Bravely Default Review: Harks back to the glory days of JRPGs
Bravely Default is amazing! Whew, glad I was able to get that off my chest. Not only is it hands down one of the best classic, turn-based RPG experiences to date, it also manages to shake up tried and true RPG conventions, and reinvigorates the genre in a way I never thought possible.
I can understand looking at Bravely Default with some skepticism, since Square Enix's track record for RPGs hasn't been that great lately. However, Silicone Studios put a lot of love into Bravely Default, which shows from the game's opening sequence right down to its final battles.
It's about Crystals!
You don't get much more classic Square than having the story revolve around four elemental crystals, their and the world's downfall, and your quest to restore them to their former glory. Of course, Bravely Default's story is slightly more involved, featuring maidens on the run, enemies turned allies, airships, summons, mysterious books that write of the future and so much more.
The story is actually quite charming, and thanks to its brilliant concept and some truly witty writing, you won't find yourself skipping any dialogue. You'll go from scenarios like seeking a special garb that's necessary to wear during a cleansing of a crystal to taking part in a fashion/beauty contest in order to get attention of a maiden in hiding. In one instance you'll be tasked with saving twins from a deadly but beautiful forest, and in the next, the girls in your party will get hit on by a perverted old sage who just so happens to sew the sexiest of clothes. Or maybe you'll find yourself restoring the wind to a city in the desert that thrives on the power from giant windmills to operate. Whatever the quest, each one is just as brilliant as the next.
The story in an RPG, though important, is just a part of the full equation to a successful game; the characters have to be likeable and relatable. Thankfully, Bravely Default's main cast is both. You have Tiz, the village boy who loses his home to a terrible cataclysm, joined by the beautiful Vestal Agnes, the Crystal Maiden, as well as the traitor Edea, who defects from her Kingdom in order to join your cause, and lastly the enigmatic, charming, and womanizing Ringabel.
Each character has a way of complementing the other. Tiz is the mild mannered farm boy who grows to care for Agnes over the course of the game. On the flipside you have Edea, the tomboy princess who doesn't hold her tongue and speaks her mind, and Ringabel always on her heels, trying to seduce her in one way or another.
These dynamic personalities help push the story forward with some often hilarious conversations. Much like the Tales series, players can opt to press the Y button when prompted on screen to toggle a conversation between the characters, usually dealing with the current situation that they're in. Edea might go into detail about what kind of disgusting sounding foods she can prepare, or Ringabel might just go off on a tangent about the many beauties of the female gender. Even though these instances aren't voiced, they're still a riot to read, and provide a deeper layer of characterization.
Brave or Default! The choice is yours
As I've mostly laid out in my tips for beginners article, many of the mechanics presented in Bravely Default are built around cheating, or at least, cheating the system. As its name implies, during the course of battles, you'll be given the choice to either Brave or Default. The former allows you to act up to four times per turn, while the latter skips your turn, but boosts your defense. By Braving however, you forfeit your ability to act on subsequent turns. Brave four times, and you'll have to wait four turns to act again. On the flipside, Defaulting will build up your Brave points, letting you Brave without losing any turns. Those mechanics rely on a risk and reward system. Do you Brave all your characters to the max and risk not being able to act for four turns, or take your enemies down in that single turn?
However, the mechanics go much deeper. You can also set the encounter rate, allowing you to either fight random battles more frequently, or turn them off completely. It could be completely situational too. Are you stuck in a dungeon with low health? Turn the encounter rate off. Wandering the World Map and wanting to grind a few levels? Jack that encounter rate to the max.
Bravely Default also has a mode called Bravely Second, which uses Sleep Points. These accumulate when you have your 3DS closed. Bravely Second allows you to interrupt an enemy's attack completely and queue up your attacks to deal even more damage.
It would seem like all of these mechanics are made to cheapen the game, but in reality, it's all about customizing to anyone's playstyle. Don't want to ever Bravely Second? Just don't use it. The game doesn't force it upon you, but it's there for those that want it.
So many Jobs
It may not be a Final Fantasy title, but it has a menagerie of Jobs to change into. From staples like Ranger, Thief, Black/White/Red Mage to more elaborate ones like Summoner and Spell Fencer, the Job variety is fantastic. Though you start the game as a Freelancer, the main quest will allow you to unlock a few secondary Jobs, while a plethora of sidequests will unlock the rest.
Each individual Job has its own leveling aside from your main character's level. With each new level, you gain access to better skills and abilities, powerful passives, as well as weapon and armor proficiencies. These new skills and upgrades don't even have to go to waste when switching classes. If, for example, you learned the two-handed skill from a Knight, you can then switch to Valkyrie, equip that skill and hold the spear with both hands to increase damage. You can also always have a secondary job's skillset equipped at any given time, which means a White Mage can also cast magic that only a Black Mage could.
Stay social and rebuild that town
Although Bravely Default is focused on being a purely single player RPG, it does throw in some very helpful multiplayer elements thanks to Streetpass. Of course, the only way you'll get their benefits is if the person you're passing owns the game or the demo themselves.
One way you get help is through combat. Each Streetpass will net you a warrior that can be customized by its owner as well as its power level. These Friend Summons can be extremely helpful when you're in need of a powerful attack or healing item.
More importantly, each new Streetpass will become a permanent resident in Norende, the village you're trying to rebuild. Each building will require a certain amount of real world time to build. The more people you assign on a building, the quicker it's done. Here you'll build facilities like a weapon shop, armor shop and item shop, as well as material shops that let you enhance special attacks. Each of these also have multiple levels, and of course the better they are, the better items they'll offer. Some very powerful weapons and armor can only be obtained if you reach the max level. Conveniently, all of these items can be bought directly from the Wandering Save Man, who can be found almost everywhere, including right before each boss fight.
Top notch presentation
It would be a major disservice to the game if I didn't mention how gorgeous it looks and how beautiful it sounds. While the world map is nothing special, stepping into each new town or dungeon is like stepping into a layered painting. It's one of the very few occasions where I demand that anyone who plays this game keeps their 3D slider on. The same can be said for the game's soundtrack. The Overworld theme specifically is so beautiful and catchy at the same time, that I find myself humming it long after I placed my 3DS in my pocket. The most notable feature here is that the game supports both English and Japanese audio, and while I generally tend to play games in their native language, the English voice acting here was superb.
RPG fan's dream
If you're still with me, then by now you know just how much I loved this game. The fact that there is a sequel already announced fills me with excitement. Bravely Default harks back to the golden years of RPGs, all the while introducing bold new mechanics that flip the RPG genre on its head. It goes without saying that if you currently own a 3DS, and you even have the slightest interest in RPGs, picking up this game is a no brainer.