This is the first solo game that I'm running for Octopath Traveler, in what will hopefully become a new series akin to the one that I did earlier for Final Fantasy 5. Octopath Traveler is another game that sets up exceedingly well for solo ventures, with the main character remaining in the party for the entire game (this is actually a small improvement over FF5) and with skippable story segments that allow a repeat player to focus solely on the gameplay. I even discovered that the dead party members, who will inevitably be getting lugged around in a solo game, do not gain experience and cannot use any of their Path Actions or Talents, which is fantastic because level ups fully restore HP and SP in this game. It would be really obnoxious if the non-solo characters kept leveling and getting all their health back. Instead, the design of Octopath Traveler seems to go out of its way to make a solo game possible.
Let me go over some basic ground rules that I intend to use for any solo ventures of mine. First, the solo character does need to pick up the other seven party members even if they won't be getting used for gameplay. While adding the other characters is completely optional in Octopath Traveler, the player can't do their respective storylines if they never join the party, and the four chapters of the eight main characters constitute about 90% of the gameplay in Octopath Traveler. There's basically no game to play if the other characters never get recruited. Leaving them out is therefore not an option: they need to join the party and then stay dead afterwards. The seven other non-solo characters are not usable in any form, however, and only the solo character's Path Actions and Talents can be utilized. This means that most of the side quests will remain forever unfulfilled, and working within the narrow confines of what the one solo character can achieve will be part of the fun. Finally, I will define victory for a solo game as completing all four chapters for all eight characters, therefore finishing up with everyone's main storyline. The secret true ending to the game requires using two full parties of characters and therefore isn't practical for a solo game, and it's also intended to be an optional superboss that's likely beyond the capacities of a solo character anyway. I'll give the optional endgame bosses a shot and see what happens, however I will treat them in the same fashion as Omega and Shinryuu from Final Fantasy 5, extra content that's not essential to finishing the game.
With those ground rules established, let's look at the character for our first solo game: Tressa.
Tressa is an eager young teenage girl going on a journey to make a name for herself in the world. Her storyline is a straightforward rags to riches tale, with Tressa finding value in unexpected places and knowing how to turn a profit from it. The bubbly, hopeful, and optimistic nature of Tressa's story stands in stark contrast to some of the other characters in this game, most notably the blood-soaked tale of vengeance that we get from Primrose. In gameplay terms, Tressa's Path Action is "Purchase", which allows her to spend money to purchase items from NPCs in towns. This is a highly useful ability as it allows Tressa to gain access to equipment that otherwise wouldn't unlock until much later in the game, or in some cases which wouldn't be available at all. The key drawback is that using Purchase does cost money, and that can be tight in the early stages of a solo run. (It contrasts with the mirrored path action "Steal" that Therion brings, which grants the same items for free when stolen but also has a chance to fail and be caught.) Much of the strategy for this solo run will revolve around knowing where and how to spend money to maximize the use of the Purchase action. As for Tressa's unique Talent, "Eye for Money" causes her to sometimes find additional money when she enters a new screen on the map. I haven't been able to find odds on this but it seems to be roughly about 1 in 3 (33%) or 1 in 4 (25%) odds to discover money each time a new screen begins. The amount scales in some fashion that I haven't been able to figure out either; my best guess is that the money gained is tied to the difficulty rating of the area that has just been exited. This is a pretty bad Talent since it has no in-combat applications, although it does synergize well with the general theme of Tressa as a character.
Tressa is a well-rounded character in terms of stats without any major strengths or weaknesses. She has a slight bonus to physical attack and elemental attack, and a slightly better bonus to physical defense. The tradeoff comes in the form of low speed and low evasion, which means that Tressa tends to act later in the combat order and doesn't dodge particularly well. None of her stats have major swings in any particular direction though, nothing like the massive physical strength and tankiness of Olberic (combined with horrible SP growth) or the elemental power and physical frailty of Cyrus. Tressa has access to two physical damage types, spears and bows, and one elemental damage type in the form of wind. This gives her three of the twelve damage types in total, which is pretty average as far as a solo game goes. We'll look at Tressa's skills in more detail as they unlock throughout the game, but she has two exceptionally useful choices in the form of Rest and Hired Help. Rest uses up a round of combat to restore HP/SP and remove most status ailments, something that has absurd utilty for a solo game. It's the whole monster regen from Diablo 2 issue again: if you can outheal the incoming enemy damage, you can never die. Hired Help is literally Octopath Traveler's version of GilToss and equally overpowered, tossing out money to defeat your foes. I picked Tressa for my first solo game because I figured she would be the easiest to do, and I'm hardly the only one to feel this way since the Octopath Traveler speedrun uses her as the featured character as well. When you don't know what you're doing yet, pick the overpowered option.
