Octopath Traveler (first impression)

Octopath Traveler first caught my attention right when it was announced in 2017. Something about the game's HD-2D look invoked my curiosity, but beyond that it stirred little interest in me. I never bought it on my own as it heavily reminded me of Final Fantasy Gaiden (a.k.a The 4 Heroes of Light, a 2009 release on the Nintendo DS), which was decent fun but ultimately a bland experience.
However I was gifted Octopath Traveler for christmas in 2019, but never touched the game until last night. Friends were talking about how they were looking forward to the sequel and I was in the mood for a slow, turn based JRPG, so it was a good time to finally check this game out.

I was never as sold on the HD-2D look as everyone else seemed to be. It's an interesting experiment, but having played the game my opinion on the aesthetic has only gotten worse. The visuals are extremely blurry with colors appearing washed out and reduced in diversity by the sort of ambient lighting you normally see in 3D games that strive for realism. A decent scanline filter would do the game better than the blur and lighting effects it employs to spice up the low resolution sprites and textures. Backgrounds are rendered using 3D models and surfaces with low res textures drawn in a style that makes the backgrounds resemble those from classic 2D games. This results in 2D character sprites blending in well enough with the 3D environments, but the aesthetic was ultimately done a lot better (if not perfected) by Breath of Fire IV back in 2000.

Combat appears to revolve around big numbers. The aim is to poke the enemies' weakspots to break their guards, paralyzing them for a turn, lowering their defenses and unleashing devastating attacks in the subsequent turn by using up the Combat Points (or whatever they were called) that were stockpiled in previous turns. This adds a bit more strategy to an otherwise barebones-basic battle system, but only because hitting weakspots causes enemies to drop one of their turns once in a while. The combat point system is merely a psychological trick to make players feel good for causing big numbers on the screen once every few turns. Mechanics reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII isn't a feature I'm looking for in games that advertize themselves on nostalgia.

Also could somebody please tell me a good reason for why, with all the screen estate available, the battle commando descriptions have to overlay the actual commandos, making them unreadable? Who came up with this decision? (See screenshot above)

Octopath Traveler makes a big deal out of the fact that the player gets to play a short introductory solo campaign for each character. Only this was already how Wild Arms started off on the Playstation in 1996, as well as, if my memory serves me well, used in Final Fantasy Gaiden itself. Not to mention Final Fantasy VI did something similar. Is this really a selling point worth putting into the game's title? It really is neither a new feature nor one that carries a game alone.

user interfaces look all the same these days

Anyways, lots of complaints but the game actually plays fine enough so far. It's comfy and that's all I came for when I plugged it into my Switch. However it's a bit bland so far, which puts it right in line with 4 Heroes of Light. That was a nice little game back then but not one I ever felt the need to experience more of. So hopefully Octopath develops into a better experience over time.

Disclaimer I only played 3 hours of this game so far. :)