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Bravely Default is such an odd duck when it came to bringing the game to the worldwide market. We have seen Nintendo localize select third-party games to help strengthen and diversify the lineup of their hardware, and so they localize games like Square-Enix’s Bravely Default versus their own JRPG made by Final Fantasy alumni, The Last Story. On the other hand, Square-Enix, who has just released the third game in the Final Fantasy XIII saga with tepid fanfare, apparently decided to not focus on this fresh-yet-familiar JRPG that is several-fold more Final Fantasy-esque than Lightning Returns. And so we are here today with Bravely Default in our 3DS’s and ask, did Nintendo pick the right title to focus on, or was Square-Enix right to not bother?
Bravely Default stars four young people who we witness lose their place in the world of Luxendarc, and rely on their new friendship to cure this world of its various ailments. Tiz Arrior loses his entire town, and his own brother, in front of his eyes in a massive sinkhole known as the Great Chasm; and decides to support Agnés Oblige, the vestal of the Luxendarc’s Wind Crystal who also loses everyone in her sheltered life. They meet up with Ringabel, the pompadour-donned playboy with amnesia, and the traitor Edea Lee who betrayed her family and kingdom to learn if they were truly in the right.
Like with other next-generation leaps in handheld games like Fire Emblem Awakening and Pokémon X/Y, we really get to feel the characters more than we ever could with the developer’s previous DS game Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light thanks to better production values. Full quality voice acting complete with a great script and beautiful hand-drawn watercolor backdrops bring the various kingdoms and their people a sense of life that’ll make users want to see what’s next. The soundtrack however while solid, lacks quantity with only a single track representing the game’s many dungeons and another track repeating on all the different menus. Also unlike Heroes of Light, Bravely Default uses its better production to push the envelope slightly and deliver a more mature story we haven’t felt in most Final Fantasy games, with the game’s villains refusing to bat an eye at the murder of innocents, including a lot of children.
One of the reasons Bravely Default got its weird name is due to the game’s battle system. Players can bank a character’s turn, called Brave Points, by Defaulting or spend up to four future turns at once by Braving. If your brave points are dumped into the negatives, that character stalls turns until they’re back at zero. Senselessly braving your characters thinking an all out assault will do fine in small fights, but the bosses you encounter won’t just take that laying down and will mow you down.
Speaking of which, the game does have some difficulty spikes that’ll make you grind for a little while, but the developers realized this and has made the tedium minimal thanks to fast forwarding, automatically battling with repeating the moves you last assigned, and even doubling the random encounter rate. However if grinding is the last thing you need to do, the developers generously gave you the ability you can change the same random encounter bar to nothing and explore the dungeons without hassle or battles.
Another quirky element to the fights is Bravely Second, which allows you to freeze time for a few turns and allows you to nail a free hit (or hits). These attacks cost a different gauge of Brave Points called Sleep Points because either playing or having the game in sleep mode are the only ways to replenish them. One point requires eight hours of time, but you can buy SP Drinks with microtransactions to replenish them faster. These drinks are needless and are really only a desperate last-ditch effort at a tough boss, so I absolutely don’t recommend spending a dime on these.
Many of the bosses in the game will net you more than just experience and cash, you might take their job. Bravely Default uses a job class system very similar to other Final Fantasy games like Final Fantasy V, Heroes of Light, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The heroes, in addition to wearing some awesome costumes, can use any job they acquire at any time and can level them up in order to unlock their most cunning strategies. When you switch to a new job you can use the attacks/spells you unlocked in a previous job to spice up your characters well roundedness. So your Black Mage can use the White Mage spells they already learned or Ninjas can use Spell Fencer abilities to make enemies suffer their weakness. You also gain passive abilities to equip regardless of your job and they can give you an edge with certain weapons or some crazy power to manipulate the battlefield. It takes a bit of time to think up the best fighter in the game, but if your lineup works correctly, you’ll be a force to be reckoned.
The game is perfectly at home on the 3DS because the game smartly uses StreetPass and the Nintendo Network to provide extra perks to players. You can rebuild Tiz’s old town in a very Professor Layton-looking side quest by enrolling other Bravely Default players to work on upgrading shops and expanding the village. Doing so will allow you to buy stronger items and gear and the more people you StreetPass, the sooner you can upgrade each shop. The game also allows you to summon other player’s uploaded characters to help you out if you’re in a tight spot, as long as they’re powerful enough. Uploaded characters from people on your friends list will also allow you to link them to one of you party members and allow them to use the linked character’s unlocked skills.
The experience of exploring Luxendarc, battling in a more traditional JRPG format and enjoying the company of the four main characters was an invigorating love I haven’t felt since Dragon Quest XIII, and I though nothing would get me out of that high, even after sixty hours. Unfortunately, Bravely Default’s biggest flaw happens around three-quarters into the story when you have to, and I kid you not, explore four dungeons you already conquered and fight the bosses in them four more times in a row. It kills the excellent pacing that the game tried so hard to maintain and then dumps you into the finale. Repeating the same thing over again just to say you did in the story was nothing short of boring, since little story progression happens through it, and was a cheap and needless way to expand gameplay. To add insult to injury, the Western version of Bravely Default was the revamped rerelease Bravely Default: For the Sequel in Japan, so the devs thought that this was acceptable to have twice over.
Even with the wicked curve with the pacing, not experiencing the adventure of Tiz, Agnés, Ringabel and Edea is just as evil. We’re in the midst of a revolution with JRPGs with games like Xenoblade, The Last Story and Dark Souls, and the ones that’ll be remembered in this time will be the ones who evolve for the modern times. Thankfully Bravely Default does just that by evolving the traditional turn-based gameplay to something people nowadays can muster. In all honesty, this is some of Square-Enix’s best modern work and it’ll be interesting replaying a rerelease like Final Fantasy X HD soon to see if it will still be as tolerable today after playing something fresh-yet-familiar like Bravely Default.