Since this is the first Octopath Traveler writeup on my website, I'm going to go into more detail on how the mechanics of this game work for readers. This is the basic combat screen which should look familiar to anyone who's played a Square Enix RPG in the past. Character status is listed on the right side of the screen, with meters for health (HP), magic (SP = spirit points), and the new mechanic in thie game, boost points (BP). You always begin each battle with one boost point and gain another one at the start of each turn. Characters can spend up to three boost points to make an attack stronger, with an expenditure of the maximum 3 BP roughly equating to 4x damage. (The actual formula is a bit more complicated but that's a good rough estimate.) Almost every action in the game can be boosted to make it stronger, everything from direct attacks dealing more damage to healing providing more HP restoration to status effects lasting longer and so on. Be aware though that characters do not gain BP on the turn after boosting. As you might expect, the Octopath combat gameplay is based around knowing when to boost and when not to boost to maximize your effectiveness.
The rest of the combat screen has other useful information as well. The top of the screen shows the order of action for the next two rounds, handy for knowing when your characters will get their turn relative to the monsters. This game is entirely turn based, not using the Active Time Battle system from the classic Final Fantasies, and although your character only gets one action per turn, many bosses later on start getting multiple actions in a row. Enemies in Octopath Traveler will always start out with at least one "shield", easily visible next to their sprite artwork. They will also always be vulnerable to at least one of the twelve damage types, and typically most enemies will be weak against 3-4 damage types. These are displayed underneath the enemy with little icons corresponding to each damage type. Opponent vulnerabilities start out unknown with little question marks and get revealed as enemies are damaged with the correct attack type. For example, here Tressa has already hit this Sea Birdian with a spear attack and revealed one of its weaknesses. Dealing damage with the correct damage type will break an enemy shield; breaking all shields will leave them stunned for the remainder of that combat round and the following combat round. Enemies that are completely broken take double damage from all attacks, and therefore players obviously want to break their opponents and then smash them with big flashy boosted attacks. Combat is a lot of fun as a result and there's a surprising amount of depth to the system.
I attacked again with Tressa to break this monster and then boosted one of her starting skills to the maximum. This was Tradewinds in action:
Tradewinds is a wind element skill, which means that it uses the elemental attack stat instead of the physical attack stat. Your character will use whatever weapon has the highest elemental attack rating when making an elemental attack, and therefore I had an incentive to put a weapon with a nice boost to elemental damage in at least one of Tressa's two equipment slots. (For the moment, she just had her standard starting gear.) Wind is a handy damage type to have access to, about equal to fire as the most common elemental weaknesses in terms of how many opponents share them, and although elemental weaknesses are rarer across the board than physical damage weaknesses, any additional damage options were definitely nice to have. The maximum boosted Tradewinds dealt enough damage to one-shot this monster and did notably more damage than physically attacking with spear or bow at the moment. Of course it also cost 7 SP per casting, but fortunately this was offset by the fact that characters get their HP and SP fully restored on leveling, which Tressa was doing with regularity this early in the game.
Tressa's Chapter 1 plot involves her taking on a group of pirates that have arrived to pillage her hometown. This was the one and only point in time where the game expected me to have a solo character and therefore the difficulty level was quite low. Octopath Traveler adjusts the number and type of enemies that can show up in the Chaper 1 stories based on how many characters you have in your party; as I added more (dead) characters to Tressa's entourage, the challenge would ramp up quickly. Note that this only applies to the Chapter 1 portion of the game, and afterwards there's no adjustment of enemy encounters at all for a solo party member. The training wheels would only last for a short time before coming off. Tressa gained a couple of levels in short order and soon had enough job points to unlock her third skill:
Each job starts with two skills unlocked and then has five more skills that can be learned as job points accumulate, plus an eighth and final "Divine Skill" that does something very powerful for mastering the job completely. One of the things that I love about Octopath Traveler is the fact that you get to pick these five skills in any order, and since the job point cost scales up in exponential fashion (in order: 30 JP, 100 JP, 500 JP, 1000 JP, 3000 JP, then 5000 JP for the Divine Skill) it makes a huge difference which skills get taken and in which order. The first two skills on the list are the innates for the Merchant job, the already-mentioned Tradewinds and a skill called Collect. The Collect skill costs 2 SP and has a chance to collect additional money from a single foe; it is not guaranteed and lower health opponents have a higher chance for this skill to succeed. I didn't find Collect to be worth using at all, as the monetary returns were poor and wasting a turn's worth of action on this skill was a poor choice for a solo game. It was faster just to fight and win more battles as opposed to wasting turns trying to Collect money. Maybe at the end of a boss fight where the payout was better but that's about it.
