After a couple months of bare video game releases opening the door for less impactful games, it feels good to have another Game of the Month we’re really excited about. Though July didn’t give us a lot of options, there were a few titles in competition for the honor. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker continued Nintendo’s trend of re-releasing underappreciated Wii U titles to their Switch console. No Man’s Sky NEXT offered developer Hello Games an opportunity to right some of the wrongs from the game’s initial release. In the end, however, it was the freshness of a new IP that won out over the slew of reissues, Square Enix’s love letter to 16-bit era RPGs: Octopath Traveler.
Though Octopath Traveler has a clear reverence for its predecessors, the game refuses to rely on nostalgia, modernizing the classic JRPG at every turn. The pixel art graphics are reminiscent of the Super Nintendo’s 16-bit processor, but enhanced with beautiful lighting effects, excellent use of depth of field, and an overall gorgeous fantasy style. Rather than your classic “form a dysfunctional group of adventurers and save the world from destruction” plotline, the game emphasizes the personal storylines of its engaging cast members. Turn-based combat is tactical, tense, and supremely satisfying with heaps of options for player creativity. Almost every aspect of the game feels meticulously designed, and, though it isn’t perfect, it’s remarkable that a game steeped in so much tradition can feel this fresh.
Beyond its quality gameplay, Octopath also had a large impact on the industry. Conversation about the game was widespread shortly after its release with many gamers surprised by how much the title hooked them in. Sales soared past expectations and Square Enix even had to apologize for underestimating the game’s high demand. Most important, however, is the fact that all this success will have an effect on Square Enix’s future. The company recently stated that more games like Octopath Traveler are on their way. This statement is surely emboldened by the title’s unlooked-for success, especially in the west where JRPGs have struggled recently.
During the Nintendo Switch unveiling event last January, in the shadow of Breath of the Wild, an unassuming JRPG with an awkward title slipped mostly under the radar. Project Octopath Traveler seemed so distant and so small at the time. It’s no wonder the game’s success is a surprise. The Switch has no shortage of games and most of the verve surrounding the console is reserved for Nintendo’s first-party offerings. Yet Octopath Traveler’s ability to confound expectations is what makes it so special. It feels grand and epic while staying focused on small, personal stories. It fits neatly into Square Enix’s tradition of old-school RPGs while not feeling like a retread. It is old and new, accessible and deep, intimate and huge, and utterly enchanting. For all these reasons, Octopath Traveler earns our Game of the Month for July.