Bravely Default is a Japanese role-playing game published by Square-Enix and developed by Silicon Studios, who are best known for 3D Dot Heroes (a quirky PS3 title that draws much inspiration from the classic Zelda games.) For all intents and purposes Bravely Default is a Final Fantasy game in everything but name. Fans of Square’s flagship RPG series will note that this 3DS release features familiar spell names (such as Fira, Thundaga etc) along with summons and the always-popular job system. Ironically enough with its turn based combat and random encounters Bravely Default feels more like a vintage FF game than anything Square has put out since Final Fantasy X.
The game stars Tiz Arrior who hails from the town of Norende, which has tragically been engulfed by a giant chasm. The emergence of the Great Chasm is supposedly linked to the corruption of the world’s crystals that normally keep the elements of water, air, fire and earth in check. With the aims of rectifying this travesty Tiz joins forces with Agnes, a holy vestal who is on a pilgrimage to purify the crystals. As the story advances the pair team up with an adorable fairy named Airy, Ringabel the Casanova who owns a journal that can predict the future and Edea a blonde warrior who initially starts the game pursuing Agnes, but then switches sides after seeing the atrocities her homeland’s army is committing.
A tale of four heroes searching for crystals to save the world isn’t especially original, but works well for a title that is recreating the experience of old school RPGs. To its credit the plot includes some neat twists and although the ensemble cast aren’t the most fleshed out of characters I did enjoy spending time with them. Tiz is your typical do-gooder, Agnes is a sheltered lass who finds wicked deeds to be “unacceptable”, Ringabell’s unsuccessful attempts at flirting always made me chuckle as did Edea’s tendency to utter “mrgrgr” whenever she gets annoyed. The banter between the four, showcased in Tales like cut scenes that trigger as you explore the globe, were often amusing and helped endear me to the party.
Anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game during the 8 bit, 16 bit and Playstation eras will feel right at home with Bravely Default. Most of your time will be spent exploring dungeons and engaging in random battles that can trigger whenever you take a step in a hostile zone. The game’s combat system is a turn based one were you order your characters to attack, perform a special ability, use an item or run (coward.) Some modern gamers find these primitive mechanics to be frustrating, but the beauty of Bravely Default is that you can adjust the settings to your taste. Are you pressed for time and just want to rush ahead to the dungeon’s boss? No problem, you can disable random encounters from the menu. Do you want to quickly grind for experience? That’s fine, just fast forward the battle animations to speed up the process.
One of the unique things that Bravely Default brings to the table is the Brave/Default system that gives the title its name. By using the Brave command characters can perform up to four actions in a turn, but doing so will leave them unable to act for the next few rounds of combat. Default on the other hand allows a combatant to skip a turn, earning them a Brave Point and giving them a small defensive boost. Stored BP can be spent to use the brave command without incurring a missed turn penalty. I really enjoyed the Brave/Default system as it added an extra layer of strategy to proceedings. When facing an enemy that can become invulnerable for a round rather than waste a turn you can bank it using Default. If you are facing a tough boss, who is close to death, it may be advisable to go all out with a chain of Brave attacks to finish them off.
Another novel idea adopted by Bravely Default is the manner in which players rebuild the town of Norende. Building and upgrading stores in the settlement will grant you access to new equipment, but construction times can take several hours. To speed up the process it is possible to invite friends to your game, which makes the whole thing feel like a fantasy version of Farmville. Thankfully it is nowhere near as annoying given that you can start work on a building and leave your handheld in sleep mode until the project is finished. Acquiring sufficient friend codes to assist you with this endeavour isn’t particularly taxing either (I asked around on Facebook and message boards) and even the most antisocial of loners should have no trouble, as once a day you can connect online to recruit random Bravely Default players to your cause.
My rating for Bravely Default is five stars out of five. It proves that a well-crafted JRPG, using traditional mechanics, can still be fun in this day and age. Perhaps it will make Square rethink how they approach future Final Fantasy games. Recent releases in the franchise have flopped as their efforts to introduce faster paced combat have failed to both attract new fans as well as infuriate purists. From start to finish I loved this game for the ninety-hour duration that it lasted me. I became absorbed in the highly customisable job system that allows your characters to adopt the class of defeated bosses, each with their own unique skills. At any time a character can take the role of a specific job, have access to abilities from a secondary class and pick from a selection of unlocked passive buffs. This gives you a lot of scope for tackling the challenges you come across.
There are however some flaws. The European version is sadly censored resulting in some costumes getting redesigned. Apparently killing legions of people is okay, but wearing a bikini is in the words of Agnes “unacceptable.” The story’s later chapters can also get repetitive as they involve revisiting previously cleared dungeons and facing the same enemies over and over. It didn’t bug me, but I know that a lot of other players felt a more concise adventure, with less padding, would have been a more preferable experience. Something to keep in mind for the upcoming sequel perhaps. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for the next instalment. Europe’s version took over a year to come out. Delays like that make me go mrgrgr.