Let's Continue Our--Oh, And, We're Dead

The Octopath Traveler Chronicles: Week 2

My goal was to get through five chapters again this week. Supposedly each character has four chapters to their journey, and four times eight is in no way divisible by five, so it's a terrible number to use for a weekly column. That's how far I got last week, though, and I really wanted to try and stick to it. I like having goals I can achieve.

Sadly, the game had other plans for me. As we'll get to in a bit, the second chapters for the various characters are markedly harder than the first ones, and my attempt at Tressa's second chapter went on much longer than I would have liked. Still, we do have a full party now, and the adventure is continuing, albeit slower than I would have liked.

The Dance of the Moonlight

Since we'd already gotten to Primrose's hometown last week, I naturally went through her journey as the first stop on this week's adventure. Primrose is a dancer, a young woman of noble blood forced to sell herself to a horrible man after her father is killed by ruffians. Her quest revolves around finding these ruffians, three men each bearing a visible raven tattoo somewhere on their body, so she can have her sweet revenge. First, though, she has to escape her master.

As an opening chapter, Primrose's story was pretty good. As with all the opening stories, her first steps on the path of a hero were fairly shallow -- the way the game divides the story up into half-hour to an hour chunks (with dungeons and battles and the like) doesn't leave a lot of time for story or character development, so much of the plot is crammed into little five-minute chunks. Still, I found her story of loss and vengeance affecting. Her having to kill her master to escape was an expect plot twist, especially since he was such an over-the-top sleaze, but it worked within the confines of the Octopath formula.

Primrose herself uses her dancing for buffs and debuffs. She also has access to dark magic, making her (so far) the only character class that can use the dark element. I really liked her dark magic, and I found her to be a capable fighter, but I will admit that I don't tend to use buffs and debuffs all that much. I never have, in any of the JRPGs I've played, and it's a habit that's hard to break.

On the whole I did enjoy Primrose as a character, but I will admit that once I was out of her adventure I switched her out for someone else and moved on with my journey.

A Bit of This, A Dash of That

And here we have a character I used even less than Primrose. Alfyn, the adventure's alchemist, works by mixing potions in combat. Maybe this will prove effective eventually, but having this guy along so late into the early game, I found myself just relying on his basic melee attacks (and occasional single-target wind spells) to get through his adventure.

I think this is honestly a problem with the way the game is setup. Because you get the characters one at a time, and characters don't level up unless they are in the party, you end up relying on a select group for most of the adventures, carrying someone new to get through their story, but it's hard to bond with them when you've already spent hours with a small selection of characters.

Not that Alfyn was all that interesting to me. His is a fairly rote adventure about trying to save a young girl in his village from a venomous snake bite. Of course he goes into a cake where the snake likes, battles it, collects the venom and saves the day. That's not unusual and, in another game, would barely count as a side-quest. It's a glorified fetch quest through and through.

But the biggest problem with his story is that we've already seen it before. By doing the heroic thing -- saving the girl, in this case -- the hero realizes there's a greater world out there to explore and they could use their talents on the road. We've already seen that story in the game when Tressa went through it. Now we have two adventurer's basically on the same journey and, what, I'm supposed to care about them both? Hardly.

Sorry, Alfyn, but I already have Tressa in my party and she's an adorable ball of sunshine. You're gonna have to step up your game in Chapter 2 if you want me to care about you at all.

It Takes a Thief

Here, at least, we get a different adventure with an interesting twist. Therion is the party's thief, and he's really not a good guy at all. While the other party members are all on the road for noble reasons (or, in the case of Primrose, at least to take out horrible people), Therion is simply a greedy thief out for himself. He knows it, isn't ashamed of it, and enjoys the work he does. In short: he's pretty awesome.

What he isn't though, is a good fit for the party, either strength-wise or when looking at his virtues. Why a band of merry heroes would take a scumbag like Therion is beyond me, and it's not exactly something the game does a good job of explaining. Often in this game we see rich people abusing their privilege so, naturally, they have to get taken down a peg. Not so in this case -- there's a mansion on a hill, the guards won't let Therion in, and he teams up with the heroes to rob the joint.

Why? I get the heroes banding together with everyone else in the group, but helping Therion seems so out of character for everyone else. Maybe if it was just Tressa, who is innocent and naive, it could work. But H'annit, or Ophilia, or Olberic teaming up with this dude makes no sense. And I imagine it would be the same way in reverse: why would Therion, a loner cut-purse, work with heroes for his adventure. What does he gain from being under the thumb of a bunch of judgmental heroes?

Of course, as a thief Therion can steal, both from monsters in battle and from townspeople abroad. This is amusing to do on his journey because I'm cheap and I'd rather just take goods in a game instead of having Tressa pay for them. Still, his stealing is about the only thing he did I cared about.

I find the character fascinating and I appreciate that not everyone in this game is a dyed in the wool hero. I just hope his story, and his abilities, become more interesting so I end up using Therion more before the game is over.

