Bravely Default evokes so much nostalgia from classic Final Fantasy games that you may as well consider it one. With Final Fantasy the a huge franchise it is, I’m surprised Square Enix didn’t choose to lop it under the Final Fantasy banner. However, Bravely Default should not be dismissed as a simple throwback game, as it takes the best parts of classic genre-defining RPGs and spaces things up with new elements that make it a fun, distinctive role-playing game that proudly stands beside Final Fantasy, instead of beneath it.
Although it’s a solid, original IP, the Final Fantasy influence even leaks over into the part members. Each of the four party members feel like they inspired by the main characters from other Final Fantasy games. There’s the man whose home town has been destroyed, the mage on the pilgrimage, an amnesiac, and the knight who turned her back on her country because of its corruption. If you have even the slightest bit of experience with the Final Fantasy series, or RPG’s in general, all of the party’s stories will certainly sound familiar.
Bravely Default (3DS)
Developer: Silicon Studio/Square Enix
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Following the common trope of RPG’s of yesteryear, the gang’s adventure involves saving crystals from the evil darkness. While the use of classic gaming tropes might seem overwhelming, the writing actually leans more towards giving them a wink and a nod, instead of allowing them to become a stale repetition of tropes. It’s a loving tribute if I’ve ever seen one. Sadly, some of the writing is tarnished by the sub-par English voice acting, but the option to switch the language to Japanese is freely available to improve the experience at any given time.
As you can imagine, Bravely Default is not a game for RPG newcomers; it is as lengthy as it is challenging. If you’re intending on doing a lot of side-questing, the game could easily last you well over 70 hours. Some of the game’s length does come from repetition, which make some portions of the game feel rather padded out, but the story constantly offers an interesting explanation for the repeated content and a reason to continue advancing the story.
Upon first inspection, you might get the impression that the battle system is a fairly standard turn-based affair, but the “Brave” and “Default” system really makes a big difference in how the combat flows. Basically, each turn you gain one “Brave Point,” which each action costs. If you choose to “Default,” you don’t use up a Brave Point, but instead can save them up in order to “Brave” at a later turn, taking multiple actions at once. You have to be careful though, because it’s possible to get your Brave Points into the negatives, meaning that you will not be able to act for a few turns.
Naturally, you can’t have a classic-inspired RPG without a job system, so Bravely Default features a whopping 24 classes to choose from. Of course, you get all your standard jobs, such as Knight, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, and Red Mage on top of the much welcome, weird ones, like Pirate, Merchant, and Vampire. They offer all sorts of different abilities that vary greatly, but passive abilities learned from leveling up can be equipped regardless of your job, resulting in your party members being customized to your heart’s content.
Because Bravely Default’s challenging nature, you’re going to have to tailor your party members for every boss fight. However, this doesn’t simply boss encounters into math problems with a single solution. Due to the sheer amount of options you can use to craft your party, you’ll have to sink some time into experimenting with them. If you want to go crazy with the customization, it’s even possible to build a party that can take absolutely no damage from certain bosses.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you have a lot of options in order to tailor your bruising. Besides the standard Easy/Normal/Hard difficulty options you would expect, there are also options for turning off experience point and currency gain. There is even a slider to choose the rate of random encounters, from as high as doubling it, to as low as turning it off completely. Yes, you can switch off random encounters. As one would assume, turning off random encounters makes backtracking much easier, as push through the low level mobs when you’ve already got the best gear in the game has always been the bane of a RPG gamer’s existence.
Streetpass plays an interesting role in the Bravely Default. During the opening of the game, a village is completely destroyed and you are put in charge of rebuilding it. For every Streetpass you get, an extra villager will show up. These villagers can be assigned to build a shop or open up a pathway to find more to build. The more villagers you assign to a building, the less time it takes for it to be finished. It feels like some kind of free-to-play game, but since it happens in the background while you’re playing the game, or have your 3DS in sleep mode, it never diminishes from the overall experience.
Speaking of free-to-play, there is one microtransaction within the game, but it’s so inessential that it might as well not even be there. In battle, you can make use of “Sleep Points” which let you take an action at any point during the battle without using up a turn. To gain Sleep Points, you could either pay a small amount of money or just leave the game on in sleep mode for a few hours. You can easily get through the game without using them and they will largely go unnoticed by most. The only point I ever used them when I tried them out just to see what they would do. It’s basically a minor perk to help you out of a tight spot in battle.
Bravely Default is all about refining that classic RPG experience in ways you always wanted. You can summon a friend to attack in battle, but the only downside depending on your friend’s level is that it can make things a little too easy if they are drastically higher than you are. There’s an option for auto-battle, which essentially repeats the last command you gave to your party, meaning you could switch that on and do some grinding while you do something else. To make that easier, you can control the game using only the buttons on the left side of the 3DS.
All of those features added on top of Bravely Default’s fun homage to old-school Final Fantasy video games remove some of the frustrations we’ve grown accustomed to. While it does bring forth some of it’s own problems, I couldn’t help but overlook them thanks to its charm. I don’t feel like Bravely Default makes a good introduction to the genre, but for those of you well-versed in Japanese role-playing games, you’ll find yourself quickly falling in love with this top-notch RPG.