For my third skill and the first one that I had a choice on unlocking, I went ahead and picked Trade Tempest. This is another wind element attack, costing 10 SP and hitting all opponents as opposed to Tradewinds which only hits a single target. I've found that having some kind of multitargeted damage is extremely important and this was Tressa's only option for the moment since her spear and bow attacks were single target only. The downside to Trade Tempest was its slightly weaker nature; the single target Tradewinds did about 50% more damage per casting, and actually a little bit more than that (more like 70% additional damage) when used at maximum boost. I'll get into the full damage formula in a little bit to explain this in more detail. Long story short: I could hit a single target with a stronger wind element attack or everyone on screen with a somewhat weaker wind element attack. I took Trade Tempest first because I wanted to have both options available to me.
The bosses at the end of the starting cave are a pair of comic-relief pirate villains named Mikk and Makk. Since this battle was taking place with Tressa as a genuine solo character, they had lower health and fewer shields than they would otherwise spawn with, less than 1000 HP for each of them. I noted that Mikk had a weakness to spears and Makk had a weakness to bows, but both of them shared a weakness to wind element, and therefore the best way to chip down their defenses was to cast Trade Tempest repeatedly. Unfortunately Tressa only had 54 SP at the moment and that limited how many times she could use this skill before running out; in restrospect, I would have been better served to take Rest as my third skill since it restored both HP and SP when used in battle. The highlight of the fight was using a max boosted Trade Tempest to hit both pirates after breaking them, which took out about a quarter of each of their lifebars. After that it was mostly a process of hacking and slashing with physical weapons, using Healing Grape items (500 HP restored) as neccessary when Tressa's health dropped low. This was pretty straightforward and she won with no difficulties.
Afterwards, Tressa is spared from the wrath of the pirate gang by the arrival of a true pirate captain named Leon Bastralle. Since this is Tressa's lighthearted story, Leon is a reformed pirate who gave up his plundering ways and now makes an honest living as an oceangoing merchant. Yeah, not sure how realistic that might be, but why not, we'll go with it. I mostly tossed in this picture to provide an example of the gorgeous visuals in Octopath Traveler instead of showing only menus and in-combat screenshots. The retro stylings that mix together 2D sprites with highly detailed pixel artwork environments are just fantastic, and it's obvious that a ton of time and effort went into putting the various locales together. I'm not much of a graphics guy and Octopath Traveler isn't exactly pushing the limits of what modern graphics cards can achieve, but for my money this game looks great.
After finishing Tressa's Chapter 1 story, the world map opened up for the first time and I could travel anywhere that I wanted. There are 24 towns in Octopath Traveler, divided into three "rings" of 8 towns each. The Chapter 1 stories for the eight characters are all located in the 8 towns in the first ring, the Chapter 2 and 3 stories are located in the 8 towns in the second ring, and the Chapter 4 stories conclude in the 8 towns in the third outer ring. Nothing stops your characters from heading straight to the towns in the outermost ring... except for the deadly monsters out there, who will kill your party with extreme prejudice if you aren't strong enough to handle them. Running away from battle eats up your character's turn in Octopath Traveler and an escape is far from guaranteed, making it very difficult to access the outer portions of the map. For the moment, leaving the inner ring with the starting towns was out of the question. I decided to have Tressa head in the clockwise direction south into the Highlands, as there was some better equipment potentially available at the next town in Cobbleston. On the way there, she ran into a rare encounter in the form of a Cait:
The Cait was the humanoid cat with a sack slung over its shoulder, an obvious reference to the Cait Sith opponents from past Final Fantasy games. Caits are this game's version of the Metal Slime or Cactuar enemies, the opponent with super high defenses who tries to run away and grants a massive payout in money/experience/etc. when defeated. Even though Caits only have 4 HP there was no way that Tressa would be able to hit the thing at this stage of the game, its evasion was far too high. However, I could use one of the items that Tressa had found along her path, consuming a soulstone to deal heavy damage to all enemies and slay the creature. Soulstones come in three strengths (regular, medium, and large) and all six elemental damage types (fire, ice, lightning, wind, light, and dark). I had discovered from a previous battle that a regular soulstone only did 2 damage and was not enough to kill a Cait in one shot before it could run away. It was therefore time to break out the big guns and use Tressa's only medium soulstone:
The icy stone shattered and exploded in the faces of the enemies, dealing 11 damage to the Cait and vaporizing it instantly along with an unlucky random bird monster caught in the blast. This yielded the predictable massive payout from killing the Cait: 3000 money, 1000 experience, and 150 job points. Tressa went up NINE levels in the process, all the way from Level 5 to Level 14, gaining a huge power spike as a result. Unlike in Final Fantasy 5 where levels only increased your character's health and very slightly increased damage via the under-the-hood formulas, in Octopath Traveler additional levels add more points in every single stat, from HP/SP to attack/defense, speed, crit chance, evasion, etc. Everything increases when you level up, and there's even a hidden multiplier in the damage formula that causes you to deal more damage outside of what your stats provide as your level increases. Getting nine more levels in a flash like this was absolutely worth sacrificing Tressa's only medium soulstone.
