Bravely Default Takes FF Style Down A Newer Path
Bravely Default is a game with a weird name, but an extremely familiar taste. Like an old, familiar shirt that you used to love back in the day, but put away because you wore it so much that the seams began coming loose and you didn’t want to tear it into tatters. Bravely Default is a new name for a game series that literally everyone knew about, and almost as many loved…Final Fantasy. Intended to be a sequel to the Nintendo DS game, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default evokes a very familiar imagery with its usage of Firaga, Holy and the core plot elements of the world’s balance revolving around four magical crystals. With all of the negativity surrounding the Final Fantasy franchise at this point in time, is Bravely Default worth a look? Let’s take a look.
The story of Bravely Default opens with a high quality cutscene that portrays each of the main playable characters. Agnes Oblige, who is the vestal, or caretaker, or the Wind Crystal, starts off the game’s introduction by requesting the help of you, the player, because something terrible is happening to the world. Moving forward, the Crystal with which Agnes is sworn to serve is enveloped by black, a harbinger of what is to come. An amnesiac young man named Ringabel is the second character introduced, with Edea, a hot-headed knight of the country trying to capture Agnes, following. The last character introduced is a young man named Tiz, whom just moments after introduction is subjected to the catastrophic event of his village crumbling and falling into a newly conflagrated abyss, this scene hearkening back to the darkening of the crystals and what could potentially happen to their world of Luxendarc.
Shortly after the introductory sequence, players will control Tiz, shortly meeting Agnes- who is, of course, being chased by the military force of a country called Eternia, who claims that Agnes, herself, is the evil force in the world and must be eliminated. The story further spins on from there, with the four main heroes meeting one another and having little chats about how awesome Edea is.
Bravely Default is a turn based Japanese RPG. It’s important to get this kind of thing out of the way toward the beginning of the review because, while there are those who greatly enjoy this style of game, there are also a lot of people similarly turned off by such a thing, preferring a more action-packed or organic experience.
Those who aren’t dissuaded by the game being a turn based RPG should definitely read on, though, because this game has easily one of the most different combat systems when approaching a traditional turn based RPG in years. The game’s name, Bravely Default, was actually derived from the nomenclature used in the game’s combat system: Default allows a character to guard and reduce received damage, passing their turn without doing an action to stock up an additional BP for their next turn. Brave, on the other hand, lets you use BP to perform attacks, heal spells and various other actions.
What is most interesting here is the fact that you can take an advance on future BP up to three times- Since characters begin battle with 0 BP, players can immediately borrow up to 3 future turns at once, going to -3, to do four consecutive attacks per character for a quick win, all at the risk of defaulting on their loan (get it?) and risking defeat if the enemy survives. The kind of depth this combat system allows is pretty impressive, even though it sounds fairly basic on the surface, because opponents in Bravely Default hit hard, and just a couple of attacks may be all it needs to KO a healer at many stages of the game.
This means that while players can spam attacks during some random battles, insofar that skipping future turns won’t matter if the fight is won on the first, when you come across random encounter foes and bosses that are also able to Brave and Default you may wind up being party wiped if you don’t use what is available to you more strategically.
Another important segment of the game lies in its job system. Your party of four characters can each use one of 24 different jobs to overcome foes, and those jobs extend from some Final Fantasy favorites, such as Black Mage, White Mage and Thief, but also some more unusual jobs like Merchant, Pirate and even a Vampire class. Some jobs will rely on their abilities to do damage, some focus on healing, some boost stats and others that are just interesting, such as pretty much any skill in the Merchant job. Characters are able to level up each of these jobs to learn new abilities, up to 14 in each, and players are able to select support skills from a job they have unlocked, a common use being a Black Mage equipping White Magic to round out a moveset.
For the most part, players are able to focus on pure brute strength, dealing large amounts of damage to foes using the Pirate and Summoner classes or you can have some characters focus on supporting others by using the Performer class to buff or manipulate BP totals. There’s a lot of options available for a lot of different play styles as players progress through the earlier areas and the game doesn’t punish players for experimenting and trying to find combinations they like while going through the story.
Of course, the difficulty in Bravely Default is…interesting. Players have a lot more control over how difficult the game is for themselves: A gamer who wants to grind out items or job points, while still keeping the difficulty intact, can actually go into the options and turn experience gain off. The same applies for money, job points and players are even able to increase, lower or turn off the encounter rate entirely. This feature is practically revolutionary and seen in far too few JRPGs, as backtracking for an item when you’re already 10 levels above the enemies in an area no longer has to be a severe annoyance if the game doesn’t have an item like Holy Bottles or Molulu’s Charm!
