Octopath Traveler Devs Talk Modernizing Classic RPG Tropes On Nintendo Switch
Making the new feel old again.
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A new demo for Octopath Traveler lets you experience all eight prologue stories in anticipation for the Nintendo Switch release on July 13. The stylized retro RPG pays homage to Super NES classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6, but it strikes a considerably darker tone. At E3 2018, producer Masashi Takahashi and director Keisuke Miyauchi told GameSpot what influenced this new take on old tropes, and how they've been updated.
The serious tone was punctuated in the very first demo, released last year. The story of Primrose, a dancer, touched on themes of sexual abuse and human trafficking. It was jarring, given the cute, doe-eyed sprite work and classically styled battle system, to see a story that many older RPGs it imitated would have implied at most.
"We're creating a medieval world, and we wanted to think of the realities within that medieval world," Takahashi said, via a translator. "What would be a kind of inevitability that would happen as a result of this world existing? What kind of dramas would play out? I think, out of the eight people, that Primrose has the story that deals with the heaviest themes, but that's not to say that the other themes are light in any way. There are also characters that deal with other heavy elements of this world, as well, like Cyrus, the scholar. His story deals with the darkness that exists within this world."
By the same token, Square Enix felt it was important to create a style that was reminiscent of classic RPGs, with a modern twist. The result is a game that looks like a game from the 1990s at a glance, but that comes alive with depth and movement thanks to its 2.5D animation.
"This is the art style that was used for the games that we played when we were growing up," Takahashi said. "Even though it has a simple character design, the simplicity of the character design allows the user to use their imagination to kind of create their own story of the characters in their own minds, versus how you would respond to, for example, a realistic art style."
The final ingredient was the battle system and the new "path actions" system, which give characters a variety of ways of interacting in and out of battle. Like the story and art style, it was important that this was rooted in classic RPG tropes, but had its own twists and stylistic choices. It's a turn-based battle system, and Takahashi said that's meant to make it inviting to new or lapsed players who may not have touched an RPG in years.
"In addition to that, we've added in things like the additional strategic dimensions of what you can accomplish during battle," added Miyauchi. "And also, things like path actions--where, in other RPGs, if you're talking about NPCs around a town, the only action that you could accomplish with them was to talk to them. We've added in considerably more dimensions of being able to talk with them so that you're able to role-play now in more different ways than you ever were. So that you could feel like you're a scholar, for example, like you're really playing this role of this character in this game."