. I hopped over to the hunter H’annit, and immediately didn’t like her vibe. Too serious. I had seen people online talking about how good her abilities are, so maybe she’ll be good as a party member? I switched to Olberic, the warrior. Ah yeah, I remember this guy from the first demo. He seemed kind of gruff and dull. Who else?
On and on I’ve gone. Most of my indecision has revolved around narrative stuff—which character do I find most interesting or relatable? Which has the best voice actor, and the best backstory? There are gameplay aspects of the question to consider, as well. Even considering that Octopath allows characters to unlock alternate classes (a.k.a. “Jobs”) in addition to the one they start with, I have no idea what will wind up being the best combination of jobs and secondary jobs.
A cursory skim of the Octopath Traveler subreddit indicates that some players have already amassed an incredible amount of information about which characters and jobs mesh well with each other. This player insists on the combination of Olberic, Tressa, Alfyn, and Ophilia. This one says H’aanit, Therion, Ophilia, Cyrus. Argh! I don’t know! I don’t get the sense that this game is going to be maximally difficult, though, so hopefully I won’t find myself regretting the fact that I may not have min/maxed my party to the utmost.
My indecision has been enabled in part by the fact that the demo’s time-limit makes real commitment impossible. Most games require some sort of commitment to character class, upgrade path, or party members. But with a full game, any second thoughts I have may occur many hours in, when it’s too late to go back and start over. In some ways it’s nice that I’m getting this all out of the way now, as opposed to when I have the full game installed and ready to go. I still have flashbacks to the hour or two I spent playing and re-playing the opening act of Dragon Age: Inquisition, trying to make sure I liked the class I’d picked and that my character didn’t look weird. At least this way, by the time I’m playing the full game, I’ll have my mind made up.
I turn it over to you: if you’ve played the Octopath Traveler demo, which character did you pick? What did you think of each of them? What will be your party in the main game? And man, how much fun is that victory fanfare music?