My 8 Favourite Chapters From Octopath Traveler

So I recently beat the final boss of Octopath Traveller, pretty much bang-on two months after launch and with a 90 hour save file to show for it. The game’s alright, I guess.

Lukewarm jokes aside, my deep appreciation for this itch-scratching JRPG gem lies mainly with the things for which it has been widely praised – Its astonishingly unique visuals, its wonderfully dynamic soundtrack, its deeply strategic combat. If people at large seem to have a bone to pick with Octopath, that bone is firmly lodged in the story department.

The game’s atypical approach to story structure – eight individual stories that stay separated from the wider party narrative outside of a handful of short optional skits – may irritate those who weren’t prepared to find such an approach in an RPG that appears so traditional at first glance. But as someone who has played a hell of a lot of JRPGs, I for one welcome the refreshing ability to tell some of the most focused, character-driven tales you can find in any title of Octopath‘s ilk. Bound by a less plentiful budget than is usually afforded to more known Square Enix RPGs, the game’s writers had to employ a simple combination of rudimentary animations, on-point musical cues and tactfully distributed voice acting to sell eight different four-chapter stories despite repeating a very similar contracted three-act structure 32 times.

Sometimes this works better than others, and though factors like the order in which you see them (the game is very open) and your own personal tastes and background will determine which of Octopath‘s story chapters stand out most for you, these are the eight that I enjoyed the most. Spoilers obviously abound, so read on only if you’ve finished the game or don’t plan on playing it any further / at all.

8. Cyrus Chapter 2

Ah, Cyrus. As one of the later characters I met on my journey, I initially found his idealistic head-in-the-clouds indifference to the feelings of those around him to be a grating character trait, but by the time his introductory chapter is over that same trait has been turned into a joke at his expense and he is suddenly an endearing, not to mention mechanically essential, part of the octo-squad. His second chapter beats his first one onto this list, however, thanks to the way it uses this endearment to maximise the impact of a shockingly macabre turn. In the mining town of Quarrycrest, you get to see the full range of Cyrus’ strictly-academia reactions to everything from light jabs at his obliviousness to demonic blood rituals. If you haven’t done any third chapters by the time you see this one, the ghastly introduction of supernatural body horror into the world’s lore makes for some decently-paced foreshadowing.

7. Tressa Chapter 2

The other major chapter taking place in Quarrycrest takes on a rather different tone. It sees the wholesome, naive aspiring merchant Tressa attempt to make her fortune by selling shiny gems in a town ultimately under the control of a despot of sorts who believes that very fortune belongs to him by right. It builds to the confrontation with said megalomaniac by first introducing one of Octopath‘s best supporting characters, Ali. A cocky young merchant with an existing bag of tricks and sales techniques, Ali serves initially as a cheeky antagonist and eventually as an ally against the larger evil at hand, in both cases encouraging tremendous growth from Tressa. Though more of his character is developed in later chapters, in Quarrycrest his relentless-yet-principled attitude to the art of selling solidifies him as an indispensable addition to the game’s considerable secondary cast.

6. Olberic Chapter 4

Olberic’s is probably my favourite Octopath story overall – though it’s a close call – and the way it ends is a big part of the reason why. Few towns in the game are soaked in quite as much unique atmosphere as Riverford, an autumn-hued graveyard without so much as a drop of whimsy. Stepping into Riverford – past the corrupt guards at the entrance gate – is an optimism-draining endeavour, as the strikingly lifeless trees, imposing central pyre and haunting music truly tell the tale of a people under the oppressive heel of the power-hungry villain Werner. You want to end his regular schedule of arbitrary human sacrifices because he is built up as a despicable figure, but also just so you can be done with the place. The way Olberic topples the man who ultimately is also responsible for the demise of his liege is doubly satisfying because the antagonist for most of our hero’s story, Erhardt, joins blades with him to make the final push. It’s great.

5. Alfyn Chapter 3

Few chapters throughout Octopath Traveller put the laser focus on what makes a character tick more than this one. Amidst multiple stories that regularly dip into dark subject matter, Alfyn’s third chapter pits the pure-hearted apothecary against an amoral, lying murderer and a fellow medicine man whose harrowing life experiences have left him with a harshly binary moral code. The interplay between Ogen, a man who refuses to heal those who have committed evil acts in their lives, Miguel, an opportunistic and cold-hearted thief without remorse for his self-serving destructive acts, and the wide-eyed JRPG protagonist raises uncomfortable questions about humankind’s capacity for unconditional aid. These questions damn near break Alf, leading into one of the most difficult boss fights of the game’s entire second half (for me at least) and setting up the conflicted green-clad healer for a moment of deep soul-searching followed by a galvanising final chapter.

