In 2018, Octopath Traveler introduced the world to Square Enix’s “HD-2D” art style, a way of pairing high-quality pixel art with modern lighting effects to create a bridge between new and old. But more than that, the RPG was just a novel riff on Bravely Default battle mechanics and SaGa-style multiple-protagonist storytelling. A full-blown console sequel to Octopath Traveler is still a while away, but in the interim, we have mobile prequel Champions of the Continent. I had the opportunity to preview Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent in a closed beta test on Android, and I was frankly surprised at just how well it fits the mobile format without alienating players of the original game.
The Game You Remember, but Streamlined
At first glance, Champions of the Continent looks a lot like its predecessor, but it’s actually streamlined several aspects for a more palatable mobile experience. For one thing, all areas consist of set travel paths now. That means you only ever move left, right, up, or down along the provided paths, and your character can move automatically in a chosen direction if you prefer. Your map in the corner of the screen makes it easy to figure out where you have already been, though there are also semi-hidden paths that have extra treasure. Additionally, you can “fast travel” back to any notable places you have reached already. Taken altogether, it makes exploration pretty breezy and accessible.
A more major change is that, instead of using four characters for combat, you bring a party of eight characters into battle at a time. Four characters in the front row are paired with another four characters in the back row. The character at the front attacks and receives damage, but he or she can be swapped with the paired back character at any time. Characters in the back row will heal, even including their SP, so keeping a healthy party is as simple as swapping your rows. Traditional healing options like items and magic are easily acquired too though.
However, I found in my preview of Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent that this is an easier game across the board. Enemies are weak to specific weapon types and magic elements like in the original game, but since you can bring a party of eight into every fight, you’re virtually guaranteed to have a party equipped to exploit every weakness easily. And on top of that, I found the average random battle only included two or three enemies, so most battles came and went pretty fast. Bosses can still pack a bite though, unless you’re overleveled.
On one hand, you could say all these changes make Champions of the Continent a more mindless gameplay experience than its predecessor, and that might be true to an extent. But on the other hand, I personally found it refreshing to be able to roam the land in a straightforward way, not waste any more time than necessary on random battles, and get on with the story. It’s a mobile game that makes you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something worthwhile in the 15-20-minute bursts you might spend with it. That’s great.
Along those lines, every time a party member levels up — which happens at an appreciable rate — you get a point you can spend to improve their stats or learn a new ability. The options available to you are unique to each character and their star ranking, but it feels like each character brings something relatively distinct to your party. Although, unlike in the original Octopath Traveler, your characters don’t all have unique exploration abilities. Instead, these characters (and completing quests) all contribute to the levels of three distinct skills you have access to all the time. These skills basically allow you to barter for goods, enlist more NPCs into your party, or challenge NPCs to battles for rewards. I found this to be another way in preview that Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent is wisely streamlined.
It Also Has the Best Character in the Franchise So Far
Champions of the Continent chooses to make your main character a mute. This is a little weird in that your character regularly pantomimes conversations with NPCs you meet in the story, implying that your character is quite verbal but doesn’t care to involve you in it. Indeed, everyone talks except you, even including your other party members.
There are two ways to acquire more party members. One is to complete short sidequests that introduce these characters with a simple problem that must be solved. The other way is to spend resources to acquire characters randomly received in the traditional gacha style. It is possible to amass dozens of different characters for your eight-character party in these ways. But that also means that, unlike in the original Octopath Traveler, none of your characters have direct story significance. Even the character you begin the game with is basically just “the person who’s strong enough to beat bad guys to solve other people’s problems.”
Again, that might sound like an issue, but it actually kind of works in the game’s favor. By ignoring the heroes completely, Champions of the Continent can instead focus explicitly on developing its villains and the handful of NPCs who are most affected by them. There are three major storylines, each involving a major villain, and you can jump back and forth between them at will. One of these villains is the best dang character in the franchise to date. Another seems at least intriguing, while the last is outright ridiculous.
The highlight villain is most definitely Auguste, a renowned playwright who is also a serial killer that is constantly murdering people in order to get inspiration for how to add authenticity to his plays. He barely even tries to hide his psychopathic tendencies, since every woman he meets falls wildly in love with him. It honestly gets a little preposterous how much women are willing to do for Auguste, but that aside, the writing treats the character with appreciated nuance. He’s not just a two-dimensional nut; you can feel his obsession with creating great art, however extremely monstrous it is. It’s the kind of character that Slan from Berserk would adore.
In my preview of Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent, I only had access to the first two chapters of each of the three stories, but I overall liked what I saw. Then again, story was a low point of the original game in the first place, so perhaps I’m just thrilled that the series finally got an excellent character with Auguste.
Lastly, the visuals definitely look a little muddier in Champions of the Continent on mobile than they did in the original on Nintendo Switch. When I put the graphics to their highest setting on my Samsung Galaxy S21, it didn’t make much difference. The music was terrific though. I found myself humming along here and there, which is the best you could ask for.
Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent Makes a Great Transition on Mobile
Recently, I previewed Echoes of Mana, a mobile game I felt would satisfy its very specific audience and probably no one else. By comparison, Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent is earnestly a game that could win over RPG enthusiasts who don’t usually play mobile games. The exploration is straightforward, the random battles are over before they can become annoying, the bosses pack some kick, the character customization is solid, and the story shows signs of being potentially superior to that of the original. So, yeah, Champions of the Continent feels like a winner, and I’m really happy to be able to say that.
Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent will launch on Android and iOS in summer 2022.