JRPGs have been having a bit of a renaissance recently haven’t they? The genre’s been dying for a good bit of mixing up, and we’ve seen a bit of that in games such as Bravely Default, but with Octopath Traveler things have really begun getting refreshed.

The same basic mechanics you’d expect from a turn-based JRPG are here, but with a number of interesting twists. Rather than just spamming the most powerful or appropriate moves to best your foes and maybe using an item on occasion, you’ve got a lot of other mechanics to tackle. If you choose to delay a character’s attack you can slowly build up power to boost the move you eventually choose to use. That’s not all that interesting in and of itself, but the other major mechanic coupled with this seriously shakes things up.

Every enemy you fight has one or more weaknesses; these can be certain weapon types, or elemental. Hitting enemies with moves they’re weak against is absolutely crucial, and doing so to the point that their defences are broken leaves them unable to attack for a turn’s length and hugely vulnerable. This it eh key to winning in the game, as ignoring these elements won’t just make the game harder for you, but probably make it impossible for you to progress.

That’s because rather than having an enemy encounter every seven steps like the JRPGs of yore, they’re much less common but are insurmountably more substantial and difficult. Rather than just being a dull, throwaway fight to earn you some EXP, enemies offer a serious challenge beyond making sure you’re a higher level.

Each character has their own abilities as you’d expect, ranging from attacking to healing, and buffing to even stranger things like capturing enemies to fight on your side permanently. And you’d better make sure you understand and acknowledge every single on at your disposal; you’ll need them.

Every battle has to be planned out meticulously, but the game does make things easier for you by showing the length of the turn and what characters and enemies will be attacking when. Much like everything else we’ve said, failure to pay attention to this is all but a death sentence. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t pay enough attention, this game will punch you very hard on the nose.

It is a bit of a concern that there seems to be very little leniency in these areas. The game doesn’t hide any of these mechanics or techniques from you, but if you don’t apply them properly or you just don’t have the right tactical way of thinking, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt. It’s unclear if there are any allowances for less skilled players to also enjoy the game, but from what we’ve played this is undeniably a game for the hardcore players.

But now we’ve got the combat out of the way, what about the rest of it? Well, we weren’t able to get much of the story in the short time we played things, but from what we’ve seen so far the character interactions and splintered 8-way storytelling seems to hold up well. The graphical style is also fairly unique, blending retro pixel art with modern lighting and camera angles. We were a bit disappointed with how soft the visuals were, when realistically a game with such an art style should be a breeze for the Switch at 60fps, let alone the 30fps we were presented with. Of course, this doesn’t affect the gameplay due to everything being turn-based, but we were a little disappointed with what we saw.

So far Octopath Traveler is shaping up to be a JRPG nut’s dream; a seriously tactical and hardcore combat system coupled with a lovely art style and expansive storytelling. We do have concerns regarding the game’s steep, steep difficulty curve and how soft the game looks, but if you’re not shy of taking on a challenge, you’d better keep your eye on this one.

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