Game Review by: Barry Carenza
Game – Bravely Default
Platform – 3DS
Rating – E for Everyone
Obtained – Purchased
When it comes to America and RPG’s, we’re very lucky with what comes out. RPGs are sadly not huge in the American gaming demographic, which is plagued with hundreds of shooters, racing games, and sports titles. If an RPG sells 300,000 copies over here, it’s considered a success. It’s because of this that Square Enix only chooses select titles to bring to the States. Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts are two franchises that sell well here, where others like Dragon Quest sadly don’t. Hell, we still don’t have a western release for Dragon Quest VII on the 3DS or Dragon Quest X on the Wii or Wii U. So when it came to a new RPG franchise, Square Enix wasn’t about to deliver either.
That’s when Nintendo thankfully stood in and decided to publish Square’s latest title, Bravely Default. Well, sort of. See, the original Bravely Default hit the Japanese market on October 11, 2012. The game then was re-released with added content over a year later titled, Bravely Default: For the Sequel, which added elements to tie it in with the next game coming out, Bravely Second. What Nintendo published was actually, For the Sequel, and it hit our shores well over a year after the original was released in Japan.
So why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to appreciate just how special this game truly is. Square Enix didn’t think it would sell well enough and that we wouldn’t like this game. Nintendo took a chance on it, and I will tell you that I couldn’t be happier that they did. And it’s not just me. The game has sold well over a million copies, and the sequel is already confirmed for the west, published by none other than Square Enix this time. So what’s all the fuss about? Let me tell you.
Bravely Default, at its heart, is a standard JRPG. It follows many of the standard JRPG cliché’s, but that’s not a bad thing. It does, however, differ in several aspects. First and foremost is the battle system. This is from where the game draws its name. In battle, you have three different options. You can either do an action (attack, cast a spell, etc.), which like most other standard JRPGs, it happens during that turn, and the next, you can pick a new action. Another thing you can do is Default, which is a close cousin to the Defend option. But in addition to gaining defense for the turn, you also store your turn, so that you can use it at a later time. The last choice is to Brave, which will allow you to take an additional 1-3 turns instantly.
The way that all works is with a new system called Brave Points or BP. You can store up to three BP by defaulting three times. Then, you can spend all three of your stored BP, along with the current turn, for four rounds all at once. So if a boss is invulnerable for a few turns, default till they can be hit, and unload all your turns on them at once. Or if you have a healer and everyone is at full health, default to save those turns for when you need to cure a lot of people quickly. This also works if you don’t have any BP saved. You can go as low as negative-three BP, as well, meaning on your very first turn, you can Brave three times and unleash four attacks. This is great for clearing weak monsters quickly. However, if you don’t finish off your foe, you are now vulnerable until you return back into positive BP. This mechanic makes battles feel fresh and strategic, and it makes grinding out weaker enemies for experience points a breeze.
Speaking of grinding out enemies, another aspect that this game differs is a handy option to raise or lower the random encounter rate. Want to grind out some levels? Turn the dial all the way up, and every few steps, you’ll encounter a battle. Want to get to the next save point or story point, since you’re low on health or time? Lower the rate, and you’ll never see a random encounter. This allows you to really control how long or short certain areas of the game take, and it lets you pick when you want to grind and when you want to progress. I wish all RPGs had something like this.
One aspect that Bravely Default borrows from its big brother Final Fantasy is the job system. There are 24 jobs in all, and each character can level any and all of them. In addition to the character’s main job, they can choose different traits from other jobs that have been leveled to mix and match, creating your own ultimate team. It’s very reminiscent of Final Fantasy V.
Now that you understand the way battles work, how about the story? The story seems to start with your standard JRPG cliché stuff. Go on an epic quest to reawaken the four elemental crystals, purge the world of evil, and bring peace to the land. However, the story throws in quite a few curve balls to change up the formula as you get closer to the end of the game. I won’t spoil anything, but they do something some people didn’t enjoy, but I did. The last few chapters to the game are unique, in the sense that they could be completed in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on how much you want to get out of them. I spent the time to do all of the optional quests at the end, and they make for some of the funniest scenes in the game, so I recommend them.
