Bravely Default

Bravely Default

BD1Ah, Bravely Default. My addiction, my curse. I will try not to descend into tragic Shakespearian soliloquy whilst reviewing this one, but I don’t think I can promise anything. I am only human…

It doesn’t take a genius to realise what Bravely Default is trying to do. It is seeking to bridge the quintessential old-school  JRPGs whilst making use of all the contemporary mechanics of the Nintendo 3DS. This relatively new technique sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t, but no in any way that compromises the core game. It’s a great throwback to the Final Fantasy series.

The characters, story and narrative for Bravely Default can shift from being one its best elements to one of its weakest. The overall plot is a bit by-the-numbers with some all-powerful elemental aligned crystals, encroaching darkness, world in turmoil, warriors of light, and the rest. This is part and parcel for original Final Fantasy games. This duelling ideologies of crystalism and anti-crystalism is just slightly different spin on the usual approach. But this where it really stands out. For those of us that are familiar with this premise, you get a more nostalgic feel from it all rather than feeling irritated at the obvious repetitiveness. But don’t worry, that comes later…

There is a diverseness at work here, namely the idea of there being one character which you are overly exposed to and see everything from there point of view. You’re quickly introduced to the four central party members, each of them with their own goals and backstory, and none of them have that feeling of being secondary. It’s actually quite refreshing to see multiple characters participating in conversations, rather than just you controlling the central hero/heroine. There’s also an impressive amount of the game being voiced for a handheld title. 

BD4Where Bravely Default feels like it slips up though is the often overly cartoonish characters and situations it likes to throw at you on occasion. Let’s face it, plenty of JRPGs have their quirky elements, but the narrative can at times feel at odds when it can shift from religious persecution or children dying to moustache-twirling villains with a sufficiently silly and over-the-top voice-over to accentuate this. Thankfully these tend to be the exceptions not the rule.

Sadly, the main thing that irked me about Bravely Default was the repetition in boss battles, the plot, and the ever-increasingly difficulty while feeling as though you’re never going anywhere. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to get this far, but it was a mind-blowing turn of events. And not in the good way. At the very end, it was my unbelievable stubbornness that kept me ploughing away until completion, and I didn’t even feel satisfied at the end. At most, it was oddly cathartic, and then I had to give it back to my brother straight away before I got attached to the ream of ever-increasing side quests.

These side quests are used to unlock new jobs, which makes up one of the core features of Bravely Default‘s gameplay. Jobs have been an on-again off-again inclusion in various iterations of the Final Fantasy franchise. They are in essence classes, but rather than being bound to a single class at character creation you’re free to swap your job as you play. A character’s job will determine what skills they unlock for it, how their stats progress, what weapons and equipment they work best with, among other things.
BD3Bravely Default takes this a few steps further by allowing you to mix and match your secondary abilities along with a limited pool of unlocked enhancements. You might for instance use the Knight’s Two-Handed ability in order get more damage on your Thief. Or maybe you get enough levels in White Mage so that your hearty Monk can toss out a heal. It’s a system that encourages you to experiment and find combinations that not only work well on a single character but also complement your total party. There’s a simple pleasure for the more statistically-minded RPG fans to maximising all the little details and planning out what skills to acquire next, and Bravely Default gives ample opportunity to scratch that itch.

Similarly, Bravely Default gives you more freedom and choices to make in the combat itself. While the game is an otherwise traditional turn-based system, there are two additional commands outside of the ones your used to seeing. Default allows you to store up your action for the turn while also defending yourself. In tandem, Braves let you take multiple actions during that turn, even going into the negatives, but you’ll have to wait out the deficit. It’s a clever addition that forces you to balance when your characters are going all out, or when you want to keep them reactive.

BD2Finally, this game also puts a heavy emphasis into using the 3DS’s street pass and other social features. Friends and passersby can be summoned into battle to perform actions you might not normally have access to. It’s a clever little way of promoting you to perhaps take your 3DS out more often (and works for me every time. I’m such a sucker for these sorts of things). Even just seeing that little Street Pass pop-up after walking through the airport is somehow satisfying to know that some fellow gamer is enjoying the same game you are.

In short, Bravely Default has a lot going both for and against it. However, it’s still a very immersive game and requires a lot of thought and strategic planning to advance. It is the type of game that will actively seek out to consume you, so try not to let it commandeer all of your down-time (although I am really one to talk…)