Stay on target ‘Star Wars Pinball’ Has Your Favorite Brand in Ball Form‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ Was Final Mission From Late Nintendo President I don’t think my general dislike of traditional Japanese role-playing games comes from genre gameplay staples like turn-based combat or granular stat-management. I just think that dozens of hours of slowly paced self-indulgent plotting for stories that usually boil down to “anime teens fight god” smothers otherwise interesting elements in boring tedium. Even something as weird and charming as EarthBound could barely hold my attention by the end of its relatively brief 30-hour run time.My favorite non-action RPGs are shorter breezier indie fare like West of Loathing and Cat Quest, more exploratory Western-style games like Skyrim and Xenoblade Chronicles X, something more mechanically involved like a Fire Emblem-style strategy RPG or whatever the heck The World Ends With You is, and of course a Pokemon game once a decade.I don’t think Octopath Traveler is going to be one of those games. It’s a game for people who are excited by, rather than preemptively tired over, the idea of playing a JRPG that would’ve come on multiple discs back in the PlayStation 1 era. It’s from Square Enix for crying out loud. I haven’t finished it, and probably won’t soon. But ironically enough that’s because its good elements are so good I’m trying to save them for myself by playing slowly enough to avoid burnout. Fortunately, one of the best things about Octopath Traveler for Nintendo Switch is that it is totally flexible enough to welcome this fun measured approach.The name Octopath Traveler itself is more than just a placeholder than accidentally became permanent. It refers to the game’s main structural gimmick of following eight initially separate stories in a shared fantasy world. Instead of histrionic and apocalyptic, these tales (at least at first) are surprisingly small, laid back, mature, and personal. So you don’t feel guilty stopping one to go start another, treating this like a little interactive anthology of JRPG short stories.In fact, you’re encouraged to play this way. While you conceivably just play through the whole campaign of your first character, the party leader, it would require lots of grinding. So you’d have a far more enjoyable experience earning… experience by sampling all the content the game has to offer. And the game gives you a pleasing amount of freedom to see those stories in whatever order you choose.As you dabble with the eight different characters, swapping them in and out of your party of four, you’ll intimately get to know their unique abilities in and out of combat. My party leader H’aanit is a hunter on a quest to find her missing master. Like a Pokemon Trainer she can capture weakened beasts in battle and use them as temporary combat items later. On the overworld she can even provoke strangers into battle, a talent she shares with disgraced warrior Olberic.You’ll recruit medieval RPG staples like a healer and a thief, but other characters have more creative skills. Dancer Primrose can allure men to help out in battle. Scholar Cyrus can put together clues like in an Ace Attorney game. Merchant Tressa casually picks up money on the street. The characters are all fleshed-out enough for the amount of time you’ll be spending with them both in battle and in their stories. And gameplay systems like job points unlocking passive buff skills help you customize them to suit your own playstyle.Your quest to recruit these characters and continue their stories also provides the perfect excuse to travel all across Octopath Traveler’s gorgeously realized environments. “HD-2D” is a dumb name, but the way classically pixelated elements like characters and buildings are plopped into this tilt-shift diorama world is just beautiful. It’s such a cool dissonance seeing artful but clearly fake video game sprites harmoniously existing in this 3D world buzzing and alive with natural atmospheric effects.Whether it was an icy church town or glistening pirate bay I couldn’t wait to see where the next leg of the journey would take me. It’s like nothing else and I’d love to see more games rendered in this style, maybe a Mother 3 remake. The visuals combined with the soundtrack and overall sophisticated vibe of the story (at least in terms of writing rather than plot) gives the game this richness that’s intimidating to get into but impossible to pull away from when you get deeper.What keeps Octopath Traveler engaging on a minute-to-minute basis though is the surprisingly tactical turn-based combat system. There are two main systems to keep in mind: guard breaks and boost points. Each enemy has a guard of varying strength that can be chipped away by attacking it with the correct weapon. You won’t know this vulnerability until you first exploit it but after that the weakness, whether it’s swords or bows or fire magic, will be displayed beneath the target. Once guard is broken the enemy will take more damage and will be briefly unable to fight back. Meanwhile, boost points accrue over each turn and strengthen whichever action you do. You can spend up to three points in a single move and can store up to five at a time.So there’s a lot to consider if you want to use these systems effectively. If you only have one axe-wielder in your party they should focus on breaking guards on enemies weak to axes. While fighting a massive boss you can pull off a spectacular move like breaking their guard, spending three boost points with one spell-casting character to boost strength on another character and then using that character’s three boost points on a super powerful magic-draining special move. But you’ll have to do a lot of advance improvisational planning, and keep everyone alive, to get to that point. It’s really thoughtful and even makes rote random encounters more exciting than they should be.That’s quite a lot of good things Octopath Traveler has going for it. And they all really shine in the discrete chapters that last around two hours on average (or the battery of your Nintendo Switch). The problem is that even so many hours in it’s hard to tell if these plentiful chapters will start congealing into anything whole. Actually, I won’t even call that a problem necessarily. Novels are short stories collections are both equally valid forms of literature. This is more so just a proper expectation you should have. There could be one huge unified story in the end but the pacing means it will be a while before you get there. Enjoy the journey instead of guessing about the destination.That’s why I’m in no rush to finish Octopath Traveler. Its quirky choices, intentionally or not, a perfect for having a satisfying experience playing at your own leisure. Plowing through it would just turn it into another bloated and boring JRPG, albeit one with stunning visuals and smart combat. It’s not the game that’s going to get me to like JRPGs. But it’s so good that I’m making an exception for this one, bending myself around my dislike of the genre to find a way to play and appreciate it. Couldn’t say that about Xenoblade Chronicles 2.Buy it now!Octopath Traveler.Nintendo SwitchProtect Your Nintendo Switch With These Awesome CasesLet us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.