Turn based combat.
Warning: there are minor spoilers in this review.
I would wager that just by reading those words in sequence, there’s a great majority of gamers out there that rolled their eyes in disgust.
It’s understandable for those that are a part of the generation of gamers who grew up on titles like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in the days of the NES and beyond, you’ve played countless games using their formula and have grown tired of it.
So now when we hear that a game would feature those elements, we approach with caution and that’s exactly what I did when I first heard of Bravely Default. A spiritual successor of “Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light”, a game which I never played so all I knew was that it was a traditional RPG with random battles, a job system and required a bit of grinding.
Still, I was hungry for something a bit familiar so I went in with bated anticipation and what I got was an absolute surprise in all the right ways.
The curtain opens to a catastrophe when the quiet little village of Norende is engulfed when a great chasm is opened to annihilate the entirety of the town save for one lone survivor, Tiz. Wallowing in his grief and searching for answers, Tiz runs into Agnès and her trusty companion, “Airy”. After helping her escape from the clutches of a warring nation, he is told that she plans to awaken the four crystals in the world in order to rid the world of darkness and ultimately close up the great chasm that has engulfed Norende.
Tiz convinces Agnès to let him join in her mission after a good deal of effort and they run into an amnesiac womanizer whose name does and is Ringabell(hah!). As he was in possession of a notebook that chronicled events past and future involving Tiz and Agnès, he decides that it was in his best interest to tag along with them. Afterwards, they meet the hot-headed Edea who defects to help Agnès in her mission after realizing the corruption and evil that was running rampant in her ranks.
Just from that quick summary, it would appear to be a collection of uninspired Final Fantasy clichés but the further along the story progresses, the more it becomes apparent that nothing is truly as it seems.
From the very mission at hand to the motivations of those that stand in the hero’s way become muddled, the plot takes a sharp turn and dive into uncertainty after being on the straight and narrow for so long.
While it won’t win any awards for its story alone it was still a nice change of pace as it’s always refreshing to see a new take on a familiar tale.
I guess I’ll lay down a spoiler for those clever enough to figure it out and those who have already played the title to completion will know immediately what I’m talking about and say that the letter ‘F’ is highly overrated.
As much as I was delightfully surprised by the story, it’s in the game play and the various mechanics that surround it that truly sold me on the title.
Before I go into the details of the finer mechanics present within the game, I have to say that this is one title that truly caters towards those weary of the traditional JRPG without sacrificing any claim to being firmly a part of the genre.
I mentioned the inclusion of random battles and this title certainly has them, when you want them, that is. There is an option to tweak the amount of random encounters a player will run into nearly from the get-go from 50% less to a 100% more and of course, to none at all.
If the player simply wishes to explore an area for treasures without running into combat, they can do it at any time without any penalty. If they found a really good place to level up and get some much needed gold, they can turn that encounter rate to 100% and be in a battle every two-three steps without having to circle in place like an idiot for what feels like an eternity.
Then, there is the option to speed up and slow down the action in combat on the fly with the press of the d-pad making the encounter play out many times quicker during those moments where all the proper moves are queued up and the player wants to get all that good experience and loot without wasting too much time.
It’s the typical trappings of the JRPG refined and dare I say, evolved to fit the player’s needs perfectly and I couldn’t be happier for its existence with my nearly obsessive tendency of maxing everything out.
The job system in Bravely Default holds a total of twenty four jobs and all of them except for one must be unlocked by defeating a boss who holds that class’s asterisk.
Each encounter of that type whether they be mandatory or done via a side missions has the player learning about the character in question before they ultimately have their showdown against them.
While some of them are non-affairs of “here you are so let’s fight”, others become torrid affairs of a sequence of brutal boss encounters to a murder mystery where people are getting killed in a locked room and it’s unclear who the murderer is.
On the whole, these Job missions are very enjoyable to play through and the reward of an entirely new class to fiddle around with was too enticing for me to pass up and had me chasing every sub-event the game had to offer whenever they popped up.
Jobs level up as the player gains more JP which is separate from the EXP required to level up normally and leveling up a job meant higher stats while in that form and new skills both active and passive- many of which could be swapped around in combination with a myriad of other skills from different jobs.