Note as well the bonuses that I picked up here on the end-of-combat summary screen. There are three different bonuses that your party can pick up in a fight, each of which awards +10% to one of the commodities gained. "Untouched" comes from taking no damage and grants +10% money, something that Tressa almost never achieved outside of this screenshot. "Break" grants +10% experience and is achieved by breaking at least one of the enemies, something that Tressa failed to do here. Ironically, this is something that I picked up in most battles because it's the easiest of the three to pull off. Finally, "Domination" comes from winning the battle in a single round and grants +10% job points. That was also something that rarely happened to Tressa, again since she was a solo character and it wasn't easy to down everything in one go.
I used those 167 additional job points to unlock the Rest skill for Tressa, which I'll highlight in a moment. Since this was the fourth skill unlocked in her Merchant job, this also unlocked a passive support skill:
Each job grants up to four support skills as characters unlock more of their active skills. The support skills unlock after learning four, five, six, and seven of the active skills, and therefore you do not need to learn the final Divine Skill of each job to enable all of the support skills. The support skills have a variety of different functions, everything from increasing certain stats to providing health or SP regeneration in battle to providing various unique abilities that can't be achieved in any other fashion. Each character can assign up to four different support skills, and this is the one part of the gameplay that can be swapped around regardless of the character's current job. Mixing and matching different support skills across different jobs is one of the more entertaining aspects of the Octopath Traveler gameplay. Of course as a solo character tied to her starting Merchant job, Tressa would never have any choices to make. She would pick up the four Merchant passive skills as they unlocked without being able to take anything from the other jobs. Endless Items was the first such passive skill, providing a 25% chance for items not to be consumed when used. This is actually pretty decent for a solo game, as you can sometimes get additional uses of powerful one-shot items like the soulstone that I'd just used against that Cait. (This passive skill is the core of the Octopath Traveler speedrun, which is based around savescumming the use of soulstones and resetting the game until Endless Items kicks in.) There was no visual indicator on screen when Endless Items resulted in a freebie, but rest assured that it was working in the background and saving me on item costs.
The second village that I visited was Cobbleston, where I recruited a second party member in the form of Olberic. This would increase the difficulty of the enemy encounters in the inner ring of Chapter 1 towns, typically now increasing from a single opponent up to a pair of them. I discovered here that Octopath Traveler does not allow you to attack your own party members, which made it difficult to kill off poor Olberic. He has the highest HP and the highest physical defense of any main character, and as a result it took long minutes of standing around defending while a group of monsters slowly killed him off. This process would become a lot faster in time (since the enemies would keep getting stronger while the non-Tressa party members wouldn't) but it was a real pain here. Just let me kill my own party members, sheesh!
The boss at the end was named Gaston, a bandit chief who had a Viking theme going on in terms of his appearance. He was weak to spears while his two minions were weak against wind element, and I made sure to eliminate the lackeys first so that I could concentrate solely on the boss. This was the first boss fight where I was able to make use of Rest, the incredibly useful skill that restores HP, SP, and cures status ailments. Rest is weaker than the Cleric's Heal Wounds and Heal More skills (which target the whole party), and significantly weaker than the Apothecary's First Aid skill (which is single target and extremely strong in terms of health recovered). However, it cost absolutely nothing to use and simultaneously restored both HP and SP, with the single target nature also being irrelevant for a solo game. The SP restored was always equal to 25 times the number of boost points used (so usually 25 SP at no boost up to 100 SP at maximum boost), and like all healing skills in Octopath Traveler, the health restoration scaled off of the elemental defense stat. Yes, healing skills scale off elemental defense (basically your magic resistance), which sounds weird at first but actually does make sense in practice. Boosting Rest would also increase the amount of HP restored, although the boost multiplier was fairly weak for this skill and there wasn't much gained from using boost points here.
Long story short, Rest was absoutely fantastic without even considering the status ailment curative aspects of the skill. Tressa had no need to worry about ever running out of SP, as she could easily restore 25 SP for a single turn's use of Rest. Most of the attacks from Gaston were doing about 70-80 damage which meant that Tressa could Rest for three turns to accumulate boost points, then spend one round attacking with her spear at max boost to land four attacks in a row. Gaston's most dangerous attack was named Mighty Blow, which inflicted very heavy physical damage (200+) to a single target. For a non-variant game this would have a decent chance of one-shotting a character, but Tressa had enough HP from downing that Cait earlier to survive without any real issues. She ate a couple of Healing Grapes as needed and otherwise coasted on the Rest skill.
