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The Best Square-Enix Has Offered In a Long Time
on February 7, 2014
+Very unique combat system
+A lengthy quest that'll keep you busy
+Return of the job system allows for lost of customization
+Charming characters overall
+A lot of old school charm
-Pretty straightforward story (though this is definitely intentional)
-Some players are probably not going to like that the game will sometimes get bogged down in grinding for hours
Back in the 90's and early 2000's, Square was the king of the RPG. In particular, Final Fantasy was once revered as one of the greatest JRPG franchises of all time. In recent years Final Fantasy has had something of a mixed reputation. So, in fact, has Square-Enix. Yet Bravely Default comes as a surprise. It harkens back to what made Square so great in the first place. It is an old school RPG right down to the core. If you were a fan of Final Fantasy back in the days when they were known as Squaresoft instead of Square-Enix, you may very well love Bravely Default. It's overall a fun game.
There isn't much to keep track of in terms of story in Bravely Default. Compared to the rest of the game, it's fairly simple and straightforward. You control a band of adventurers who are out on a quest to revive the four crystals. If you're familiar with Final Fantasy this is all pretty familiar and straightforward. The good news is that the cast of characters are actually quite likable. You'll meet them all pretty early on in your quest. The story may not be what will entice you about Bravely Default. Though the characters are likable there are quite a few "by the book," moments. Rather what is likely to excite you about Bravely Default is the battle system.
The battle system in Bravely Default is a good one. It's a simple turn based affair. Your allies on one side of the screen while your enemies populate another. What separates this battle system from others is the Brave/Default mechanic. Every character has a set of BP. Those who choose to Brave can expend them and get an extra turn during combat. The sacrifice is that if BP drops into the negatives they lose the chance to attack the next turn. If you default, however, you'll store BP that you can choose to expend or not within the following turn. So let's just say you decide to default for a turn. The next turn, you'll have an extra BP which will allow you take one extra action. And it can be anything. Utilizing this system you could say... prepare for a powerful attack by having a character default and then the next turn they could attack AND heal if they wanted to. You can play around with the system in many ways. If you keep defaulting until your BP is maxed out you can perform several actions in a turn. A mix of healing, boosting stats and attacking can be done by every character if you so choose.
This is more than just a gimmick. The game's battle system has been designed around this mechanic. Bravely Default is not an easy game. You can't simply ignore the Brave/Default mechanic and hope to win in the traditional sense. In some fights, for example, attacking twice is probably going to be the best way to defeat an enemy who insists on healing. You may find in some battles the need to boost your defenses before launching into attacks. The enemies sometimes hit hard. Bravely Default is not going to hold your hand through it, either. Comprehending and mastering the battle system is key to getting through Bravely Default. If you don't take the time to really get it down the game is happy to punish you for it.
The job system is in play here as well. Final Fantasy fans who played through Final Fantasy V will instantly recognize and understand the system. You'll select a job which already has its own innate abilities. Black mages cast black magic, white mages heal while warriors are apt fighters and ninjas are fast. Final Fantasy veterans will know all this stuff already. As you master abilities, however, you'll be able to mix and match. So it's possible to have a black mage that will also know white magic if you're trying to build a good sorcerer. In many games with a job system there are plenty of ways to take advantage of it and learn the best abilities and just keep going with those. Bravely Default isn't always like that. In many cases you'll find yourself forced to rethink your strategy against a powerful boss every now and then. Mixing and matching abilities gives the game a lot of customization. This isn't like so many RPGs with a job system where you can find a good set and keep it going for nearly the entire game. Bravely Default has such a wide variety of ways to customize your party that you'll probably want to experiment and learn as many abilities as you can to build up the best party that you can.
Of course doing all that involves grinding. And this is where Bravely Default certainly shows its old school charm the best. A lot of JRPGs are designed in such a way now that you can coax through them with ease. They're balanced in a way that the levels typically tend to come around as you go. Bravely Default doesn't do this. There are times when you'll need to spend LONG periods of time grinding. Either to learn abilities with jobs or to gain levels. You'll often take a break from the story to do this. In part because Bravely Default demands it.
The good news is that the game is rarely that punishing and you can actually choose the pace at which you grind. You can speed up battles to make them go faster if you want (or select a handy auto-battle command that actually serves you well). The best part, however, is that if you're feeling tired from grinding or battling and just need a break, you can set how high or low the encounter rate is. This is something the JRPG has probably needed for a long time. No abilities, accessories or items necessary to it either. You can always go into the configuration and set the random encounter rate to 0%. This is especially nice if you ever find yourself backtracking or just exploring a dungeon for the sake of exploring. For those looking for a challenge you can also opt to turn off experience, gold and job point rewards. There really doesn't seem to be any real point to this other than for the hardcore JRPGer who likes to challenge himself or herself.
It's nearly impossible to talk about Bravely Default without mentioning Final Fantasy. The game itself is most definitely a spiritual successor to the famed franchise. It deals with the elemental crystals and the job system is ripped straight out of FInal Fantasy V. Many spell names sound very familiar and the graphics and art style are reminiscent of the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV. And it all makes for a glorious package. Bravely Default is a beautiful game through and through. The world is lively and feels alive. There's plenty to explore and a lot of things to do. It'll probably keep you busy for hours on end. The music is also very good. It's a game that easy on the eyes and the ears.
The only thing that might keep Bravely Default down is that the old school charms aren't for everyone. The story is fairly slow going at times and is also pretty predictable. The emphasis here is definitely more on the gameplay, exploration and grinding than it is the actually story at hand. That doesn't mean the story is actually bad. It just means that Bravely Default plays it straight. Likewise, some gamers aren't going to like the emphasis the game will put on grinding. Especially when it comes to earning abilities The game makes the process of mastering a job take a long time. And with so many classes to choose from you'll be busy for a while learning abilities. For some gamers this is the charm that some of us have to come to appreciate from the genre over time. For others it might be seen as a way to pad out the length of the game. Indeed, a lot of hours spend on Bravely Default will come from you running around looking for a battle.
Neverthless, I still happen to think this is primarily why Bravely Default works. It is a game that knows its audience. And knows them very well. If you are fan of the JRPG and you've got a 3DS and you loved Final Fantasy, then Bravely Default is for you.