Preview: Project Octopath Traveler explores the different sorts of duty

There have been many games that explore multiple characters’ storylines and paths. The SaGa series is known for it. Now, with Project Octopath Traveler, another is about to appear. Square Enix is about to tell the tales of eight more heroes and heroines. But, Nintendo Switch owners do not get to see all that just yet. For now, all we get to see are samples of the tales of Primrose the dancer and Olberic the warrior.

These are brief demos; they are only intended to provide a small taste of Project Octopath Traveler. Still, they serve a great purpose. In each one, we are able to see the sense of duty each character possesses. Both Primrose and Olberic have causes they are sworn to carry out. They have tasks they must achieve and various means to accomplish them. The game is quite effective already at setting them up and providing motives that make us care about characters’ goals and accomplishing them.

Primrose’s story is a tale of revenge. She saw three men, members of the Crow, kill her father. This has led her to taking a job as a dancer in a Sunshade tavern. She endures horrible treatment from the club’s owner, her master, as well as other dancers jealous of her abilities. All for the sake of perhaps one day coming across one of the three men who took part in the assassination. We watch as the other dancers mistreat her, citizens look down on her and her employer sexually harasses her. This makes it even more effective when Yusufa shows her kindness, speaks up for her and gives her the chance she needs to follow one of these mysterious men and perhaps begin to make good on her pledge.

Olberic’s story is one of redemption. A former knight, he failed to protect Alfred, king of Hornburg, when his friend Erhardt struck him down. He now lives as “Berg,” a sword-for-hire attempting to protect Cobbleston. He could not protect his liege and country, but now maybe he can save this one small town and its citizens from those who would threaten it. Though, when a child named Philip is taken by bandits, his vow is tested. Can he truly make a difference? Might he actually have a chance to pick up the pieces?

In each case, we have a fairly common motive. Both characters have something to prove after a life changing event. Each one finds themselves in a new way of life filled with potential. They have opportunities they didn’t before. Though Project Octopath Traveler is relying on familiar archetypes, like a dutiful daughter and fallen knight, this is not a bad thing. Such stories are classics for a reason. There is every opportunity to expand upon and perhaps turn such things on their heads in a full game. And, even if Square Enix chooses not to deviate from established paths, telling the same story well can still remain interesting. What better way to provide motive for a duty than by relying on concepts we are familiar with? It reinforces their commitment as we play through this trial.

But, there is an element that makes me wonder if there could be unexpected twists and turns ahead of us. The Project Octopath Traveler demo introduces us to Path Actions. Each character has an ability unique to their position and profession, allowing them to engage with people and fulfill requests. Primrose knows allure. She is able to charm someone, convincing them to follow her. Her reputation can falter if it fails. The person with her may have some sort of ability as well. Olberic can challenge another person to a duel. This forces a fight to begin. It lets us see how their roles impact their daily lives.

Project Octopath Traveler is going to push people into multiple roles. We will find ourselves connecting with eight different people. It needs to make us care about these people; we need to believe in their motivations, or the game won’t be compelling. While we only have a brief portion to play through at this moment, what is there does a good job of making characters’ duties clear. We can see what roles Primrose and Olberic will need to play in their storylines. Their backgrounds, initial activities and Path Actions all make them seem compelling so far, and one can only hope the full game will feel as fulfilling.

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