Bravely Default is widely considered to be a follow-up to Square Enix’s “Four Heroes of Light”, released on the DS a few years ago, and is meant to be a return to the more traditional style RPGs. However, in true Square-Enix tradition, it did have a couple of innovations…
Story (potential spoliers)
The story starts off with what feels like standard RPG fare, you take a group of warriors who have an apparent destiny to awaken four elemental crystals (similar to Final Fantasy 1), in that group you have your obligatory amnesiac, female torn over her role and young male protagonist. However, as you progress through the game, you are joined by a fairy that supposedly is there to help guide you – as it happens; she has a very different role.
The story does get gradually revealed as you play through the game, and for the first twenty hours or so, it plays as a standard “have to save the world from the big bad” RPG, however, there are a couple of twists to this in the plot. If you watch all the additional scenes, it is possible to work out what the major plot twist is going to be – I managed to figure it out quite early on that something was up, but not exactly what until about thirty hours into the game.
There is one major flaw with this game, however. The game is broken up into chapters, and after the fifth chapter, where you get the option of destroying a crystal rather than saving it, you can either do the game’s false ending, or you can go through to the true ending. If you go for the false ending option, once it’s done, you get thrown back at the point you broke the crystal in order to complete the game properly – albeit with some nifty equipment which does help against the final boss.
The flaw, however? If you choose to complete the game’s real ending, expect to have to complete the same basic premise at least five times – going and awakening each crystal in each chapter, fighting the same bosses and going through the same dungeons. The game does try and change it up a bit in the later chapters by changing the bosses so they you’re fighting different groups in each chapter at the various points, but it does feel extremely repetitive by the end of the final chapter.
It’s a Square-Enix game, so one of the areas where I would expect a game to shine is in the OST – and this game is no exception to that rule.
The areas have music which fits them wonderfully – for example the desert town of Ancheim has a middle-eastern vibe to the music, whereas the fashionable town of Florem sounds much more modern and contemporary. The over world music on the whole is also pretty good, and doesn’t get too repetitive, despite how long you’ll be listening to it for.
The voice acting in this game is also up to the usual Square-Enix high standard – all the characters are immediately recognizable according to their voice, and none of it is jarring. As far as I’m aware most, if not all the characters have an individual voice actor. Occasionally some of the character’s little mannerisms do become slightly annoying (I dare anyone to play through this game and not get irritated at Agnés at some point!) but on the whole, it’s extremely good stuff.
One area which does grate on me slightly is the dungeon theme – there are several dungeons in this game, and they all share the same theme – surely for a game of Square-Enix’s calibre, the game could have had individual themes for each dungeon? I don’t know, but it feels a bit jarring for the fire-themed dungeon to have the same BGM as the water-themed dungeon, as it throws the atmosphere slightly.
The graphics in this game are fantastic, from the backgrounds which are varied and highly detailed, for example, the starting town feels like a proper town, with several buildings and real depth to it. There is also plenty going on in the background in the towns as well, with NPC characters wandering around and little nooks and crannies to explore. I would have liked more buildings to explore however – even though the towns look massive with plenty of buildings, you can only enter a select few of them. This rather goes against the RPG mantra of you breaking into everybody’s house and plundering all their goods…
The character models are stunning, done in a slightly cute chibi-style. It is easy to identify each of the characters by their model, and there is an amazing amount of detail on each character – for example you can see the individual buttons on the character’s shirts and etc.
The dungeons also look great, and it is clear when you enter each dungeon what the elemental affinity of that dungeon is. Other areas such as the over world are also amazingly well detailed.
One of the important points in an RPG are the enemy sprites and how good they look – to my pleasure, they are also well detailed, and a lot of them look quite menacing, which makes for a nice change from other games I’ve played recently. There are a couple of palette swaps as per JRPG standard for some enemy models, but as these are all of the same high standard, I can forgive Square-Enix for this slight transgression.
In battle effects are also extremely well done, with summons and special attacks being a particular high point for me, but heck, even things like the low level spells look brilliant in this game. The backgrounds when in fights are also well detailed, and it’s worth getting into a fight to try a new attack or spell out, just to see how pretty it looks.
I know there is a multiplayer option in this game, however, I haven’t yet had the chance to try it out.
