This weekend I download the mesmerizingly beautiful new JRPG Octopath Traveler on my Switch and spent a good deal of my time enjoying the 16-bit throwback in handheld mode. I was determined not to stop until I recruited all of the characters, so I could figure out how best to tackle the rest of my adventure. While the game does suffer some from a need to grind and a fairly repetitive structure (at least for everyone’s chapter one), the immersive battle system, perfect soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, and compelling characters makes it a joy to play and a worthwhile world for fans of old-school JRPGs to get lost in. Continue reading for my impressions on each character based on the order in which I enlisted them.
A Quick Word on Basics
In order to understand why any of these things matter in picking a party, you’ll probably need to first know how the game works.
Battles are won by exploiting your enemies’ weaknesses, which you can find out through trial and error (and sometimes educated guessing). By hitting the enemy with their weaknesses the number of times specified on their defense level, you cause them to lose a turn and take heavy damage during that period. As a result, you’re going to want your squad to possess a variety of ways to attack the many weaknesses.
There are also some glossary terms to grasp. While it may seem like a lot, it all makes sense pretty quickly in the context of the game.
Job Skills are essentially the special moves for each character that come from their current occupation. In most RPGs, that’s magic, but it can be a lot more here.
Path Actions are special commands you can use on NPCs in villages to help you accomplish tasks.
Talents are unique abilities that can give you an advantage in battle or while traveling. These can often occur automatically, giving an advantage to those characters.
Weapon(s): Polearms and Bows
Job Skills: Wind-based Magic and Capitalism!
Path Action: Purchase – kindly exchange money for goods with most townspeople
Talent: Eye for Money – it’s like finding $20 on the street but a lot more money and a lot more often
Story Quality: So far so good. It’s by far the most “desire to see the big world JRPG standard protagonist background” of all the stories even if it might have the smallest stakes.
The Case For: Having a chance to receive free money and buy items from the NPCs can help strengthen your squad early. Additionally she has access to two decently strong weapons and is the only character with wind magic. Plus, her spirit for adventure and unique quest are among the more interesting thus far.
The Case Against: It’s a whole lot easier to just use Therion’s “Steal” ability than actually pay for the items.
Job Skills: Fire, Ice, and Lightning Magic along with the ability to Analyze enemies to learn all weaknesses and their HP.
Path Action: Scrutinize – judge townspeople using your superior “Mentalist” like abilities to find hidden items or info needed for quests just so long as you don’t piss the NPC off
Talent: Study Foe – find out one weakness about each enemy at the start of every battle
Story Quality: Will you have a smashing good time? Indubitably!
The Case For: His mastery of magic makes him an essential character and perhaps the most powerful in the game. Also, his unique talent “Study Foe” gives you a head start in every battle. Personally, I am super amused with how pretentious and full of himself he is. It’s kind of like Gilderoy Lockhart but actually competent.
The Case Against: So staffs are by far the worst weapon in the game, and his scrutinize ability can fail causing your reputation in town to suffer (whereas Alfyn’s similar “Inquire” Path Action cannot).
Job Skills: Healing and Holy/Light Magic
Path Action: Guide – have a random townsperson follow you around kind of like you’re a cult leader!
Talent: Summon – have that townsperson you brainwashed fight for you!
Story Quality: Frozen meets every JRPG Priestess ever leading to meh.
Comp(s): Alfyn and Primrose
The Case For: She is the most powerful healer in the game and the only character possessing light magic. You probably want your team not to die a bunch. Also, there’s lots of pretty snow and mountains in her first chapter.
The Case Against: Guide and similar Path Actions are by far the lamest in the game. Aside from helping you move someone away from a door, it’s not all that useful. Throw in a lame staff and Ophilia ends up being by far the weakest offensive character in the game.
Weapon(s): Axes and Bows
Job Skills: Lightning based
Path Action: Provoke – challenge random townsfolk to battle your captured creatures
Talent: Capture – Play Pokemon by trapping random enemies for use in future battles
Story Quality: Mayhaps I thinketh it sucks-eth
The Case For: You can’t have a list of great JRPGs without including Pokemon. More practically, using these creatures opens up additional attack styles to expand on the weaknesses she can exploit. Also, she has two fairly powerful weapons, and if you think about it, her “Provoke” Path Action where she basically has animals attack random townspeople is pretty funny. Most importantly, she’s the only character who can pet animals (even if it’s just in a few cut-scenes).
