The Square Enix is a strange beast these days. In years past, their games were synonymous with role-playing. These titles evoked wide ranges of emotions from its players with characters and stories that drew in their audience and left them hanging on every dialog box. It is hard to dispute that the past 15 or so years have been a more turbulent ride for the Japanese game-making giant.
With the recent release of Octopath Traveler for the Nintendo Switch though, once more they have tapped into their legacy to release another riveting role-playing title into the world. The bread-and-butter that grew them into that large giant of the gaming industry and caused people the world over to line up and anxiously await the latest tale they wove. The sort of game that longtime fans of the developer have been vocally pleading and hoping for.. Why then, are they so surprised to find that so many are buying their product?
For those that may not have heard, Square Enix of Japan tweeted out on official Octopath PR twitter account apologizing for shortages of physical copies in Japan during the games launch week. In the tweet, they went so far as to suggest that players interested in the latest RPG should download the digital version instead as they worked to replenish stock. The demand remains high still, with Square tweeting out once more on Sunday, July 22nd, that supply is still scarce, with some store chains selling out three hours after their stock was replenished! Stores here in the United States seem to be having issues with low stock as well, Amazon included.
Had this game released back in 2013, I would be a bit more understanding about the surprise Square is saying they are experiencing with the shortages. There has been a number of signs in the recent years that should have been flagged for Square that demand for Octopath Traveler was going to be high. The timing and stage were ripe for a new RPG such as Octopath, signs that pointed towards great sales. Unfortunately, these signs were glossed and unfortunately, that resulted in this supply shortage.
Back in 2014, Square had a similarly eye-opening experience with the positive reception of Bravely Default, another RPG whose success took the Japanese studio by surprise. While not a 1:1 exactly same situation this time around, it is similar enough to surprise me that Square would be surprised when Octopath is in short supply. Without Bravely Default doing well in the west, I don’t expect we would have even gotten Octopath Traveler period.
Let’s put aside history for a moment and look at a more recent stat for gauging interest in the game. On September 13th, 2017, a playable demo was released on the Nintendo eShop for the then-titled Project Octopath Traveler. In the subsequent four and a half months, Square reported in January of 2018 that the demo had been downloaded an impressive 1 million times with almost 50 thousand players filling out their survey on their experience. It was then reported in April of 2018 that an additional 300 thousand players had downloaded the demo. This was just for the demo. Clearly, there was an interest and excitement for this game.
Next, let’s take a quick gander at the state of more traditional turn-based titles among people. The surge in popularity of Japanese-style of role-playing games has been steadily growing the past few years. Games such as last year’s wildly praised, Persona 5, showed that as long as a game is made well, and actually marketed, that even turn-based titles can find mass-market success. Even older titles from Square’s catalog continue to have a passionate and vocal community behind them, as shown by the outcry to improve and tweak the Chrono Trigger Steam port. An outcry so loud that it actually pushed Square to make the game better, improving the quality of the interface, graphics, and gameplay.
The world didn’t necessarily grow out of wanting turn-based RPGs. The focus, particularly with Square’s RPGs, seemed to shift to more of a graphics over substance mentality, with large investment going into tech and engine development. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that games like Bravely Default/Second, Persona 5, and now Octopath Traveler, are being eaten up like crazy to fill that pit that was once filled with quality games with grand adventures and rich world, interesting characters, and well-developed mechanics.
I am thrilled to see the warm reception that Octopath Traveler has received so far, and Square taking notice. Selling more than 100k copies in the first two days of release in Japan and more than 1 million copies sold between physical and digital in less than a month across the globe, Octopath has been enjoying great success. We will never know how little or how great the supply shortage hurt the title, but considering Square had to publicly apologize for the lack of supply, means that the impact surely wasn’t negligible.
Square needs to realize that playing to the strengths of their lineage and the games that made them famous will continue to work in their favor. Men and women the world over fell in love with the turn-based story rich narratives, and while the market trends may ebb and flow like the tides off the coast of Fisherman’s Horizon, people will still eat up those style of RPGs in 2018. So please Square, don’t underestimate your fans, maybe instead of trying to reinvent each Final Fantasy or making them graphically groundbreaking, maybe you should focus on a more old-school style and methodology to your game design. With another massive upcoming turn-based title from Square, Dragon Quest XI, just weeks away. I hope we don’t have a repeat of the issues that blemished the launch of Octopath. At this point, there really is no excuse.
Oh, and I’m 99% sure if you remade Final Fantasy VI in the Octopath Traveler graphical style, it would sell like hotcakes. Just saying.