And Then We Die... A Lot

Moving northward, I headed into Quarrytown (or thereabouts for the name), following the paths of both Tressa and Cyrus. Enjoying Tressa more, I went with her plot line first (and also because hers was technically a recommended level below Cyrus's plot line). Tressa learned about the local noble, a man who have a death-grip on the gold trade in the region. While exploring around, she also came across another trader, Ali, one who tipped Tressa off to the amazing quality of some local stones -- stones that could be polished up to be real, shiny gems. Of course, the noble then found out about this new trade, beat the crap out of Ali, then went laughing back to his mansion to count his money.

This is all good and kind of expected, and I knew from the second I stepped into the town I would be having a confrontation with the greedy jerk. But the recommended level for the mission was 22 and I was only level 19 at the time (and that with H'aanit, my leader). So I spent a couple of hours power-grinding my party -- H'aanit, Ophilia, Tressa (of course, since it's her mission), and Olberic (since many of the enemies in the region were weak to pole arms and/or swords). I got all of them up past Level 22, with Olberic reaching the minimum recommended level, and went storming into the mansion to kick names and take ass.

And then I hit a wall. Ass was taken, but it was my own and not the enemies. None of the boss fights I'd had up to this point were anywhere near as difficult as the confrontation with the evil noble's right-hand man, Omar. See, Omar has a gratuitous amount of health and he's constantly summoning two minions to his side, all of whom (including Omar) so wickedly powerful sweeping attacks. Not realizing how bad the battle would be, I spent my first attempt against Omar and his crew focusing largely on Omar. And then I died. Hard.

Okay, I thought, I would focus on the minions and take them out first. Sure, it was difficult at the start with all of them plowing into me over and over again, but with a little strategy (and a lot of healing grape bunches to cure my entire crew) I was able to get the minions down and focus on Omar. And for a few rounds this worked out fairly well right up until I found out (for the first time) he could resurrect his minions. I thought I'd had Omar on the ropes, and I was starting to use Ophilia for offense and not just healing, so when his minions caught me by surprise they leveled me fairly quickly. And I died again.

Right, I figured, this time I'd be ready for them. And I wasn't. I mistimed a few attacks, wasted some healing items too early, and was destroyed again. That sucked. Thankfully fourth time was the charm and I finally, finally leveled Omar and won the day. That did feel good, even if I was pissed at the game in general for the dirty boss fight.

See, it's not the challenge itself I had a problem with, but the fact that the level recommendation for the region seemed woefully inaccurate. Not only that, but the learning curve from the first chapter battles into the second chapter battles was stark. Sure, I'm happy for a challenge but I prefer ones that I'm trained for, one that feels like a natural ramp up of difficulty. If there weren't level recommendations for the game, I'd have done into Tressa's second chapter with my weaker, level 19 party, and been completely destroyed. Sure, the game warns about doing this, but since the game already proved it could balance itself for the levels of your party, wouldn't it have been better to continue balancing for whatever party was taken into an area?

This section still sits poorly with me and it's because it doesn't feel like the game was really balanced well at this point. Of course, now I know I need to ignore the level recommendations and just power grind my way to victory for a while yet. I just wish I didn't have to do that since I prefer it when RPGs let me enjoy the story and not the grind.

Pretty, Pretty Princess Time!

However, I did have a realization. I'd heard that the game would let you class-change your characters as if this were Final Fantasy V with eight concurrent plot lines. Since I hadn't automatically seen anything to tell me how to do this, I took it upon myself to look into it by going Online. While I would have preferred the game to naturally drop these kinds of things on me, making the upgrade process organic, I'm starting to learn that Octopath Traveler prefers me to stumble though my game discovering things on my own. Since other people had already done the blatant stumbling for me, I was stand on their shoulders and use a guide.

So yes, I went Online, found a map that had all the class-change shrines listed on it, and started bouncing from place to place to get my classes going. The thing is I was expecting a dungeon or something to fight through, but no -- once you enter the shrine, you just have to walk up to a book and collect your new class-change option. I'm happy about this, but I was all set to explore a little level 19 dungeon to earn my reward. I mean, hell, I'll take it, but the game had punished me just prior to this so I expected them to keep making me work for it.

The first shrine I visited gave me the Scholar class, and I immediately dumped it on Ophilia. My cleric has a ton of magic to her name, so giving her three more elements to play with was a no-brainer. Who doesn't want a fire-spouting cleric, right? I already have her most of the way on this class tree, and she's going to be a magic-wielding beast by the time I'm done.

Next I collected the Warrior class and applied that to Tressa. Really this was because I checked out the special skills that come from the class (by checking out Olberic) and figured of the four people in my party, none of them really benefited from the class (especially since Olberic is already a warrior by default). Giving Tressa some more to do, including powerful attacks, was at least a decent thing for her. It might not be the most useful class for her just yet, but better her than Ophilia (who is going to be a magical beast no matter what).

Where The Journey Takes Us Next

I still have six more classes to collect, and then I need to level up my party for a bit before I move on to the next chapter for Cyrus. Likely I'll make him a Cleric so I can have at least one in my group (and let Ophilia have a bit of a break). Then it's time to move the story forward, so long as I don't get creamed a bunch again. We shall see...