Bravely Default (3DS) Review
Turn based role playing games have been often (unfairly) criticised for being too boring or too antiquated in an age where action role playing games seem to be much more popular and we’re moving from a more thoughtful and tactical approach to games to experiences that provide a quick fix. Bravely Default takes everything you know about the turn based role playing game and turns it on its head – providing a familiar and traditional experience that’s been tweaked and tuned just enough to keep things not only fast paced, but feeling fresh and new. Other games have breathed life into what was (in my opinion) a dying genre – games like Xenoblade and Last Story come to mind – but both employed an action oriented battle system. Bravely Default doesn’t – it remains true to its turn based roots and, dare I say it, surpasses its predecessors and provides a better Final Fantasy experience than the latest Final Fantasy games have.
Bravely Default tells a typical story that you would expect to find in any major Japanese RPG. Tiz Arrior is a young man who is left as the only survivor following the destruction of his home village of Norende. Following this, he meets Agnes Oblige – one of the guardians of the world’s four elemental crystal, who herself is being hunted by the Eternian Empire for reasons unknown. To make matters worse, the elemental crystals powering the world are all seemingly shutting down – and Agnes suspects it may have something to do with Tiz and his village’s downfall. Intrigued and joined by Tiz himself and two other followers, Agnes sets out on a journey to discover the truth behind the empire’s motives and the failing crystals.
As mentioned prior, the idea of a Japanese RPG revolving around mystical or powerful crystals isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but the one thing that Bravely Default excels at is taking the traditional and adding a new twist novel enough to make things feel fresh and interesting. The story is just as nonsensical as other Japanese RPGs (so if you love them, you’ll love Bravely Default) and the characters themselves all fit rather predictable stereotypes but are also incredibly likeable as time goes by and the story progresses. One tradition that Bravely Default does not eschew, however, is providing a compelling story to help players along in opening hours. Unfortunately, Bravely Default still falls victim to this pervasive problem. But one step back brings two steps forward – as only employing four main characters makes each one feel purposeful and not as if they were just tagging along.
Bravely Default is your typical role playing game – players enter into battle, input their commands and watch them play out, only to repeat them all over again until either victory or defeat ensues. It’s a tried and true system that gives players time to plan out their attacks and approaches, but Bravely Default shakes up the system with the addition of brave points and their associated actions “Brave” and “Default”. Brave allows players to use their brave points (you accumulate one per turn) to attack more than once in one turn, while Default has the player defending and accumulating brave points to use at a later date. Essentially, players can sacrifice future turns to attack now, or bide their time to attack more than once per turn without any delays. This simple system is risk-reward distilled down to its most pure components, and one that separates Bravely Default from other major role playing games.
The international version of Bravely Default (ie. The one all Western players will experience) provides a slew of options that further separate it from other games in the genre. The ability to speed up battles helps make grinding and battling much less of a hassle, while the ability to adjust the encounter rate can make for easy grinding or allow players to explore a dungeon without being attacked. These two features are amongst the most prominent in Bravely Default and help make the game a unique and rewarding experience that players of all kinds of experience can wrap their minds around without too much pain.
The traditional job system seen in previous Final Fantasy games returns – but with a few twists. There are only four characters, and players can essentially choose what “specialty” their characters can step into. A team full of mages? Totally doable. A team full of thieves? A bit challenging, but still doable. This system is a great one and really gives players the opportunity to build their team exactly how they want. To sweeten the deal, Bravely Default doesn’t waste your time if you decide to change jobs – as players can choose a second job to use on the side. Your character will inherit the statistical and weapon characteristics of the primary job selected, but hard earned abilities will still be available to the player (but only two jobs can be utilised in battle at once). As such, it’s best to keep linked jobs semi-related to each other as the stat changes for a more physical job will not be very compatible with those for a more magical based one. It’s a great little system that really allows players to experiment with their jobs and party without wasting their previously dedicated efforts, and one of the examples of how Bravely Default outdoes its contemporaries.
Both of Bravely Default’s greatest virtues and shortcomings are in its pacing. The game eschews traditional tutorial systems and instead offers the players optional “missions” to complete at their leisure. These help the player to grasp the finer concepts of the battle system, but are completely optional. Completing them earns the player an item or two while ignoring them serves no detriment to the player’s progress either. It’s great. But Bravely Default’s biggest issue is with its pacing and sharp difficulty spike towards the end of the game – it’s an interesting event from a narrative perspective but it leads to a frustrating and perplexing string of events from a gameplay one. In short, it’s horrifically paced towards the end of the game and it has admittedly left a sour taste in my mouth after finishing the game.
There’s a slew of optional content to plough through in Bravely Default too, and the game even handles its side quests a little bit differently. Telling stories of their own, side quests often allow players to pick up new jobs to play around with during battle. Online functionality is minimal but still worth mentioning – as players can “borrow” their friends abilities or send their own away to aid players in battle whenever they wish. It’s a nice and simple system but one that we admittedly did not use through our entire play through. Speaking of which, most players can expect to finish Bravely Default anywhere between thirty to forty hours depending on how much time they spend on optional content. But the completionist is looking at at least fifty hours for the average play through.
The game is well presented too – featuring interestingly drawn locales that come to life with the game’s 3D effect to not only give the impression of a moving pop-up book, but one that’s been hand painted. Character models themselves aren’t the most impressive – featuring the same amount of detail as you’d see in Square Enix’s previous remakes of the Final Fantasy games on DS, but there’s enough variety in their appearances with the jobs system that it can almost be forgiven. Pre-rendered cut scenes are also here, in typical Square Enix fashion, but they do look too compressed. Impressive, but just not impressive enough. Most of Bravely Default is voiced too, but the dub itself is very, very horrendous. The characters just don’t sound like normal people and the voice work for all of them make it hard to like any of them. The music is fantastic though, and gives players motivation to really get into the moment. Since you’ll be hearing it a lot too, the battle theme is worth an honourable mention as well.
Bravely Default does as much as it possibly can to bring life to the turn based role playing genre, without shaking things up too much. The team at Silicon Studio and Square Enix manage to shake things up just enough to keep the experience fresh, but while still keeping the components in place that hits all the right spots to mimic and emulate the old school RPG experience of the late 90s to the mid-00s. Definitely worth a shot if you’re a fan of the genre, and even worth one if you’re not – as it might just subvert all your expectations. Some minor issues, including an atrocious endgame, keep Bravely Default from reaching true excellence, however. With the sequel having been announced, hopefully this fairy can fly even higher.