So I’ve been playing Octopath Traveler a bunch since it released last week, and while overall my feelings line up with Austin’s description on Monday’s Waypoint Radio, I’ve noticed one thing I haven’t seen discussed anywhere else yet.
In Octopath Traveler, every character has a Path Action, or a unique way to interact with NPCs. Two of your eight party members, Cyrus and Alfyn, can use their Path Actions (Scrutinize and Inquire, respectively) to gather information and backstory from NPCs to use in solving quests. Sometimes this also unlocks certain perks — a shop might start selling new gear, or you might get a discount on the town inn, or find the location of a hidden item.
But even if using Scrutinize/Inquire on an NPC doesn’t result in a quest flag or some other benefit, you still learn the character’s age, their name or other identifying description (ex: Scholarly Gentleman, Alluring Maiden, etc.), and a two- to four-sentence backstory on who they are and what they’re doing in the town or in life.
It’s not much, but I’ve found myself enjoying these little vignettes way more than the actual story threads of the eight party members. One favorite example involves a woman who still clings to a harpoon belonging to her dead husband…which you can then steal, if you have the thief Therion with you (and if you’re a complete bastard). Another, which I won’t spoil, involves a trio of guard dogs in Bolderfall.
JRPGs, especially of the 8- and 16-bit eras, often have a certain dissonance due to the juxtaposition of their epic, sprawling worlds and what seems like about 100 people total living in those worlds. And the total population in Octopath Traveler isn’t any different. But at least it seems a little more fleshed out, because every person has motivation and backstory, however brief and inconsequential it may be. And that has kept me going, even when the main story and lack of character interaction in the party bums me out.
What are some other examples of games with good written world-building — maybe even to the point that it outshines the main plot? I know some immersive sims do this well (I loved reading all the crew emails in Prey) and some strategy games like Stellaris or Crusader Kings II have interesting writing in their event flags. I’m all about this kind of thing right now, so I’d love to find more.