The game also has two different endings. Unfortunately, the ending that I wanted to be canon isn’t, but I was very thankful that the developers allowed the “alternate non-canon” ending to be in the game, as it really gives you a sense of choice towards the end. Again, I won’t spoil it, but I do encourage you to see both endings.
Any good RPG has to have a good cast, and this is probably Bravely Default’s strongest point. Each of the four main characters who make up your party are unique enough, with varied backstories, and they all feel very fresh. Agnes is the Wind Vestal and is pretty by-the-books. She wants to set out to save the world and is quite trusting of everyone. Ringabel is an amnesiac who has lost his way. All he remembers is that he has a journal that seems to have fortune-telling abilities, and he is very blatantly horny and interested in almost every female character. Tiz just watched his hometown get destroyed and his little brother die in front of him. He joins the journey to set the world right, in the hope of bringing his home back. And finally, there’s Edea, the daughter of the emperor and most level-headed member of the group. She strives for her father’s acceptance and tries to keep things moving forward.
One thing that helps this cast mesh so well together is the use of skits. Anyone who’s played any of Namco’s “Tales of” games will be familiar with these. During the game, you can witness little skits that happen between cast members. Some help to strengthen the story, while others are just goofy. They all show how the group gets along and reacts to each other, and it makes them all feel more human.
Then, there’s also the side-cast. Each of the villains in this game represent a different class and are all varied. From muscle-heads, to maniacs, to divas, to vigilante’s, these villains are so great and work so well together, they could make a sitcom just about them. It almost makes you feel bad about defeating them; however, I will say that to get the most out of their personalities, you have to play the optional content. They did a great job here, and I encourage you to do the optional content just to see these guys in action.
In addition to the main story, there is a little side-project to rebuild Tiz’s hometown that involves gathering people from Streetpass and assigning them to build or upgrade certain buildings. The larger the town gets, the better the items that will be sold by special shops in the main game. This is one aspect that I felt was really fun but also too short. Within a week, I had the town rebuilt entirely, and, other than the villagers giving me free gifts every few hours, there was nothing really left for me to do there. I wish they would have allowed us to further develop the town.
Speaking of Streetpass, you can also call your friends into battle for a one-off attack for every time you connect with them. They can also send you monsters into your rebuilt town that you can fight off, and the toughest bosses are found here. You, in turn, can also chose which attack you want to send out to help your friends and which monster you want to send out for your friends to challenge. It’s a neat feature – nothing that’s needed, but certainly a welcome addition.
The one negative thing that was held over in this game was the real-money transactions. The game accumulates Sleep Points or SP. You can store up to three. These can be used to freeze a battle and give you an extra attack. So if you’re about to die, you can use one to quickly stop everything and cast a large cure on yourself. There are two ways to obtain these Sleep Points. The first is for every 8 hours that the game is on and in sleep mode, you’ll get one. The second is to purchase a special drink that will replenish your SP. This drink costs real money. Truth is, I went through the game and only used SP once when the game asked to use one to demonstrate how they work. There’s no reason to spend any real money, and if you really need to rely on SP, just leave your system in sleep mode.
The last aspect of the game is the music. The tracks that populate this world are just gorgeous. Some get stuck in your head (I’m looking at you, “Love in the Crossfire”). The voice acting is also done extremely well. Each of the main characters have fitting voices that help bring them to life. The villains also have wonderful voices, and to listen to them all banter is truly a joy.
Overall, this is the complete package – a Great story with plenty of twists, a fantastic cast of characters for both heroes and villains, a terrific job and battle system giving you control of the action, tons of additional and optional content to fill the world, an amazing musical score, and great voice acting to pull you in. This is a grand adventure, and it’s very worthy of your time. If you get the chance to play this, I HIGHLY recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of JRPGs, download the demo, and give it a shot. You can carry some stuff from there into the real game, as well.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
+ Amazing characters and voice work
+ Fantastic battle and job system
+ Engaging story and music
– Some of the last chapters can be a tad slow during optional content
– Can completely rebuild the town far too quickly with a few streetpass connections