When I got my 2DS, I stayed away from RPGs because this type of game requires a lot of time to play and are mostly played alone, with very little social components. But after playing the demo, I knew that I had to get Bravely Default when it came out:
As I mentioned when I wrote about the Bravely Default Demo, Bravely Default is a traditional turn-based JRPG. What Bravely Default does better than most JRPGs is offer a deep gameplay experience, thanks to its battle and job system.
The core of the Bravely Default battle system still revolves around turn-based combat, with you assigning different actions like attacking or casting a magic spell per turn. However, Bravely Default utilizes an action point concept and adds the “Brave” and “Default” commands for this. Basically, each character (and enemy) has a number of action points (BPs) which they use up in order to act, and they gain one BP at the start of every turn. Choosing the “Brave” command uses up additional BPs in order to allow your character to take multiple actions in a turn, even allowing you to use BPs that you don’t have yet. Choosing the “Default” command results in your character defending for that turn, saving up BP for later use.
These two commands effectively adds layers of depth to the usual JRPG turn-based style of combat because now, you really have to think several moves ahead before you act. Do you save up on BPs this turn, or use up all of your BPs to make one big attack? You don’t have enough BPs, but are you willing to gamble and spend your future BPs now to try and finish off the enemy, knowing that you run the risk of not being able to act in the next couple of turns?
And it’s not just your actions that you need to think about. How is the enemy going to use up its BP? Are they going to “Default” this turn and defend against your attack? Whenever an enemy “defaults”, they take fewer damage from attacks. Enemies may also save up BPs for more powerful attacks later on, so you have to watch out for their attack patterns and defend on the turn that they’ll hit you for massive damage.
I also mentioned Bravely Default‘s excellent job system when I wrote about the demo before, but in the full game it’s even better. In Bravely Default, there are twenty three different Jobs (character classes), each with its own Job Command (White Magic is the job command of a White Mage) and support abilities. You can assign a Job (to each character, allowing them to use all the Support Abilities and the Job Command of the selected job. You can then assign an additional Job Command to the character, as well as a different set of Support Abilities taken from all the other jobs. This gives you a lot of options when customizing your characters – you can have a White Mage that can also cast Summon Magic like a Summoner and has the high defense support ability of a Knight and the dual wield support ability of a Ninja.
The combination of a robust battle system and job system is an RPG that you actually enjoy playing. Battles become an exercise of strategic preparation and planning – what jobs do I use for this battle? How will the enemies behave? How do I react to their behavior? You’ll find yourself thinking about that a lot while playing this game.
Despite the excellent gameplay mechanics, an important factor in an RPG (and JRPGs especially) is the game’s story. To be honest, Bravely Default has a pretty standard plot that JRPGs usually have, but what makes it special is how the story is presented. At the start of the game you’re treated to several short movies of each of the protagonists, starting with Airy breaking the fourth wall to address you. This approach was highly effective for me, giving me an idea of what each character’s motivations are and the reasons why they’re on this quest. From that point on, the game’s plot progresses at a good pace. I love how the script was written and how the voice acting was done – it didn’t take long for me to become emotionally invested in these characters.
But there’s one fatal flaw that I have to mention. As your party progresses in their quest, there’s a point where you’re expecting some sort of resolution to the story. At that point, the game throws a twist at you, and really, there’s nothing wrong with the twist, it’s what happens after. Once you’re at this point, you’ll realize that the plot grinds to a halt and the difficulty of the battles suddenly jumps up. I’ve read a lot of complaints about this online, and I have to agree that it does ruin the game experience a little. By that point, you are so immersed in the story that you want to see something happen, but you end up slogging through battle after battle without much payoff.
To be blunt, this portion of Bravely Default essentially increases the amount of playtime without actually adding to the game’s content (you’ll know what I mean when you get there). But I kind of understand why the game was designed to be this way. You see, there are twenty three different job classes and a whole lot of customization to do. To fully appreciate that, you’ll need to go through a lot of battles and a variety of challenges, and by slowing the plot down you have an opportunity to focus on learning the strengths and weaknesses of each job and find the combinations that work best for you.
I mentioned the village rebuilding minigame when I wrote about the Bravely Default Demo, and it remains the same in Bravely Default but it’s complete this time around. There are a lot of tasks to do that you’ll really need to have a lot of villagers. Thankfully, you don’t need to rely on Street Pass that much – Bravely Default allows you to go online and connect with other Bravely Default players to get up to three villagers per day – but it does help a lot. There are a total of eleven buildings which can be built up to eleven levels each, so there’s a lot to do for your villagers. Aside from the rebuilding, you can get random monster spawns called Nemesis in the village via Street Pass and online. These random monsters are optional battles that you can use for practicing your best lineups because some of them are really powerful.
Bravely Default has two other friend features aside from getting villagers for your rebuilding efforts, the first of which is the ability to send and summon moves. In battle, you can choose one of your strongest moves (be it an attack or a support move) and tag it for sending. Whenever you Street Pass someone who also plays Bravely Default, you’ll also be able to exchange moves, including customizable Special Moves. It’s fun to show off your strongest moves (as well as your wittiest one-liners), and it’s also very handy to have a friend with powerful characters during tough battles.
Finally, Abilink allows you to use command and support abilities of your friends. This is especially handy if you find yourself needing a certain ability to advance but you haven’t had the chance to work on the job that has that ability.
The last thing I want to touch on regarding this game is how you can cater it to the type of RPG gamer that you are. If you like story and character development over battles and gameplay, Bravely Default offers a lot of reading material for you. A lot of optional sidequests, side dialogues that further flesh out each character, and even a journal that gets regularly updated with story material and that offers replays of all the cutscenes that you’ve encountered. You can minimize battles by lowering down the encounter rate and change the difficulty of the battles that you can’t skip to Easy.
If you prefer gameplay over story, Bravely Default has that in spades as well. Most of the cutscenes and dialogue can be skipped, allowing you to focus on the battles. The robust job system offers a lot of options to experiment with, and the optional battles during the latter half of the game as well as the random Nemesis that you can get will provide different challenges to experience.
I was initially put off with the sudden change of pacing and difficulty, but now I have a better understanding of the game design, and I can say that Bravely Default is an excellent RPG. It has a lot of depth to offer, both in terms of gameplay and story, packaged with excellent visuals and sounds. It deserves the hype and attention that it got prior to its release, with characters that are even more memorable than the characters of Final Fantasy VII (go and tell me what the origins of Red XIII, Vincent, and Cait Sith are if you’re going to claim that FF VII’s characters are more memorable). It’s another killer app for the 3DS and should be a must buy for any RPG fans out there.