3 Major Ways Through Which Octopath Traveler Reinvigorates JRPGs
Octopath Traveler is without a doubt a fantastic and popular JRPG. This is backed up by the fact that the physical game went out of stock moments after release, warranting apologies issued by Square Enix and Nintendo. Although the game is not without its flaws or weak points, it definitely does a few things completely different than most JRPGs released nowadays which might reinvigorate the genre.
Octopath Traveler plays on our nostalgic feelings of classic JRPGs and is obviously heavily inspired by games from the pixel art era. The game is completely made in the pixel art style but doesn't limit itself to the boundaries of older games. The game features full 3D environments and an exceptional lighting system that just wouldn't have been possible back in the day. Only the characters, enemies, and NPCs remain as 2D objects which makes for an absolutely stunning game.
Although Octopath Traveler is far from the first game that took a nostalgia trip back to pixel art, it is one of the first games from a major developer. Most of the pixel art renaissance originated from games funded through crowdfunding measures. Large developers mostly kept developing 3D games as this gave them a large variety of tools and freedom to create more immersive worlds and engaging stories. For a developer to step away from 3D games and instead develop a pixel art game for a modern console is inspirational, to say the least. This game will hopefully inspire other developers to the same, not just in the JRPG genre, but in gaming as a whole.
Although turn-based combat is by no means a dead concept, it's safe to say that Square Enix has definitely stepped away from it, especially on consoles. Their Bravely Default series still had a satisfying turn-based combat system in place, all the recent Final Fantasy games have shied away from it and instead focused on action-based combat.
This change has probably happened due to the influence that Western RPGs, like Skyrim, have had on the developers. Turn-based combat definitely breaks the immersion for some gamers out there. This definitely makes it understandable that when Square Enix wants to publish an open-world Final Fantasy game on modern consoles and the PC, that they would rather go with an action-combat system.
Bravely Default is the first game featuring turn-based combat that Square Enix has released on the consoles in a really long time and it has sold incredibly well. This should definitely give the company the idea that turn-based combat still has a place on consoles. Although there is certainly no shortage of fantastic turn-based combat JRPGs still being released (looking at you Persona), it would be fantastic for the genre if Final Fantasy made the jump back as well, although this might still be unlikely.
Although the aforementioned aspects definitely contribute to the game's success, they are by itself not what will make the game revolutionary. What truly makes the game feel different is something we don't see often in JRPGs. The introduction of multiple playable characters and a non-linear story.
One aspect of JRPGs that has remained largely the same ever since the birth of the genre is that there is almost never any character creation. What's normally the case with games in this genre is that you will be playing through the game as a premade character that automatically serves as the main character of the game. Throughout your adventure, you will be joined by companions that will often help you acquiring the goals of the main character.
Most JRPGs offer some way to customize your party or the companions. They either do this by letting you decide their class, skills, and weapons. Some games also offer multiple companions and let you decide which ones to bring and which ones stay behind. Octopath Traveler is quite revolutionary in this regard since you are allowed to pick one of 8 playable characters to start off your adventure. However, the characters that you didn't pick to play with are not just put on the sideline, instead, you can meet them in-game and let them join your party.
This structure also lets you play through every characters story arc, which you can do when you meet them for the first time. This means that you will get a deeper insight into all of the characters and will also feel more bonded to them. It also means that there is essentially no main character in the game. If you don't like the character you started out with you can just put him on the bench when you get the other characters.
This is still no 'real' character customization, and having no main character does make the story a bit weaker from time to time. However, it definitely deviates from the traditional JRPG formula in a very interesting way that shows that JRPGs can still be JRPGs without forcing the player on a main character that they might not connect with in the slightest.
Octopath Traveler is a game that has resonated extremely well with fans of the JRPG genre because it does things so differently. Most people fell instantly in love with the game upon seeing the first few trailers due to the nostalgia-inducing experience that the game offers. However, while playing through the game most people found that it's not just these nostalgiac feelings that make the game so great but rather the breath of fresh air that it brings to JRPGs.
Although there is no shortage of fantastic JRPGs in recent times, the formula of these games has definitely become a bit stale. Octopath Traveler's innovating structure definitely tries to shake things up in this regard. Whether the game will truly make the impact on the genre that we so desperately hope for is something only the future can tell us, however, the developers have certainly taken a brave step towards reinvigorating the genre, for which they should be commended.