Let me get this out of the way first: I really, really like Octopath. I’m enjoying the hell out of it, and getting more than my money’s worth out of the purchase - and I got the big silly collector’s edition.
Now, there’s been a lot of analysis and discussion of Octopath Traveler recently, but they all seem to make similar claims. The most common seems to be a total lack of interaction between party members, and while it’s true that their story chapters are primarily independent, I’m wondering if I’m somehow the only one who found the skits.
After accomplishing certain objectives over the course of story chapters starting in anyone’s Chapter 2, a prompt comes up in the top-right corner of the screen that fires up a two-person skit. It’s generally between the person whose story this is and one of the other party members you have along with you, though I’m not entirely sure how much is gated (and thus missable) by specific progress and how much is available just by virtue of having done the chapter and coming back to that town with the right crew.
Honestly, a bigger problem in my mind is that there’s really very little difference between them gameplay-wise. It’s fairly trivial to go around scooping up subclasses, and eventually you’ll have everyone’s main class available to everyone else. The fact that each protagonist’s main class is fixed is more to their detriment than anything else, especially given how long it takes before you can remove the first one you picked from the party.
The only things really setting them apart from each other are their Talents and Path Actions, and even those are a mixed bag. Townsfolk have a set inventory each, a single page of info/rumor that may or may not have some minor gameplay benefit, and a combat stat sheet (for both fighting against them and summoning them to your party). Many townsfolk are arbitrarily missing one or more of these traits, rendering some Path Actions useless against them. Moreover, half of the Path Actions accomplish the same thing in the end, and if you take care of things one way, the other can’t retread the same ground.
On top of that, the townsfolk never restock. If you’ve bought or stolen everything off everyone in every town and asked or snooped out the info on everyone, suddenly Tressa, Therion, Alvyn, and Cyrus have nothing to bring to the table outside of battle - and if you also find all the locked chests in the game and open them with Therion, he’s then utterly obsolete and completely replaceable.
Primrose and Ophilia are functionally identical outside of their fixed class, so they’re in a worse spot; you’ll basically never have a reason to use both at once, and Ophilia is generally considered mechanically inferior to either Prim or Cyrus once you have subclasses. Olberic and Ha’anit have severe overlap as well, with Ha’anit generally considered having the worse end of the deal. Even some of the most useful Talents - like Tressa’s money-finding and Cyrus’s automatic weakness scouting - are pointless once you’re late enough in the game, as you’ll drown in money, and you can quickly discover enemies’ weaknesses anyway. Cyrus’s talent is especially vestigial since the Scholar job has a skill to reveal an enemy weakness - like actually hitting that weakness, this is permanent, so if you see them again it stays revealed - and any one-time or major enemy worth scouting has a save point nearby.
So all in all, I’d point out that while party interaction is lacking, it’s not only not quite as bad as people claim, but also less of a problem than the obsolescence and functional identicality of many of the protagonists. Either way, Octopath has failed to live up to some part of its potential, even if we’re operating on the assumption that there IS a final chapter that ties them all together. (Again, let me restate: I am enjoying the heck out of it. I’m discussing flaws in hopes of inspiring improvement.) So what exactly happened?
I feel like making the entire thing open-world after a fashion and allowing you to grab everyone may have been a mistake. The SaGa series, for example, does a phenomenal job in many cases by giving each person a separate scenario. Other protagonists may or may not join specific leaders, but the personal circumstances of the chosen protagonist are really dug into in-depth. More importantly, each character’s story generally includes several interesting side characters that aren’t protagonists on their own, who bring widely different things to the table. Even the utterly abysmal Unlimited SaGa had some interesting ideas for treating protagonists differently, like Kurt’s evolving cursed gauntlet or Armic’s economics-focused quest line.
SaGa Frontier, perhaps my favorite example of the series, give the actual leader of the party some interesting extra bonus for being the protag of the story currently being told. These range from incredibly powerful and game-changing, like Blue, Red, and T-260G, to utterly useless like Lute, whose superpower is the ability to not be in your default battle party while he is the protagonist. Meanwhile, some protags (Lute, T-260G) will join everyone or almost everyone else, while some (primarily Blue and Red) absolutely refuse to work with most if not all other leaders.
(Frontier should have also been the poster child for having a coherent final wrap-up scenario where everyone’s stories come together, but that got axed late in development because of time and budget constraints. If even half of the stuff in the artbook/guide is true, it would have been incredible.)
Hexyz Force on the PSP also did some interesting stuff with this, with each protagonist being “half” of an overarching storyline, then coming together at the end for a resounding final chapter. Suikoden 3 also played with this by having its 3 protagonists have their own sets of chapters, along with the 3 extra sets once you’d seen the entirety of the “main” storyline play out. Even Star Ocean 2 had two possible protags, and while 90% of the game was identical, they both had meaningful differences in both perspective and some side events, and more importantly had MASSIVE interaction with the entire party, especially if you dug deep into the Private Actions system.
Overall, it really comes down to this: There’s a million and one ways to handle multiple protagonists. I kind of feel like Octopath Traveler created a system that could have been anywhere from dead simple to hideously complex, and just didn’t push it to its full potential. I’m really hoping they treat this as a successful experiment rather than a failed one, and start working on a much more robust and fulfilling sequel.