Bravely Default Review: Revitalizing the turn-based JRPG

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Title: Bravely Default
Price: $39.99
System(s): 3DS
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Nintendo (Square Enix)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was a return to the series roots by Square Enix. It went back to the basics, resurrecting staples like focusing on a Crystal-centric society, encouraging strategic class implementation for characters, and reviving the idea of four chosen heroes heading out to save the world. It was refreshing and nostalgic at the same time. When spiritual successor Bravely Default was announced, I’m sure people would have been happy with more of the same. But Square Enix didn’t just do that. Instead, it put in everything that made The 4 Heroes of Light special, while also adding revolutionary elements that make Bravely Default the most extraordinary, turn-based RPG available today.

bravely default

Heroes of light will always appear.

Bravely Default is set in a changing world with shifting ideologies. For many years, the people of Luxendarc followed the Crystals. They looked to the Vestals, maidens who prayed to the Crystals of Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire, for guidance. The crystals kept the laws of nature in check. However, the game begins with a devastating crisis. Each crystal is assaulted, and the world suffers as a result. The small, peaceful town of Norende, home to Tiz Arrior, is swallowed up by the earth, leaving a hole in its place. The oceans and seas die and remain unmoving. The wind stops. Volcanoes rage out of control.

Tiz awakes in Caldisla, and soon encounters three other people who will join him in becoming heroes of legend. Agnes Oblige, the Vestal of Wind, has come to Norende to see the damage firsthand. Ringabel is a mysterious, amnesiatic man with a journal that predicts the future. Edea Lee is the princess of Eternia, a kingdom hunting down the vestals and moving away from reliance on Crystals, and realizes her family and army may be the real villains.

These four join together and travel the world, in the hopes of awakening the Crystals. Their Crys-Fairy companion, Airy, says that their revival will restore the elements and set things right again. However, who knows how the legend will really go.

Echoes of the past and revolutionary techniques.

bravely defaultDon’t let the Bravely Default moniker scare you. This game is Final Fantasy in all but name. A group of four heroes sets off to save their world by revitalizing the four Crystals and defeating a Big Bad. The magic spells are all familiar, so you still have your Thundagas. Items are as well, so stock up on Phoenix Downs. Even the class names remain the same, as you’ll have Knights fighting alongside Red Mages and summoners. This game is steeped in familiarity, which helps ease players into the things that have changed.

Which is, namely, the battle system. It’s still turn based, but Bravely Default uses the Brave and Default system. When a round begins, you can act as normal, using attacks, special abilities, or items. Or, you can choose to Brave or Default. If you choose Brave, you leverage against the future, taking up to four attacks in advance right now, in return for leaving yourself open and defenseless for the next three turns while you recover. If you Default, you defend yourself and store up a turn for a future round. It makes general encounters easier, as you can have each character attack four times in one round, easily wiping out regular mooks. It also allows for more strategic options against bosses. As an example, you could have a white mage set up Protect on all four characters at the start of a round, or have one character use an Examine ability, to see weaknesses, then use a regular attack. It’s all up to you.

Though, the job system is invigorated in Bravely Default as well. Each job is earned by beating the previous holder of the profession. When a job is equipped, you earn experience and job points from battles, and the class itself levels up, proving more access to skills or support abilities. In addition, you can set a secondary class to each job. Which means you can have a Monk with Freelancer abilities, as I’ve done with Tiz, or make Agnes a Red Mage with Summoner sub-abilities. Support abilities can be plucked from any class, so long as you’ve earned them, which means no two players will have the same characters or party.

Not to mention, there are incentives for having Bravely Default on, but not playing it. It all has to do with the social abilities. Players are helping Tiz rebuild the town of Norende. This is accomplished by using people acquired by StreetPass and Updating Data via the internet to build up the town’s population, and having them rebuild the town’s shops. Certain shops will send you items for these efforts, or make new equipment or items available to buy from traders in the world.

These friends from StreetPassing and data updating also become valuable members of your party. You can Abili-Link them with your own characters, to expand the wealth of available skills for each person in your party. You can also call upon them in the midst of battle to unleash an attack against a foe. Just remember to return the favor, by also sending off one of your strongest characters’ every once in a while too.

Granted, there is an element to Bravely Default some may find frustrating, and it comes after the fifth chapter. While some may not enjoy the “twist,” which I found inspired, there’s a way to soften that blow. Players can customize Bravely Default‘s encounter rate. If you’re of a high enough level, you can choose to turn off encounters entirely (or double them, if you’re in need of extra experience and job points). It helps streamline the experience. I found I’d often turn off encounters after a while in a dungeon, so I could explore more without worrying about being paused every few minutes by a fight. There’s also an auto-battle option, which further serves to reduce redundancy.

bravely default

Bravely Default never falters.

I am in awe of Bravely Default. I knew I would enjoy it, as I had loved Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, it’s predecessor, but I didn’t know how huge an impression this RPG would make on me. It proves both that JRPGs can, and will, evolve to fit in the modern game landscape, and that Square Enix is still capable of making extraordinary and innovative RPGs. This adventure is extraordinary, with a story that twists and turns into something wonderful. Not to mention, the class mechanics and social StreetPass elements are handled superbly. There’s no debate. If you own a 3DS, you must also own Bravely Default.

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