What To Know Before Playing Octopath Traveler
Tips to help you conquer Orsterra’s challenges
Octopath Traveler is a throwback to classic Japanese RPG with a few modern twists. If you grew up with games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, you’ll probably love Octopath Traveler. It brings with it the wonderful nostalgic tropes of the genre — including turn-based combat, side-quests, character classes and many traditional items — but it re-introduces these concepts with some fancy modern tech and design elements. Oh, and it’s out right now on the Nintendo Switch.
Square Enix has had a crack at these retro-style RPGs a couple of times already, with titles like I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear, but Octopath Traveler feels a little different to those games. For one thing, it’s a far grander adventure and it arguably has a stronger unifying vision behind it. An apt comparison might be something like SaGa Frontier, where multiple divergent storylines were featured (by the way, if you haven’t played SaGa Frontier, you’re missing out on some great classic gaming).
Given the influences on display here — and the fact that Octopath Traveler introduces some of its own unique elements, or puts a different spin on existing ones — you’ll find there’s quite a lot to learn here. Also, Octopath is a pretty long game with plenty of content. So, before you sink 40+ hours into the experience, let’s get you started with everything you need to know (and everything I wish I’d known) before playing.
1. Your first character pick is permanent
When you start Octopath Traveler, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a main protagonist. Right from the start, you can choose to begin the game with any of the 8 main characters. However, the character you choose initially will always be the core member of your party — as you explore Orsterra, you’ll come across the other 7 characters, and you’ll be able to add them to your party as well. But you’ll be able to rotate them in and out as you please.
Although each character is fundamentally different in terms of background and story, they can all be roughly broken down into two major archetypes: mage or warrior.
For the record, Alfyn, Cyrus, Ophilia and Primrose are mages. H’aanit, Olberic, Therion and Tressa are warriors. There’s a bit of a grey area here (Alfyn and Tressa straddle the line between mage and warrior), but this is a good rule of thumb to apply when thinking about who you’ll want to start with.
As you might expect, mages are essentially glass cannon type builds and warriors are a little more harder with higher HP, greater defence, and access to stronger armor and weapons.
2. Buy a few cheap upgrades immediately
Characters all start out with a pretty barebones loadout; importantly, it can be upgraded almost immediately with a bit of thrifty spending.
After your very first errand, head to the equipment shop (which is denoted by a shield and sword sign out the front). Buy the cheapest weapon and armor upgrade you can find for a small bonus; you should still have plenty of money left for other stuff (like consumable items).
Speaking of which, your item list should also include some Healing Grapes for restoring HP as well as some Herbs of Healing for use against poison. You’ll also want to consider stocking up on Herb of Awakening to recover from the sleep status effect. Whatever funds you have left can be used for picking up additional accessories, which can confer additional benefits (like, for example, a greater chance of dodging or making a critical hit).
3. Combat basics: Boost
Octopath Traveler is governed by two main combat principles: breaks and boosts.
In each turn where a character does something, they’ll earn a boost (think of it like a temporary power-up that’s stocked up as a series of bright dots near your character stats on the battle screen). You can spend up to three boosts in any given turn, and party members can stock a total of five boosts each. Be careful, though, how you “spend” your boosts — if you use boost in one turn, you’ll have to wait to accumulate more (your next immediate turn won’t generate any boost). For easy battles, it’s efficient enough to just burn through three boosts at once so you can quickly whittle down weaker opponents and move on to the next fight. For boss battles though, choosing when to boost is extremely important and can easily swing the tide of an encounter.
In order to correctly leverage boosting to its fullest, you’ll need to understand how the break system works.
4. Combat basics: Break
Each enemy displays both a weakness bar and a shield icon with a numerical value inside it. Enemies might be weak to specific weapons (like axes, for example), or they might be weak to other attack categories (like certain types of magic — fire or ice, for example). If you strike an enemy with an attack they are weak to, you’ll deplete the number on their shield (1 for each attack). If you deplete the numbers to zero, the enemy’s shield will break for that turn, and they will become stunned.
The key here is to combine boosts and breaks to maximise damage against enemies.
In one example, a boss might begin to charge up an attack — and it may take several turns for them to charge it up. You can use boost to strike the boss multiple times in succession (with an attack they are weak to) in order to break their shield before they can use the charged attack — this will effectively shut the attack down.
In another example, you could whittle down the enemy’s shield using normal attacks (that they are weak to) without using boost at all. Then, once their shield is broken, you can use boost to strike them multiple times; if you hit the enemy while they are in a stunned state and with an attack they are weak to, that attack will do its maximum damage against the enemy. This can be a quick and effective way to unleash devastating force against enemies, and is especially useful against powerful bosses.
There’s another minor but important point around enemy weakness: when you go to select the menu option to perform a regular/basic attack, you’ll notice a little arrow next to the weapon icon. You can actually press left or right on the D-Pad or analogue stick to quickly change between your major weapon types. Since each enemy will be weak to a specific weapon type, it’s always important to choose the right tool for the job.
5. Heal and save often
Like many old-school RPGs, Octopath Traveler has a very real (and very scary) game over screen. Although there is an autosave feature here, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to lose a significant amount of progress if you haven’t manually saved via one of the little save journals dotted around the world (these are denoted on the map by a quill). The autosave feature only triggers at certain points; you can find yourself in this unfortunate situation even if you’re grinding in an area that you think is safe.
So, save yourself the heartache and at grind near a save point; make sure to periodically access the journal to save your progress.
6. The main menu has a tutorial section
I have to admit, I’m completely guilty of just skimming through tutorials.
Turn-based combat? Yeah, I’m sure I’ll pick it up eventually…
Of course, there are times where I’ll need to check a few things — this might even involve refreshing myself on some of the basics around breaks and boosts, or even the character-specific talents and skills.
You can access the tutorial refresher under the “miscellaneous” heading within the main menu.
7. If you’re lost, just open the map
Octopath Traveler keeps track of every main questline both in the journal menu and on the world map. If you’re lost, just head to the world map and look for an icon of your character’s head. It’ll not only give you a clue as to the region that will trigger the next part of that character’s quest, but it’ll dish out a recommended level range as well. This is really handy, as it’ll help you ensure you’re well prepared for those particular encounters.
As an alternative to the map itself, the journal will spell out each hero’s story as well as the next zone you’ll need to visit. With these map icons and a fast travel system, you’ll never lose your way, even if you return to the game after an extended break.
We hope you enjoyed this primer on Octopath Traveler. We are loving the game, and we’re excited to dig in even further!