Octopath Traveler captures the essence and beauty of classic Squaresoft RPGs, but beauty is also the defining feature of one of the eight characters you can play as. I went for the dancer, Primrose, hoping to get something different than the typical “beat up bad guys” story. And boy did I get a buffet of that.
Primrose, the most famed dancer in all the land, constantly gets ogled by unscrupulous men—especially her Master.The moment I tried to be free of him, he called me a whore.
One of Primrose’s primary verbs is to dance—but with the goal of enticing strangers to spend money to see more. She can even recruit random strangers to follow her to the ends of the earth by pressing Y, the “seduction” button. No exaggeration. Make that wealthy businessman forget about his wife and job. Why? So her Master gets that man’s money.
Primrose is forced into this decision. And kept on a very short leash by her Master—who mandates that Prim sleeps with him. And if she ever displeases him (even the slightest bit), she’s tossed out to the streets, forced to attract more strangers to give her money. This completely grossed me out. I didn’t like any of this. So the moment the game let me, I tried to be free of this detestable man.
The moment I tried to be free of him, he called me a whore.
I didn’t see it coming. I’ve never been called a whore before—in real life or in video games. And I’ve never been put in a position where somebody felt like they could treat me as their object of beauty. But despite how uncomfortable all of this made me, I think this video game gave me something unsavory to experience from the perspective of someone I can’t be in real life—in this case, a woman trapped.
I can’t say I have anything else to relate to being called a whore, and being mistreated as an object, but it definitely helped me side with Primrose’s motivations to be free from the ambiguous Master-Slave relationship she has with this man. And as much as I want to praise the game for giving me this opportunity, there are significant limitations to this experience that do a disservice to the tensions of being in a relatable scenario.
When you choose to defy your Master, this initiates a JRPG turn-based boss battle (akin to Final Fantasy VI). Suddenly you and your Master (with his armed guards) take turns attacking each other—with your freedom at stake. It doesn’t look like a fair fight: The master is very strong, and he has two armored colleagues. Primrose should be outmatched as an unarmed dancer. But the game gives you special dark magic attacks. Suddenly, you have everything you need to break your own chains and beat up your abuser.
I’m reminded that this is a power fantasy: nobody’s going to suddenly end up with dark magic powers to liberate themselves in reality. While it’s satisfying to put the hurt on this abuser, I can’t help but wonder if this is unhelpful for those going through a relatable experience themselves. I can’t truly comprehend what victims in abusive relationships go through: and I don’t know whether it’s beneficial to walk through remotely similar experiences in video games like Octopath Traveler. But I imagine that there’s something empowering about being given video game verbs to break the chains of theoretical oppression. Sure, Octopath Traveler’s super-magic attacks aren’t going to translate into reality, but maybe there’s something to standing up to aggressors with tools that could empower imaginations with bravery?
Primrose’s introduction is but one of eight paths (“Octopaths”) woven together. I only played this introduction so far, but if this is an accurate frame of what to expect from Octopath Traveler, we may have quite a tale about empowering those who would otherwise just be victims.