As more and more jobs become available, the possibilities of building a hybrid class with the strength of multiple classes while sharing none of the weaknesses became a real possibility.
I have no qualms admitting that I spent a great deal of time in the menu swapping skills in and out with different weapon/armor/accessory combination trying to make the ultimate party combination. In the end, I was able to make a party capable of inflicting 999,999 damage in a single attack and this process of creation was just as enjoyable and rewarding as the best parts of the game.
As for the combat, the big stand out would be the Brave/Default system where the player is allowed to take advances in turn or forgo their turn to be able to take multiple actions in a later turn.
For example, at the beginning of combat, all the characters would start with 0 BP but they can immediately take four actions by going into -4 BP but since only 1 BP is given to every character per turn, they would not be able to take actions for several turns afterwards.
This works in reverse as a character with 3BP can take four actions in one turn by invoking all of their brave points and still be left with 0 BP on the next turn allowing them to go into BP debt of four and take four more actions. Being able to take eight actions in two turns in a traditional RPG would completely break the system but in Bravely Default, it is allowed and encouraged in many cases.
It’s a huge risk vs. reward system as the player can potentially take sixteen actions in their very first turn but end up with their entire party unable to take any actions from multiple turns and if some enemies were to have survived the onslaught? Well, I pray they saved recently!
Then there is Bravely Second which allows them to freeze time at nearly any given moment and immediately take action on one of their characters but is limited in that it charges up slowly as the game itself is in sleep mode in real time over the course many hours but this can be bypassed by purchasing “BP Drinks” with real money which left a bad taste in my mouth as I felt this was cheesy way to add a completely unnecessary bit of microtransaction in yet another one of my single player experiences.
Worst yet is that Bravely Second’s most important functionality of letting the player break the 9999 damage ceiling and given bosses can have more than 500,000 HP, it is advised that Bravely Second be used especially in conjunction with powerful Special attacks that are unique to weapons and function like limit breaks that can be activated when certain conditions are met.
Lastly, there is Norende and the usage of Wi-Fi/streetpass. After the destruction of Norende in the story, Tiz and company begin their efforts to rebuild Norende and to accomplish this; they need to attract villagers to help them in their efforts.
The town is accessible at any time and certain jobs can be queued to a number of villagers which cuts down on real time required to complete the task. While it starts out taking a few minutes, as the levels of the shops and obstacles increases, the jobs begin taking upwards of 99 hours of real time which is longer than it takes to complete the actual game.
By uploading data while connected to Wi-Fi or using streetpass, the villager count would grow by one for each person encountered. Given the upload data to meet strangers is an option given only once a day, using streetpass to get as many villagers early could give players an edge in rebuilding Norende which goes on to unlock exclusive items that can be purchased at a local adventurer.
The interplay with Wi-Fi/streetpass doesn’t end there as ability link allows a friend to share the progress of the jobs they completed with one of their characters and even store up an attack/healing ability which can be summoned during combat as the player’s friend would show up with their character and unleash their best attack. In fact, I ended up using a friend’s attack to land the finishing blow on the last boss during a crucial moment where I could have lost and to pay that favor back, I’ve stored and sent off a 999,999 damage attack my friends can summon once as well.
Suffice to say, it’s the most creative and functional use of the Wi-Fi/streetpass ability of the 3DS and I would like to see more follow in its stead.
Spanning well over fifty hours for the main story, two endings and a myriad of super bosses to conquer, there is a great deal of content here for the asking price.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how repetitive the last few chapters on the road to the true ending becomes but even that was forgiven when I finally got to the end sequence and completed the finale with a big grin on my face. Games tend to have a difficult time going out strong these days but Bravely Default ends on such a high note that I’ll be sure to remember those sequences for some time to come.
Bravely Default stands currently as my first big game of the year contender and while there are a few minor missteps along the way, it’s still a giant leap forward for what a traditional JRPG should be in the modern age.
Fun Tidbit – The true ending includes a teaser trailer for the sequel of Bravely Default that must be viewed in a rather unique way and is an absolute delight to watch.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.