Rather than continue clockwise around the inner ring of towns, I had Tressa switch directions and head counterclockwise north into the Flatlands. One of the cool things about Octopath Traveler is the game's fast travel feature: you can always teleport to any town that's already been visited, which minimizes the need for tedious backtracking. It was a straightforward walk from Tressa's hometown of Rippletide up to Atlasdam where I made use of her Purchase ability. This is what the Path Action looks like in practice, Tressa walks up to an NPC and calls up a list of items that can be bought for a price. Therion gets the identical list of items that can be stolen, only instead of a price he has a percentage chance to take the item. Tressa's ability is inherently less random, although Therion's stealing is better for a solo game because the thefts can be save-scummed and rerolled until they succeed despite otherwise having 3% odds or whatever. I had already purchased a Sunlands Spear (physical attack 72) for Tressa back in Rippletide, and I was consulting a list of where all the equipment was located to try and maximize her purchases. This Elusive Shield was the best item that I could get in the shield slot for some time, easily worth the 2500 asking price. (By the way, the currency in this game is officially named "leaves", as in leaves on a tree, but that's so dumb that I'm going to try to avoid using it in my reports.)
Atlasdam was the home of Cyrus, my starting character for my original non-variant playthrough, and Tressa went ahead and recruited him as well to unlock his Chapter 1 storyline. Cyrus embarks on a quest for knowledge in the form of a missing ancient book, with his search leading him into a secret laboratory underneath the research center of the city. The boss here was a spellcaster named Russell who used elemental attacks which were mostly fire-based. Russell spawned a series of Water Wisp minions during the battle, and while Russell himself was only weak to wind element, the minions were vulnerable to spears. The picture above shows Tressa conducting a maximum boost attack with her spear, landing four hits in the process. Unlike elemental attacks, which only hit one time at greater strength when boosted, basic attacks with weapons will hit an additional time for each point of boost used; you are literally making multiple attacks. This generally means that it's easier to break opponents with weapon attacks, with elemental attacks compensating by hitting all opponents on the screen simultaneously. Thanks to their weakness to spears, the Water Wisps went down quickly and then it was largely a matter of grinding down Russell's lifebar. I had Tressa use Tradewinds for the most part against him, taking advantage of that wind element weakness, and although it took a little while there was no real danger here. Another easy victory.
The job points from defeating Russell were enough to unlock Tressa's fifth active skill and I picked Sidestep: dodge a single physical attack at 100% success rate. Investing more boost points into Sidestep increases the number of attacks dodged, up to four attacks dodged at max boost. This is a highly situational skill but it can be useful for a solo game, if there's a boss winding up for a telegraphed big attack on the next turn or something like that. It's also possible to boost Sidestep and then use Rest over the following turns, knowing that incoming physical attacks will get dodged. The downside to this skill is that it only protects against one blow and enemies tend to come in large packs in Octopath Traveler, rarely being encountered alone. The passive skill unlocked alongside Sidestep was Grows on Trees: additional money gained after battles. I believe that this was another 10% increase to income, making it a weak choice for a passive skill. Tressa assigned it because she had no other options and it was better than nothing.
At this point I decided to make a run for Noblecourt, a town out in the second ring located not far from Atlasdam. Noblecourt is probably the easiest of the towns to reach in the second ring, as there's a narrow path along the right side of the screen that leads up from Atlasdam. I was able to make it to Noblecourt with only a single random encounter faced along the way. Of course, that random encounter killed Tressa several different times before she was finally able to run from battle successfully, with that one escape enough to make it to the town. Running from combat seems to be based upon your character's speed stat, and if it's too low your character simply fails and gets pounded into mush by the monsters. I would have loved to reach the third ring towns to Purchase some endgame equipment but it was simply impossible at this stage of Tressa's journey.
Noblecourt was a key location to visit because Tressa was able to Purchase some accessories to fill those slots in her equipment setup, which had been left empty up to this point in time. The accessories that had been on sale in the starting towns were a crummy lot, lots of stuff like +10 speed or +50 HP, and I wasn't going to waste my money until I could pick up something better. The Empowering Bracelet was a massive gain for Tressa, adding 500 additional HP at a time where she had about 900 HP from her natural level. I would wear this accessory for a long time to increase her survivability. The Critical Bracelet was less useful with its increase to crit chance but still worth purchasing to add some kind of benefit in the second accessory slot. Attacks in Octopath Traveler have a chance to critically strike, and although no one seems to have cracked the formula for how this works, a higher crit stat means a greater chance to crit. These criticals only deal 25% additional damage as commpared to normal attacks so they're significantly less powerful and less useful than crits in other games. Still, better than nothing and definitely worth having.
