In my experience, there is little that is more motivating than the camaraderie of a group. Games provide many examples of different team dynamics, with many RPGs telling a story in which the protagonist gathers party members to achieve a common goal. While different characters may have varied motivations to join the party, the said goal is usually (ultimately) what keeps the group together. Unfortunately, this can lead to the assumption that the common wish is the main reason the team supports each other, as opposed to having a bond.
I have been playing Octopath Traveler and noticed it subverts this trope through a format that at first I thought was only set up by necessity. The game has eight protagonists with their own story that the player can play through in any order, switching through their party of four depending on which character best suits the situation. Each character has their own individual goals with different levels of seriousness, from Tressa’s desire to explore the world to Primrose’s wish to avenge her father’s murder. Despite their varied wishes and destinations, whenever you encounter another potential party member and hear their story, there’s no other obstacle to joining them – in fact, the characters hardly acknowledge it.
To be completely honest, I was initially wary of this decision. I was very used to seeing characters become united by a common goal and was concerned that the absence of a specific reason for the characters to join each other would make the story feel flat and less worth putting time into. While at first, this came across to me like the designers not being able to fit in cohesive dialogue for every possible combination of collecting party members, it slowly began to take another form as I continued the journey.
Characters go through major story beats that have to do with their individual journey alone (only they are present in cutscenes), but once you have more than one character in your party there’s a chance that they will interact with each other through “party banter,” in which they’ll learn something new about the other, give advice, or simply talk about what had just occurred. These are almost always a fun read, and I found myself switching out party members during each chapter to try and “collect them all.” However, this collection slowly became a legitimate investment as I began to take note of team dynamics and look forward to specific combinations – Tressa’s sincerity contrasted with Therion’s jaded attitude is a particular favorite of mine. The focus is fully on the relationship between the two characters and the topic at hand. At this point, I began to realize that there was an explanation for why the characters were interacting within the story. It was simple: they helped because they wanted to despite their individual goals.
This concept is also incorporated into how some of the game’s side quests have characters that appear in different locations on the map as you help them, giving an idea that they are on their own journeys as well. A weave of interconnected journeys in which people who lead them lend a helping hand is made clear to the player as they find new towns and revisit old ones.
While this isn’t a revolutionary concept, it was very refreshing to see it pan out. In real life, most people have very different goals in mind for their futures, even if they work together. The idealized bond between party members is a wonderful ideal that could be applied to many situations, but seeing this ideal applied to more everyday societal structures has shown me that helping someone else doesn’t need to be extraordinary.
Eleanor Mather is a 17-year-old rising senior currently attending Horace Mann High School in the Bronx. She has enjoyed playing games since playing Pokémon Platinum with her brother and friends and has grown to love discussing and developing them in the past years. She is very excited to contribute her thoughts to the conversation on games as a medium and hopes to encourage others to join in.