4. Primrose Chapter 1

The vast majority of Octopath‘s introductory chapters are little more than just that – introductions. They let you know what the character in question is all about, flex his or her main exploratory mechanic and set up a plot thread solid enough to either carry a whole tale or be subverted and broken down for impact. They don’t usually bring in mature or particularly compelling themes until later. I think I speak for most people when I say Primrose’s is most definitely the exception to this trend. A desert town dancer heavily implied to be a prostitute after hours, Primrose willingly endures the lascivious tongue of slimy bar owner Helgenish on the off-chance that one of the men responsible for murdering her father might walk into the establishment one night. We meet Primrose shortly before that very thing happens, of course, and the ensuing utter destruction of Helgenish at Primrose’s hands – after one of her friends tragically dies at his – is incredibly satisfying.

3. Olberic Chapter 2

I’m just a sucker for a good tournament arc. Not since the first Golden Sun have I played one in a JRPG, so I was ecstatic when it came time for Olberic to test both his skills and his resolve to locate traitorous former ally Erhardt by fighting his way into – and through – a grueling elimination-by-combat bracket at the aptly named Victors’ Hollow. The tournament is more than just a stack of shonen battle anime stand-offs rendered in 16-bit, though that would have been just fine with me. What elevates this chapter into third place in my humble opinion is the way it builds up to both the tournament itself and each individual duel within. Almost the entirety of the Victors’ Hollow populace showcases a trading card-esque dossier of stats when Alfyn/Cyrus uses his path action, making it feel like Olberic has an advantage just because he has allied himself with the apothecary/scholar. Then there’s Cecily, the frustrated promoter just waiting to seize on an opportunity to make her name via the borrowing of someone else’s when Olberic happens to cross her path. There probably isn’t another chapter in the game that marries mechanics with narrative quite as well as this one.

2. Ophelia Chapter 4

By the time I reached the finale of Ophilia’s story I was extremely fond of her as a character, because my tendency to be overly careful in JRPGs had drawn me toward picking the cleric first. Octopath‘s decision to prevent your initial character from leaving the party meant I came to rely on Ophilia extensively in battles, level her higher than anyone else, and witness a huge number of her party banter exchanges – each and every one of them solidifying her as a wonderful soul who always looks for the good in people. Out of everyone in the main cast her story goes the longest without diving into dark and depressing material, so of course when it does it is not only utterly devastating but doubles down on the darkness like almost nothing else in the game.

Having just watched her favourite person in the world, her foster sister Lianna, betray her at the tail end of Chapter 3 in exchange for the slight possibility of reviving her dead father, Ophilia arrives at a deathly-quiet mill town whose people are all secretly under the control of Mattias, the sadistic cult leader responsible for sewing the seeds of Lianna’s deception. Even once Phils corners the pair and Lianna watches in horror as Mattias reveals his true intentions for her – as a spirit-sucking vestal for a cataclysmic revival of evil – the grief-stricken woman cannot bring herself to back down, such is the extent of her pain. That’s the kind of shockingly human response I have flat-out not seen in a JRPG before and when combined with the refreshing twist on the beyond-stock-standard “the religious organisation you were a part of was secretly evil all along” JRPG trope, it just about knocked me flat. Not to mention the perfectly executed moment after the dust settles and a broken, distraught Lianna stands alone in the corner of her room, causing Ophilia’s Guide prompt to come up… That was a gut punch too much for my tear ducts.

1. Alfyn Chapter 2

How do you beat a chapter that actually made me well up? Like this. Though I understand seeing Alfyn’s second chapter as somewhat of a curtain raiser to his more morally challenging third and triumphant fourth, there’s something to be said about the magnificent pacing of the aspiring healer’s visit to picturesque Goldshore. If Alfyn’s opening chapter is one of the dullest of the whole narrative, it at the very least lays the groundwork for a follow-up story hiding a multi-layered mystery that – at least for me – packed an a-ha moment I had absolutely no reason to expect given what I had seen from everyone else’s stories up to that point.

Initially it seems that Alfyn will face his first meaningful bit of conflict through the meeting of an apothecary better than him in every way – the talented and generous Vanessa Hysel. But beyond a forced expansion of his tiny world, Alfyn also ultimately must contend with the reality that the noble act of healing others can be twisted for one’s own sinister gains – as when a series of seemingly unconnected events line up and point to Hysel’s deliberate poisoning of an entire town just so she can sell them the antidote at a high price and still come out looking like a hero. It’s a great little twist on its own and sits even better inside Alfyn’s steadily escalating wider arc. The chapter’s real weapon, however, is Ellen – the adorable redhead child who believes in Alfyn when even her mother spurns him at the mere sight of the more polished Vanessa showing up to “help” Ellen’s bed-ridden sister Flynn. When Alfyn saves the day and sets things right, Ellen’s mother learns a terribly harsh lesson about judging people by appearance, but any emotional catharsis gives way to a wall of disarming innocence when Ellen and Flynn offer a bunch of their seashells to the defenseless Alf as thanks, while an appropriately minimalist score swells in the background. Suffice to say this was the first time I discovered the emotional potential of Octopath‘s storytelling, because I was suddenly very aware of a struggle to avoid getting tears on my Switch’s screen. Ultimately for all it achieves, Alfyn’s second chapter is my favourite in all of Octopath Traveller.

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