Bravely Default Review: Final Fantasy with a Twist
Released overseas initially in December of 2013 and eventually to American consumers in February of 2014, Bravely Default was not intended by its publisher, Square-Enix, to be a big seller. The game, which is actually a modified version of the original game by including elements of an upcoming sequel, among other things, started to gain some notability before its released for a few reasons, including:
- Being an RPG on the Nintendo 3DS (which is rare)
- Being a Square-Enix RPG on the Nintendo 3DS (even rarer)
- Looks and plays like a classic Final Fantasy game (which doesn't happen with actual Final Fantasy games anymore)
The last point is really notable, as the game looks like the 3DS version of Final Fantasy III while possessing a job and ability system similar to that found in Final Fantasy V. Of course, among lists of favorite Final Fantasies, neither III nor V are (sadly) high up on those lists. Still, as word got out on Bravely Default's style and gameplay, it ended up selling far more than Square-Enix expected, so much so that a sequel (Bravely Second) is now in development.
Having played through and completed the game, I can say that while the battle system is definitely fun and somewhat unique, there are factors that hinder the game considerably.
Plays Like a Final Fantasy
People will say that this game is a spiritual descendant of the Nintendo DS title Final Fantasy: 4 Warriors of Light, a title I have not played so I can't really comment on it. Even so, if you weren't aware of the game's title you would easily believe you were playing a classic Final Fantasy, from the classes to the familiar names of magic and abilities (Fira, Hastega, Curaga, etc.) to an excellent musical score and, at first, a whimsical storyline featuring the restoration of crystals (a storyline seen in multiple early Final Fantasies).
The job system also borrows heavily from past Final Fantasies to feature similar systems like FFIII, FFV and FF Tactics. Players can acquire jobs by defeating bosses who are the same class, and then allocate abilities and skills learned from jobs to use regardless of each character's current job, something right out Final Fantasy V. There's 24 classes in all, which ultimately leaves some classes much better (Spiritmaster, Salve Maker, Ninja) than others (Freelancer, Conjurer, Valkyrie).
An interesting twist to the battle system is the Brave/Default system. Characters start with 0 "Brave Points" which lets them act once per turn. If they choose to attack or use a skill/spell/item, they lose 1 BP then regain it for the next turn. If a character finishes a turn with -1 BP or even less, they can't act that turn. However, a character can "Default" instead to avoid losing a BP and start the next turn with an excess BP. Conversely, "Brave" lets a character act multiple times in one turn (up to 4) in exchange for BP. What's interesting is that the game allows character to Brave even with 0 BP - down to -3 BP - which means you can spam "Brave" during random encounters in hopes of overwhelming enemies with a flurry of attacks. You normally can't get away with that against bosses, but there are abilities and skills that help manipulate both the party's and enemy's BP count which leads to a lot of different strategies.
One last mechanic is the use of Sleep Points. SP can be used in battle to give your characters an instant turn (one action per SP) and you can use up to 4 SP provided you have least 1 SP to burn. Unfortunately, SP is hard to come by - you either have to leave your 3DS in sleep mode for eight hours to earn one SP (NOT normal play, sleep mode), or you can purchase SP with REAL money via a menu which is a regrettable feature.
Looks Like a Final Fantasy
Well, there's only a few Final Fantasies that feature the deformed 3D style featured in Bravely Default (FFVII, kinda, and the DS remakes of both FFIII and FFIV), but even so the character designs were done by Akihiko Yoshida, well known for his designs in the Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Ivalice series of games.
The town backdrops are initially well done, particularly the first two towns of Caldisla and Ancheim which make great use of the 3DS' 3D capabilities. Later towns - and most dungeons - aren't quite as captivating, however. The game utilizes a day/night system, where different enemies and a few events occur during the night, and the locales both during the day and at night look very nice which works well with the 3DS' very low screen resolution.
The musical score is top notch and the voicework - which is available in both Japanese and English for the U.S. version of the game at least - is top notch in both languages. The game also allows for difficulty customization which not just three different difficulties, but the ability to increase, decrease, or eliminate random encounters, and the ability to prevent the gaining of money and experience for those seeking extra challenge.
Great battle/job system, good visuals and soundtrack
Lackluster story, Repetitive second half
A Tale of Two Halves
The story is very divisive amongst players of Bravely Default, and for good reason. I won't say much to avoid spoilers, but I will word my thoughts this way. For the prologue and the first four chapters of the game (these four chapters see you restoring the world's crystals), the game's story and scenarios are top-notch. It feels like a great adventure and the characters and foes you come across during the journey make for great dialogue and storyline.
However, the initial events of Chapter 5 creates a situation where you'll have to repeat tasks you've previously completed - specifically a set of bosses. Other bosses become available again, but are optional. However, this happens again for Chapter 6, and again for Chapter 7 and again for Chapter 8. So, you see, the last four chapters of the game are very repetitive. Chapter 6 tries to mix up the story a little bit by heavily suggesting a game-altering path, while Chapters 7 and 8 offer more difficult boss challenges but otherwise to advance the storyline you'll have to face the same set of bosses over and over again, with the only variance coming from the optional side battles.
As mentioned, the game will hint at an alternative method in Chapter 6, though you can do it as early as Chapter 5, and doing this method will take you to an altered version of the game's final events, but you're treated to the game's "bad" ending, and you'll still need to do all eight chapters manually to finish the game completely and unlock extras.
You'd have to really love the game's battle system to forgive the repetitiveness of the last four chapters, otherwise the latter half of the game can easily be a drag for those looking for continued exposition.
Graphics (by 3DS Standards)
3/5 (Normal Diff.)
Your enjoyment of Bravely Default will depend greatly on how much you like gameplay or story in your Japanese RPGs.
If you much prefer battle systems, classes and character customization, you'll love Bravely Default and you'll likely forgive its failings.
If you prefer a smooth plot that stays strong from start to finish, you'll like Bravely Default at first, but once Chapter 5 hits you'll probably start to dislike it.
Personally, I am of the former camp and so the lackluster plot doesn't bother me too much. Bravely Default is still a fine game and is among the top of a very small heap of 3DS RPGs.