I continued moving in a counterclockwise direction around the first ring of cities and wound up in the Frostlands next, in case it wasn't obvious from the screenshot above. This is the location of the town of Flamesgrace, the home of Ophilia, and Tressa picked up her fourth companion to round out the party. From this point forward she would be up against enemies at "full strength", no longer appearing with reduced numbers and lower shield/health totals. I wanted to highlight this random encounter because it demonstrated one of the more annoying debuffs in Octopath Traveler, the terrified condition. The High Wolf enemies would inflict this with great regularity and the inability to use any boost points (or gain further BP) had the effect of dragging out each encounter. Fortunately this was a status effect that could be cused by using Rest, and a lot these fights would see long rounds of enemies inflicting terrify followed by Tressa curing it with Rest. It was very clear that future solo characters would have a significantly more difficult path without being able to lean on Rest as I was doing here.
Nothing much of interest took place until Tressa made her way to the boss of Ophilia's Chapter 1 dungeon. This opponent was the Guardian of the First Flame, a huge creature that looked somewhat like a rock golem. It was only weak to wind element, lacking a spear or bow vulnerability for Tressa to exploit, and now that Tressa had a full party of dead companions, I had to deal with the true strength of this boss at 8600 HP and a full 6 shields. The first half of the battle was simple enough, with the Guardian of the First Flame using a mixture of physical damage and fire element damage. Tressa used Tradewinds to attack, mixing in Rest to restore SP and occasional Healing Grapes when the health recovery from Rest wasn't sufficient.
Things became much harder after the Guardian of the First Flame dropped below half health. The text used for monster names changes color in Octopath Traveler to indicate this, with their names switching from white to yellow when they fall below 50% HP and then from yellow to red when they fall below 25% HP. The Guardian summoned three Dark Wisps as soon as it dropped into the yellow zone, then went back to continuing its normal attack routine. The Dark Wisps began a countdown from 3 to 2 to 1 to 0, doing nothing each round until hitting zero. That countdown was ominous and I tried to use a Fire Soulstone to hit one of their elemental weaknesses. However, each Dark Wisp had 1000 HP so this was nowhere near sufficient to stop them. When the clock ran out, the Dark Wisps self-destructed:
Each one blew up for just under 500 damage, and needless to say, that was more health than Tressa had to work with. This created a serious problem: Tressa needed to find some kind of solution for those Dark Wisps, and she also needed to keep damaging the Guardian itself, which still had another 4000+ HP remaining in its lifebar. Like I said before, the Guardian kept on attacking after summoning the Dark Wisps and, to make matters worse, I discovered that it would simply summon more Dark Wisps if Tressa defeated the initial set. But how exactly was I going to take out the minions while also damaging the boss at the same time? The Dark Wisps were not weak to wind element and Tressa could only attack one target at a time with her spear or bow. This sounded pretty difficult, the first roadblock boss of the variant. Time to leave town and come back later after getting some more levels and some better gear.
Oh, what's this? Tressa couldn't leave Flamesgrace while Ophilia's Chapter 1 quest was active? Ummm.... uh oh. I had forgotten about that aspect of the gameplay. Tressa was trapped in the town of Flamesgrace and its attached dungeon until she defeated the Guardian, and there was nothing that I could do about it. The first lesson I learned from this: make sure to set up a separate savegame file before starting any story segments to prevent getting trapped again. The second lesson: pay closer attention to what opponents will be appearing down the road. This was my first solo character so these kind of mistakes were bound to happen along the way. Tressa's journey was always intended as a learning experience. Now hopefully I could figure something out to prevent the need to restart from the beginning with a new save file.
Since Tressa was stuck in this town, I made use of the resources available there. The weapon store had a better bow for sale, and this was important because the Wolf Bow added to Tressa's elemental attack. Your elemental skills will use whichever weapon has the highest elemental attack rating when calculating damage, thus allowing me to have one weapon with high physical attack (in this case her spear) and one weapon with high elemental attack (in this case her bow) to get the best of both worlds. The Wolf Bow noticeably increased the damage from Tradewinds and Trade Tempest once it was equipped, boosting them by about 25% and presumably increasing the damage from any elemental soulstones by the same amount. Tressa was able to purchase several different soulstones from different townspeople, including three different medium soulstones of fire, ice, and light elemental natures. With any luck this would be enough to make a difference.
With these new tools in hand, I sent Tressa back down into the dungeon again and renewed the struggle with the Guardian of the First Flame. The first half of the fight was as routine as ever, and I carefully managed the tactical side of the battle so that the Guardian would be broken right before it was time to use a soulstone. Broken enemies take double damage from everything, regardless of whether or not they are weak to that damage type, and therefore this Medium Light Soulstone ripped through everything in its path:
The Dark Wisps were weak to light and fire elements, therefore taking 33% more damage from this soulstone and dying instantly without reaching the end of their countdown. I was pleased to note that they would also be one-shotted by the Ice Soulstone (which they were not weak against) if Tressa needed to break it out as well; "weakness" to a damage type means 33% more damage taken. The Guardian itself took a massive 2200 damage blow from the soulstone, and I did my best to keep blasting away at the boss before it could resummon more Dark Wisps. Tressa had two more rounds before the minions were resummoned, and then just as the countdown was getting low once again and I was prepared to use my next soulstone, Tressa finished off the Guardian with a max boosted Tradewinds. Whew, first roadblock boss finished off and with only one medium soulstone consumed in the process. Hopefully the rest of the Chapter 1 bosses wouldn't be that bad.