Allowing players to have control over random encounters can certainly make a turn-based RPG less tedious during the last legs of the game, and also has additional, practical applications. Feel you’re as strong as you need to be to finish an area and just want to explore? Turn the encounters off. Misjudge how strong you are and are now stuck on the boss? Double the encounter rate to reduce the amount of time you have to run around. Think the game is a bit too easy, even on the hard difficulty? Put the encounter rate at -50 percent so the difficulty will be at a comfortable level for you.
There are actually a great number of conveniences or player control strewn all throughout Bravely Default: There’s the above options for grinding and encounter rate, but there’s also the ability for players to fast forward or slow down animations during combat, activate an auto battle sequence so characters will repeat the same command you input last, you can opt to skip story scenes, have the dialogue boxes advance automatically and the airship even has an autopilot function on top of letting you summon it to you from anywhere. There are even optional skits, very similar to those in the Tales of series, that players can choose to partake in if you happen to enjoy the party’s banter. The skits, of course, are really more for character development or humor than any inclusion into the plot.
Immediately after starting up Bravely Default, players will notice a couple of things: The aesthetic presentation of the game has had a lot of resources devoted to them. Backgrounds are incredibly detailed and look akin to paintings up close, while the 3D effect of the 3DS is utilized extremely well by making various effects, such as fog, leaves, etc., "pop" toward the user and increases the overall level of depth the player sees in the environment. These are probably some of the best-realized 3D graphics you’ll find in an RPG on this handheld device, and while the graphical presentation is most likely not the best on the system overall (that would likely go to something like Resident Evil: Revelations), the artistic presentation of Bravely Default will easily remind the player of games like Ni No Kuni or the Tales of series with its varied environments and compelling backdrops.
Another thing players will notice off the bat is that there’s a good amount of voice acting, and while the voice acting isn’t so bad in English there is also the option to listen to the voiced dialogue in Japanese if you’d prefer. The actual recording quality of the voice acting is quite good, too, which is kind of surprising given how much voiced dialogue there is for a handheld game. The sound effects for the game are quite fitting, and the music is absolutely astonishing. The soundtrack in Bravely Default sticks to a relatively classical composition, using instrumental solos from wind and string instruments rather than the symphonic tones of the Tales of series, and the game just has a very refreshing tone as a result.
There’s a serious amount of enjoyment to be had in Bravely Default, as the game does a lot to improve the accessibility of turn-based RPGs. Unfortunately, there is one snag and it comes at around the last quarter of the game (Chapters 5 and 6, respectively), since players are required to play through the crystal temple dungeons four additional times in order to get the true ending. I’ll leave the reasons why to your imagination so nothing will be spoiled, but the locations pretty much remain the same in that you can walk right in and run straight to the boss.
During Chapters 7 and 8, a lot of new side quests, dialogue (especially when bosses team up with different partners) and challenging boss enemies can be found to make re-completing the crystal dungeons again not such a tedious task, but Chapters 5 and 6 don’t really have a whole lot new to them that could be noticed without a magnifying glass. Dialogue during some of the sidequest fights can change, but the most significant changes seem to have come in the last two chapters, not 5 or 6. Thankfully, since players can control the number of random battles in which they partake, these chapters can be breezed through in just a couple of hours as the only sidequest that gives anything new is available in Chapter 6 (though it provides a new job, so I’d recommend at least doing that one), but those who want to fully complete every single objective in the game and clear every sidequest will probably be wishing to eat their 3DSes at this point, as it’s a lot of repetition since it can take as few as just a couple hours to finish this last leg of the game, or well into twenty- so gauge how much reiteration you can handle as a solid amount of Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 are optional and aren’t necessary to actually finish the game.
To summarize: Bravely Default is a beautiful looking, fantastic sounding game that is extremely player friendly for a turn-based RPG in the first half. Gaining levels in different jobs and discovering powerful combinations is one of the most rewarding things in the game, and the game’s difficulty can be adjusted to suit a wider variety of players than these types of games commonly do, allowing players to modify the difficulty level, encounter rates and even whether or not they gain experience or money. There are portions in the later 25 to 30 percent of the game that are mind-boggling design choices, however, and unaware players may find themselves spending an excessive amount of time redoing sections of the game of which they aren’t required and becoming bored as a result.
If you’re someone who fancies turn-based combat and great musical scores, Bravely Default is most likely a game for you. If you are on the fence with turn-based games, there’s no harm in trying it as there’s a good chance you may be addicted post Chapter 4. If you don’t like turn based games at all then I wouldn’t imagine that Bravely Default is going to capture your interest for the whole way through.