Few games have caught my attention the way that Octopath Traveler did when it was announced. Coming from any other studio, for any other system, it may have been different. But a Square Enix RPG exclusively for the Nintendo Switch sounds to me like the Promised Land I was hoping we would see. The best case scenario for the Switch is exactly this: a blurring of console and handheld, where scale and scope don’t matter nearly as much as variety and purpose. From the moment you see it, Octopath Traveler assures you that the Switch will uphold Nintendo’s tradition of supporting colorful, unique, mid-sized games (mostly from Japan) that would be lost in the shuffle if they were released on a regular console. Yes you can have Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Switch in all of its 3D glory, but you can also have a text-menu-sprite-turn-and-grind JRPG that feels like the 1990’s again. These kinds of games don’t need to break the mold. They need to satisfy an appetite that very few people are catering to.
Based on the survey feedback after the demo release, Square Enix (and/or Acquire?) has been making adjustments to a lot of things. Interface, visibility, and my own favorite change, the ability to walk or run by simply tilting the joystick, with a “sprint” option available that increases your chances of getting into fights!
This game is really looking great still, and I very much respect Square Enix for being humble enough to put out a demo, listen to feedback, and allow the fans of this genre to push them in the right direction. Yes, you could argue that it shows lack of vision or leadership, but think about it: if you don’t have vision and leadership, why pretend that you do? This is why some series get a creator who ruins tons of stuff in the hopes of becoming a great director. They obviously had good ideas from the start, but listening to fans won’t hurt.
With Octopath Traveler I think Square Enix has a potential system-seller on their hands. It’s an old-school RPG coming out for the Nintendo Switch next year, but it uses the Unreal 4 engine to make everything fancier looking. It’s the most intriguing game coming out for the Switch in my opinion, because it demonstrates the hybrid console/handheld mentality that I hoped to see more of. The Switch is in a perfect position to deliver a tidal wave of SNES/PS1/DS reminiscent games that work on either the big screen or the little one, combining 3D graphics and pixels for a blast of nostalgia that doesn’t feel dated.