Tressa gained enough job points from defeating the Guardian boss to acquire her sixth skill. I chose Hired Help, the most overpowered skill in the Merchant's arsenal: pay money to summon hired help to the battlefield. This is Octopath Traveler's version of GilToss from Final Fantasy 5, with the same absurd damage output resulting from the boosted version of the skill. There are actually five different options that cost different amounts of money, and I'll be covering what each one does in more detail throughout this report. For the moment, I was largely trying to avoid the use of Hired Help because I was saving up to Purchase various forms of equipment with Tressa's Path Action. I needed to be gaining money right now, not tossing it out for mercenary help! There was a corresponding passive support skill unlocked along with the active skill, a very useful ability called Hang Tough: when the user is not near death, all attacks that would reduce the user's HP below zero will instead leave the user with 1 HP. Hang Tough was extremely helpful for a solo game, granting Tressa the ability to cheat death if she was outside of near death (low HP) status before the blow landed. While it was far from a panacea, this would keep her alive many times over throughout the rest of her solo run.
For the moment, I had Tressa continue the counterclockwise path that she was on, passing into the Woodlands and soon reaching the town of S'warkii. I came across another Cait and managed to kill it with some soulstone use, although by now the experience payout was only worth about a level and a half. Tressa had reached Level 20 at this point and most of the random encounters along the inner ring of Chapter 1 towns were no longer presenting any serious danger. I decided to make a run out to the nearby Chapter 2 town of Victors Hollow, as there was a bunch of useful equipment there for Tressa to Purchase with her Path Action. The challenge was getting there, as the monsters on the route leading up to the town were much more powerful than what Tressa was used to facing. After series of failed attempts, she was able to run from one battle, healed up to full with items, and then needed to run from one more encounter to cross through the town gates. Come on, come on!
Whew, made it by that much. Very clutch escape there on the last possible round before it would have meant death. (Of course I could have tried again but you get the idea.) As I said before, running from battles is not easy in Octopath Traveler, and if it was this hard to make it to Victors Hollow in the second ring, I had zero chance of reaching any of the third ring towns for the moment. Fortunately now that Tressa had made it to Victors Hollow she could teleport back any time that she wanted via the game's fast travel mechanic. What I needed at this point was more money, enough cash to buy some of the weapon upgrades available for Purchase in the new town. I ended up running a series of side quests for money, teleporting around to different towns to fulfill various different requests. The big payout came the form of 13,000 money for finishing the "Prodigious Painting" quest, which required another trip out into the second ring to make a purchase from an NPC. Tressa used this time to visit Sunshade and Saintsbridge for the first time, unlocking their respective fast travel options for later on. After this grinding was complete, she had enough money to pick up her desired weapon:
The Victor's Spear was by far the best weapon that Tressa could pick up in terms of physical damage at this stage of the game. Jumping from the Sunlands Spear to this new weapon was a massive leap upwards in combat ability, with physical attacks nearly doubling in strength. Tressa went from dealing a little over 200 damage per swing to about 400 damage per swing at a stroke. This was a great example of using a character's Path Action to their benefit, as the weapon shops wouldn't have anything nearly this strong on sale until reaching the towns out in the third ring. Next up I wanted to make some armor upgrades to Tressa's gear, although that would have to wait until she saved up some more money. I'd exhausted all of the side quests that I could achieve for the moment, which meant that this was a good time to put that spear to use in completing some more of the Chapter 1 stories.
The random encounters in the remaining Chapter 1 dungeons did not pose any kind of threat, and as a result I'll skip ahead to the bosses at the end of them. The boss of H'aanit's Chapter 1 story is this bizarre forest creature named Ghisarma, which fortunately had a bow weakess for Tressa to exploit. Her bow did far less damage than her spear after the recent upgrade, but I could use the bow for breaking enemy shields and then lay on a series of double damage spear attacks once Ghisarma was broken. Tressa could do about 400 damage per spear thrust when the boss was broken, and therefore a fully boosted 4x attack was worth roughly 1600 damage in total. Ghisarma had 8 shields and just under 10,000 HP though, meaning this fight wasn't over quickly. The main gimmick of this boss is that it will use "The Ghisarma is prepared for any attack", which prompts a counterattack if the boss gets hit with any physical damage. Tressa simply cast Tradewinds whenever the counterattack was in play and the elemental nature of the damage bypassed this threat. The other unique move from Ghisarma was named "Death From Above", in which the boss charged for one turn then dealt about 300 damage to a single target. This was a textbook situation for Tressa to use her Sidestep skill, which easily dodged the trademark attack from the boss. Overall, this was a battle where Tressa had a ready answer for everything that the boss could do, and she had no trouble winning out after an extended fight.
