A look back at Octopath Traveler now that Triangle Strategy is here

With Triangle Strategy now available (at the time of this being written, our review is currently underway) we wanted to look back at the game single-handedly responsible for ensuring Triangle Strategy came to be. That bullet point belongs to the 2017 JRPG Octopath Traveler.

Co-developed between Square Enix and Acquire Corp, Octopath Traveler would become the first in what is referred to as a spiritual series of “HD-2D” games, with the design mixing 2D sprites and HD artwork, resulting in some truly gorgeous games. In doing so, it’s laid the foundation for a JRPG renaissance at Square Enix.

Understanding the history

While Triangle Strategy was developed by a different team called Artdink, there’s no denying where it gets its DNA. Octopath Traveler was built using Unreal Engine 4 in a particular style, emulating the top-down perspective of older JRPG titles, while still embracing more modern graphical designs.

Initially launching exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, Octopath Traveler’s graphics and gameplay were praised, with innovations in both even as they were kept faithful to the nature of past titles like the original Final Fantasy games.

I’m not personally as well-versed in JRPGs as many other people are, but the striking graphics immediately caught my eye. Watching the trailer for Octopath Traveler for the first time is, I believe, the closest thing anyone in more recent generations can get to seeing Final Fantasy 6 on the SNES for the first time.

The narrative focused on eight different characters: Ophilia the Cleric, Cyrus the Scholar, Tressa the Merchant, Olberic the Warrior, Primrose the Dancer, Alfyn the Apothecary, Therion the Thief, and H’aanit the Hunter (note the first letter of every character’s name).

Players picked a starting point with one particular character but eventually unlocked all of them, with the plot growing from interpersonal struggles to unraveling ancient mysteries. Many people have joked that a game isn’t really a JRPG unless you start out with simple errands and up fighting god, a throughline that Octopath Traveler delivers through its gargantuan scope.

Octopath Traveler was generally well-received, being ported to PC in 2020 and Xbox One in 2021. As of February 2021, the game has gone on to sell over 2.5 million copies before arriving on Xbox, a success that Square Enix wouldn’t ignore looking ahead, as the company would go on to plan out spiritual sequels and remakes alike using this exact format.

From strength to strength

In many ways, the technology, presentation, and style of Octopath Traveler can almost be said to be more important than the game itself. The fragmented story of Octopath Traveler, told mostly across eight different characters, was widely seen by players and critics as the weakest part. It’s this particular aspect that producer Tomoya Asano — who worked on both Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy — seems to have focused on improving, with the central plot and decision-making receiving a huge focus in Triangle Strategy.

Instead of choosing between characters to start the game, Triangle Strategy focuses on a central protagonist, with more characters added to the supporting roster as time goes on. Straight away, the story is one of political intrigue and conflict, with tension between the three kingdoms of Glenbrook, Hyzante, and Aesfrost. It’s garnered praise so far, and we’ll be sure to share our thoughts in our review when it’s live.

What could the future hold?

Triangle Strategy is the second game build with the now codified 2D-HD style, but it won’t be the last. Square Enix has confirmed that remakes of Dragon Quest 3 and Live A Live are both being made using this exact presentation, so it’s something the company clearly has future plans for. Final Fantasy fans everywhere are constantly begging for a remake of Final Fantasy 6 as a 2D-HD game and while the existence of the mobile-focused Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters make that somewhat unlikely, nothing is impossible, especially if these games continue to be received well critically and commercially.

Some of these games will go on to be in the roster of the best Nintendo Switch games available. Others likely won’t, and that’s okay. There’s potential here that both pays homage to the roots of JRPGs as a genre, while also moving these types of games forward technologically in a much-needed way.

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