The Case Against: This is by far the worst story to follow along with thanks to the insistence on using some horrible combination of medieval times and nobleman speak.
Weapon(s): Swords and Daggers
Job Skills: Stealing and Firebased
Path Action: Steal – kindly save townspeople from having to carry around an inventory
Talent: Pick Lock – open specially colored chests that usually have nice weapons in them
Story Quality: A tale we’ve seen before but with some nice new twists and a little bit of a heist feel
The Case For: Therion is by far the coolest character in the game. His “Steal” Path Action can net you tons of excellent free stuff, and he can use two powerful weapons along with minor magic.
The Case Against: I guess stealing is technically bad, and you should probably pay the villagers for their inventories with Tressa. I have definitely found myself purchasing instead of stealing a few times based on the NPC. Additionally, he looks kind of like he’s doing bad Devil May Cry cosplay.
Job Skills: Healing, Ice-based Magic, and the most disturbing skill of all – Amputate!
Path Action: Inquire – find out extra info from NPCs to locate hidden items or quest details in a manner that is less douchey than Cyrus’s “Scrutinize”
Talent: Concoct – mix together random, otherwise useless items in your inventory to make new means of healing and attacking
Story Quality: There’s something charming and uplifting about his story that elevated it for me despite the fact it should’ve been boring.
Comp(s): Ophilia and Cyrus
The Case For: With some practice, the concoct talent could open up all kinds of magic for both exploiting weakness and healing, which makes the case for him over Ophilia. He has a mullet.
The Case Against: I feel like I have to think too much during his turns based on trying to figure out what to concoct. Also, he only has one weapon. He has a mullet.
Job Skills: Support and Dark-based Magic
Path Action: Allure – use your sultry dancing to get a townsperson to follow you
Talent: Summon – have your entranced NPC fight for you
Story Quality: This is by far the most adult story in the game as it’s quite clear Primrose has had to prostitute herself in her quest for vengeance.
The Case For: Primose has by far the best voice acting of all the characters in the game, and her story is the most original of all. While not overly strong on her own, she has the potential to greatly improve the rest of your party with her support skills and is the only character with dark magic.
The Case Against: I hope the story starts to take a more positive and less evil men calling her “whore” turn. Furthermore, daggers are the second worst weapon behind staffs.
Weapon(s): Swords and Polearms
Job Skills: Plenty of Support and Multiple Enemy Weapon Attacks
Path Action: Challenge – fight an NPC in a gentleman’s duel
Talent: Bolster Defense – which according to what I just looked up online since I’ve never bothered to use it allows him to increase his defense by using his BP – so lame
Story Quality: Standard knight trying to reclaim his honor story so also meh
The Case For: He’s pretty powerful and his Job Skills allow you to hit a lot of enemies with the same weapon weaknesses at once in a way that only magic skills typically work for other characters.
The Case Against: Some version of him has been in every RPG ever. Also, his Path Action of “Challenge” where he just beats up townspeople is less funny than H’aanit’s “Provoke” and more sad former high school star trying to recapture his glory.
Who Should You Choose For Your Main Character?
If I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen Cyrus since he is the most irreplaceable character, and you cannot remove your initial hero until you’ve completed the entirety of their quest. Based on a combination of story/coolness/uniqueness, I would say Therion and Tressa are the only other good characters to main in that order.
So What Team Will I Use?
I realized how much I was enjoying the game when, after having collected 4 of the 8 heroes, I already could not imagine a team without any of them. But alas, there are choices to be made. Figuring out the first two is pretty simple. Since Tressa was my initial choice, I have no option but to take her along for all quests. Cyrus’s magical prowess and “Study Foe” Talent make him a no-brainer. I think the final two openings will be rotating each quest between the healers Ophilia and Alfyn for one spot and Therion and H’aanit for the other.
For those starting with a clean slate, I would propose Cyrus, Therion, Ophilia, and H’aanit as the optimal squad. I do hope to finish everyone’s storyline, though, so I will have to find a way to work on Primrose and Olberic despite them not being essential parts of my journey. Here’s to the next 40 or so hours it takes me to get there!