Primrose's storyline was up next, with Tressa having already passed through the town of Sunshade earlier. I don't have much to report here; the boss at the end (Helgenish) had a weakness to spears, and that combined with the powerful Victor's Spear that Tressa had acquired made him an easy foe to defeat. Helgenish had significantly less health than Ghisarma and didn't use any attacks that felt particularly strong. I'm looking at his movelist and apparently his big attacks hit the whole party, which would explain why he felt weak here in the solo context. I'll try to remember for future reference that this is one of the easiest Chapter 1 bosses.
I stopped in Victors Hollow briefly to drop 13k money on an improved helmet named the Fur Cap, then headed into the Riverlands to initiate Alfyn's storyline:
Alfyn's Chapter 1 plotline involves tracking down a poisonous snake to find antivenom needed for a curative potion. The boss at the end of the nearby short dungeon is named the Blotted Viper, which spawns along with two Mottled Asp minions. The Blotted Viper used a series of physical attacks along with a form of Poison Breath, which as expected has a chance to poison the party. The poison status ailment is serious business in Octopath Traveler; while it doesn't have any effect outside of battle, poisoned characters lose 1/6th of their maximum HP at the end of each round. That's some major damage and it means that poison needs to be removed quickly barring a more pressing immediate need. This was another case where Rest came in highly useful, as Tressa could remove any poison while also healing herself and restoring SP.
Poison aside, the Blotted Viper didn't seem to do anything too dangerous while Tressa cut down the two asp minions. After they were gone, however, the viper boss added two new moves to its AI routine: Big Bite (charge for one turn and then land three strong physical attacks) and Constrict (physical attack that inflicts unconsciousness). Constrict immediately proved to be a death sentence, paralyzing Tressa and making it impossible to issue commands, after which a combination of ticking poison damage and further attacks meant her doom. This looked like it could be another serious roadblock situation - how could I make it past this point if I didn't have a method to stop the unconscious status ailment? The answer proved to be extremely simple: don't kill the two snake minions. The Blotted Viper only started using Constrict after they were dead, and therefore Tressa killed the main boss first followed by finishing off the minions. That was... surprisingly easy? I'll remember this for future characters.
There was only one more Chapter 1 story left to complete, Therion's tale that begins in Boulderfall. By now Tressa's stats had advanced to the point where she couldn't really be touched by the enemies in the first ring of towns, as demonstrated by the feeble 18 damage from the random hired goons in the Ravus Manor. I had been able to pick up the Mighty Belt (+50 physical attack) as a quest reward after finishing up with Alfyn's story in Clearbrook, and that had Tressa's spear attacks doing more damage than ever. She had also accumulated the 3000 job points necessary to unlock the last remaining active skill, "Donate BP", which transfers boost points to an ally. Yeah, not too useful in this context! This also unlocked the last passive support skill for the Merchant job, the very nice SP Saver that halves all SP consumption from skills. Tressa never really needed to worry about running out of SP because she had Rest in her back pocket, and this made it even more impossible to run out of casting power. With Trade Tempest costing all of 3 SP she was never going to run out of magic.
The boss of Therion's Chapter 1 dungeon is Heathcote, the butler of Ravus Manor. He appears accompanied by a Ravus Guard, and I discovered that he'll keep resummoning the guard again and again if it gets killed. It's therefore not worth the time to fight the guard and characters are better off concentrating on the boss. The gimmick here is that the guard will keep casting Steel Defenses on Heathcote and buffing his physical defenses by 50%, and there wasn't much that Tressa could do to stop that. Heathcote was weak against bows so I used arrows to take out his shields and then spear attacks once the boss was broken and taking double damage. The picture above didn't take very well (too many flashy graphical effects in this game makes for some tough screenshot journalism) but it was intended to show Tressa using her Sidestep ability to dodge a Stunning Strike from Heathcote. This was another boss fight that felt pretty easy, and I don't think that it was solely due to Tressa having more levels and better gear by now. The toughest Chapter 1 boss looks to be the Guardian of the First Flame by a good margin, although I suppose we'll see how it goes for each character.
The conclusion of the Chapter 1 stories makes for a good place to close this first page of the report. Next up, Tressa would begin venturing into some of the optional side dungeons, then continued her quest into the Chapter 2 and 3 stories located in the second ring of towns.