On the whole, the game is not that challenging – if you keep the encounter rate on the default, you will find that you’re sufficiently levelled for most of what the games throws at you. On top of that, the game is more focussed on tactics and strategy rather than plain brute forcing – on this note, job levels feel a lot more important that actual levels.
Of course, the boss fights do throw a bit of curve ball at you, but once you’ve figured out the strategy to the bosses, they are also pretty easy to crack.
Much of the challenge in this game comes from being able to set them yourself – you can do a no encounters run, minus the forced fights, and see how you manage on that, or you can turn job experience gain off and run through the game with default job levels, or you can do a no item/no equipment run. This game is very open towards you choosing the level of challenge that you want in it.
On the whole, this game is a traditional JRPG, with the expected connotations attached – for example, there is a levelling system, with stats and such like, with experience points gained from successfully completing a battle. However, the game also sees a return to the job system, as seen in older Final Fantasy games, with you being able to unlock different jobs as you progress through the game, and level up in those, with different abilities being unlocked for each job as you progress.
The job system however, is slightly different from most games in which most games limit you to only having one job at a time, and altering stat gains as a result of it. The system in Bravely Default allows you to choose a primary job, which will be the one that determines your stat allocation and similar, but also allows you to choose a secondary job, which you can then use the abilities from whilst in battle. Support abilities which you have unlocked for each job can be allocated as and when, allowing you to really tailor your character and customize them. One thing I did really like about this game was that when you change your primary job, your stats change accordingly – this means that even if you decide to level a character up as, say, a Black Mage for fifty levels, which is very magic orientated, if you decided to then change job to a Ninja, which is more combat orientated, your stats wouldn’t suffer as a result of spending fifty levels as a Black Mage.
The game also allows you to adjust the difficulty setting as you play the game, as well as letting you adjust things like the encounter rate, whether you can experience points or job points, etc. Being able to set this and change it as and when was really quite innovative –if you wanted to blast through a dungeon in order to find all the items and reawaken the crystal without taking damage so you were ready for the boss fight, you could, by switching encounters off. Conversely, if you wanted to use the opportunity to grind levels up a bit, you could set the encounter rate to maximum and whack at monsters as much as you please.
There are a few side quests in this game, the vast majority of them related to unlocking different jobs as you progress throughout the chapters, and it is through the side quests that you begin to figure out what is actually going in, in regards to the story. However, once you’ve completed the five additional side quests in each chapter, that’s pretty much it for side quests. This did irk me slightly as I like being able to figure the side quests in an RPG game, and being able to complete them – this game did lack on the side quest front. Quite a few of the side quests in this game also didn’t feel like side quests, and it did feel as though if you’d missed some of these, you would have missed large chunks of the story.
One of the major innovations that this game brought however, was that of the “Brave” and “Default” system used in battles – apart from this giving the game its name, it was a brilliant system. In the game, when in battle, you can choose to fight normally, in standard turn-based RPG fare, or you can use the Brave/Default system. If you use Default, the character defends, and misses a turn – however, by Defaulting, you save up points, called Brave points, which can then be used in subsequent rounds in the battle to take an extra turn for that round. Each character is able to save up to four Brave points before having to start using them. Alternatively, the character can Brave up to three times in a single round, and take four turns in that round. If the character does Brave, they then have to miss an according number of turns in order to recoup the Brave points. This added a large tactical dimension to the game – do you use up all your Brave points in the first round and unleash sixteen attacks and hope you finish the fight that turn, or do you save up the points to unleash later in the fight?
One major niggle I do have with this game however, is the amount of repetitiveness in the later chapters of the game – at times, the repetition of chapters five through to eight does feel like sloppy writing on the part of the developers. Although the game does try and change it up a bit by changing the boss fights around slightly, I do think a lot more could have been done here.
I can easily replay this game over and over again, running through on different self-inflicted challenges or trying different jobs out at the start of the game for the various fights. You easily spend a good hundred hours on this game, and then come back and do it all over again.
Replay Value: 9
A fantastic return by Square-Enix to its traditional turn-based roots, albeit with a few innovations. Worth picking up and playing if you’re a handheld RPG fan for sure.
Written by Karen