Please put down the pitchforks! I admit, this is incredibly late and I have not uploaded anything, including the podcast, in quite some time, but a few things got in the way. Not the least of which was a move, which my poor partner ended up having to start due to me being at the BASR and Belfast for some time; our new place losing internet for almost a whole month; and then a submission of my PhD. But the most important issue which arose was how to actually address this topic at all. I don’t exactly want to, nor feel qualified enough to, turn this into some kind of gaming review blog. Nor do I think that people come here for that kind of insight anyway.
Which brings me to the topic of today: Octopath Traveller. I wanted to discuss this game for some time, including while I was in the middle of playing it, but feel it could easily spread into game review territory. This is mostly due to how I wish to discuss not only its successes but also its failures. Though I want to focus on the successes and failures not as a game in the strictest sense, but rather as a myth. So think of this not so much as a game review as a myth review.
So now, let me introduce you to Octopath Traveller. Octopath represents an old-school JRPG, with the tiny sprites, lengthy dialogue, turn-based combat, and the whole lot. Reminiscent of the old Final Fantasy games, it definitely took me back – reminding me of the grind, the narratives, and everything that made those JRPGs worth playing for hours on end. And, don’t get me wrong, I did play Octopath for hours on end.
But Octopath isn’t a successful myth.
To explain this, lets first review something I talked about in my last post. While it’s the last one posted, it has (I’m very sorry!) been quite some time since I posted, so I’ll sum it up here. A myth is not just a written story. A script or written narrative of a myth is only a part of the story. This is not considering the mythic performance of the narrative, the audience’s experience of this performance, and the arising personal narratives which connect the participant to the myth in a more personal way. All these elements are sometimes called an implicit myth, primarily by Dr. Jonathan Miles-Watson, as well as a few other neo-structuralists. I used this concept to explain the intricate connection people made to Monster Hunter: World.
What made Monster Hunter: World so appealing is how it entices people to talk about it. They talk about their experiences, which is going to be vastly different than the experiences of their friends. And this isn’t purely due to the multiplayer nature of MHW, though it certainly helps that particular game. Other games capture this well while still being single player, such as the Dark Souls series, and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Octopath set us up for something similar. At the beginning of the game, you can choose from one of eight characters as your primary protagonist – whose story are you going to follow closely. As you play that character, you can choose whether or not you want to pick up any of the other characters to join your party. Its fully possible you play through the whole game with only one character – or maybe you pick up all eight to join you. Its up to you. Sounds great, right?
The problem with Octopath is that the narrative presented is no different with what you choose. For example, one of our characters has a very ill father. The narrative follows her attempting to finish a pilgrimage while hoping her father recovers. And yet, I also picked up a very skilled apothecary as a character. You would think the two would talk about a sick father, and yet there’s no mention in either story about each other’s presence. When our scholar gets locked in a cellar by his enemy, suddenly your whole party is down in the cellar with him. How did he manage to get all four of us locked down here by a simple trap? Or when the thief is sneaking into a place to steal, he’s the only party member that has to be disguised. Essentially, each story for each character is the same, regardless of if they are your first choice, when you pick up these characters, or if you have them in your party.
The result is a less diverse implicit myth. While the personal narratives an individual forms with the myth-game is still present, and possibly intimate, the possibility for communication regarding these narratives is far more restrictive. Instead of a detailed conversation regarding the experience, it comes down to a discussion on whether you like it or not.
In many ways, this is not a failing of a game, but a myth. The game itself is wonderful, and when played in a vacuum, and most importantly not as a popular culture and myth scholar, it is a wonderful experience. But it stops there. Perhaps the differences in conversation between Breath of the Wile and Octopath in the wider gaming communities is most exemplary of this.