Even though Square Enix released Bravely Default onto the Nintendo 3DS on October 11, 2012, I’ve first gotten around to playing the game this year. After spending nearly 110 hours with the game, and since the sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, hits Europe later this month and North America in April, I felt I’d do a bit of a retro review and share my thoughts on the game. With the game being nearly four years old, some spoilers may follow in my review. If you haven’t played the game (and for the most part, if you enjoy JRPGs, you should) you may wish to stop reading now. If spoilers don’t faze you or you’ve already completed Square Enix’s flawed gem, come along and hear my thoughts.
Bravely Default centers around four characters whose world has been upended when a Great Chasm opens up and destroys the village of Norende. The four great Crystals which have maintained the world have gone dark, and things need to be set right. We first meet young Tiz Arrior, who is the last survivor of Norende and has been under the care of an innkeeper in Caldisla. Tiz sets out to see what has happened and along the way encounters Agnes Oblige, the Wind Vestal, who is accompanied by the cryst-fairy Airy. The two pair up and later join forces with Edea Lee, the wayward daughter of the Grand Marshall of Eternia, and Ringabel, a womanizing knight who has lost his memory and is in possession of a mysterious journal that seems to predict the future. The four set out, hounded by Eternian forces who are desperate to prevent them from reawakening the Crystals, as they believe doing so will plunge their world of Luxendarc into chaos. Our heroes, after many battles and trials, seem to succeed, only to find themselves slipping into parallel worlds. The four struggle to find the cause behind their continuing deja vu, and their discovery leads them into a final showdown with an incredible evil.
As stories go, the tale is a familiar one, especially to those who have played many a game in the genre, though it is decently told. All four characters are likeable enough. Tiz is optimistic and has an innocent idealism. Agnes is driven by what she believes is her sacred duty. Edea is rebelling against her father, who she believes to be misguided in his beliefs. Ringabel is an amusing rogue, always on the hunt for ladies, his roguish nature hiding a mysterious past that he cannot recall, save what’s written in a journal he carries. For the most part, the English voice actors bring the four to life nicely, though at times Agnes does approach histrionics and the voice acting comes across as overwrought. Party chats, little amusing vignettes, pop up from time to time to help give some insight into the four and provide some levity to their serious task of setting the world right. These can be skipped but I’d advise against doing so, since they do flesh out the characters. The various other characters who the group encounters, both friend and foe, are a mixed bag, ranging from well developed and interesting characters like Lord DeRosso, an immortal accused of being a vampire, to the somewhat lecherous Sage Yulyana, to the hammy acting of the king of Ancheim. These characters prove important to he game’s job system, as defeating each of them releases an asterisk that allows the characters access to a new job title. And these jobs play a major part in the gameplay for Bravely Default.
There are 24 jobs in total in the game, and each character can hold two jobs, one primary and one secondary. The jobs grant abilities, both active ones used in battle and support abilities, such as ones that allow for an extra attack when killed by enemies. The jobs are a varied bunch, featuring your typical Mages, Templar, Dark Knight, Vampire, and so on. Battles are turn based, and players can decide on whether to use the Default option, which builds up BP (Brave Points). Storing up enough BP can allow you to unleash a round of up to four attacks or use four abilities, like healing or using items. You can also choose the Brave option, which can put you into negative BP. It’s a trade-off, launching multiple attacks at the cost of being unable to go for another four turns, and it’s this trade-off that adds a level of strategy to battles. The battle system and jobs are the game’s greatest strengths, and you can swap jobs throughout the course of the game. Each job has a maximum level of 14, and at that level you have some very powerful attacks and support abilities. Jobs are leveled by acquiring JP (Job Points), which can be gained in combat with monsters around the map. Combat also nets you PG, the game’s currency, and EXP, to level your character up, giving you more hit points and magic points. Grinding is necessary, as it is in all JRPGs, but it really seems forced in the latter chapters of the game, where EXP can be given out in smaller amounts, making you chew up large quantities of time so that you can be on equal footing with the bosses in the late chapters of the game. The final two bosses can be especially cheap and infuriating until you’ve leveled up enough (I had all four at level 85 with both their jobs maxed to complete the final battles, both of which have multiple stages).
The cheap attacks of the game’s final two bosses and its repetitive nature after Chapter 5 make this game a flawed gem. The first half is brilliant, and side quests provide additional job opportunities and some interesting story lines (though the beauty contest Agnes is forced into feels a bit icky). After that, deja vu sets in and it becomes a rinse and repeat affair, and soon too often feels like padding, even though the story explains the nature of the repetition. A lack of a fast travel option or being able to just hit one button to awaken the Crystals (instead of enduring the same lines over and over and the repeated mashing of the “X” button) really makes things seem to be more of a chore in the second half, and sucks a lot of the fun out of the game. The final boss battle, despite some very cheap attacks, is somewhat interesting, as a rift to the Celestial Realm (our world, a sit turns out) is opened. The 3DS makes nice use of its camera here, as you catch your face looking back at you through the rift in the game. This little bit of fourth wall breaking adds a nice element to a battle that all too often, until you’ve attained the proper level and have the better jobs assigned and mastered, is marred by frustration. The ending cut scenes do provide a satisfying wrap up, and especially the special movie following the credits is worth seeing, as it uses the 3DS’s gyroscopic function to look around and the scene sets up Bravely Second, the game’s sequel hitting this year.
In all, I became a bit divided on my feelings for the game. The first half of Bravely Default is brilliant and an absolute joy to play. And then things begin to unravel. Thankfully, once you make it through the final battle, a feeling of satisfaction does creep back in, though the joy has been tainted by the repetitive nature of the game’s second half. It is because of the weaker and repetitive second half that Bravely Default becomes a flawed gem instead of the outright masterpiece it could have been. Some will absolutely love it and will not be conflicted, others may opt to take the shorter path to an alternate ending that doesn’t require you to plow through all 10 chapters (you can end the game sooner by shattering a crystal). The art style for the environments is beautiful, and there is a nice variety of creatures to do battle with. A side mini game allows you to rebuild Norende, which can get you extra resources (Villagers can be acquired by the Streetpass, as can friends to aid you in combat. If you don’t use your Streetpass the game will assign you bots to help.). It’s a deep game that despite its flaws is a worthy addition to your 3DS library. Despite my mixed feelings, the first half left a good enough impression on me, making me glad I did play the game. And it’s in that sense that I recommend JRPG fans to give it a try, if you haven’t already.
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