Bravely Default is a game that excites me about the future of the JRPG genre. It takes the standard JRPG that we have grown used to, adds in several new features, and modernizes the genre for the new generation. So much is done right that I hope other developers look to it as an example. Unfortunately, what Bravely Default does so ingeniously in its first forty hours falls apart in its last fifteen. What could have been a revolutionary game is debased by the horrendous endgame that Square Enix could have so easily omitted.
But why not start off with all the good, shall we?
Bravely Default is gorgeous. It looks like something out of a painting; the environments are not only hand-drawn but in watercolor and playing in 3D elevates the whole experience to the next level. The game’s art style goes from being vibrant, colorful, and creative to something impossible to ignore. Sure, the 3D may not be essential to the gameplay experience, but it enhances the experience greatly. The only drawback is the occasional frame rate dip. The music is equally appealing — fully orchestrated, the music fully embodies the game’s sense of adventure. The diverse range of music featured reminds me somewhat of Ni No Kuni, which is definitely a compliment.The plot is pretty simple: four protagonists travel across the world, awakening crystals in order to save the world. It’s pretty standard JRPG fare, but Bravely Default‘s side plots — which are admittedly pretty deep and even dark at times — and dialogue are what help it stand apart. The character animation is deceptively childish, but the topics explored are adult-themed and some of the humor intertwined with the dialogue can even be classified as risqué.
The battle mechanics are pretty standard, but closer observations show that they are much deeper than they initially appear. In addition to the standard \”attack\” and \”magic\” commands that we have grown used to after so many years, there is also a \”brave\” and \”default\” system. \”Brave\” forfeits an attack in the upcoming turn while \”default\” gives the option to guard, allowing an extra move to be collected for the next turn.
Players may use these command in any combination they choose. They may \”default\” for three moves, saving them for later to unleash four powerful attacks in one turn. The catch? Enemies are also able to utilize the same commands, meaning that bosses will also be able to save and unleash multiple moves within one turn. This introduces the element of strategy, as players must know their enemies well enough in battle to be able to predict when the best time to attack and defend are.
Many JRPGs previously have featured a job system, but Bravely Default modernizes it to be efficient, convenient, and effective. Two dozen jobs are featured for players to collect and apply to their characters, each obtained after defeating a boss. The jobs themselves are capable of leveling up, meaning that one character may be level 20 overall but only level 9 as a white mage. Therefore, players will need to pay special attention to which skills they wish to unlock, as they will have to level up the corresponding job.
Players are allowed to switch jobs at any point, meaning that your white mage specialist may also be your archery expert and even black mage as well. Trying to figure out which characters perform best doing which jobs is an experimental approach and is when the game becomes the most fun, as each battle becomes a new experience in job matching.
Bravely Default continues its modernization of the genre far beyond the combat system; the overall user interface is a large improvement over other JRPGs. The difficulty level ensures that it is suitable for both beginners and veterans, but the random battle system ensures that no one tears their hair out from annoyance. Players are able to turn off random encounters, reduce their likeliness, or even double the rate if they so choose, placing them in charge of their own journey. The constant auto-save feature, auto-battle system (when grinding is needed), and airship, along with this random encounter option, affords more control for players and minimizes the risk of ragequitting, as may have been induced by Bravely Default‘s predecessors.
StreetPass and SpotPass allow players to exchange data online and opens up several features within the game, providing innovation to the way that players can be involved with their friends. Every friend collected is sent to an in-game town; the more people, the more upgrades the town may undergo and the more unlocks become available to the player. Players may also send and receive moves from others registered online. Although not too handy for strangers, players may strategize which moves to send and receive to allow for the greatest chance of success in battle.
Finally, I want to put everyone’s concern to rest regarding the dreaded sleep points. A sleep point, when used, allows for a player to use a move at any time in battle, no matter whose turn it is. One sleep point is collected for every eight hours that the 3DS is left in sleep mode. For those who do not have any sleep points and wish to obtain them quickly, three sleep points may be purchased for one dollar. There was outrage when this feature was announced, but I would like to point out that this is by no means mandatory. In fact, had sleep points been completely absent, it would have been hard to notice. For this reason, I strongly urge all concerned about this feature not to give it any further thought.
It becomes tragic to see how much the game fails at the end when reviewing all the good contained within Bravely Default. The first forty hours are a blast, but after that, it falls apart. This is not just a small blunder on the part of Square Enix, but a large mistake made that I surely hope will never be repeated. In order to complete the game, players are forced to play through each of the four main dungeons again, battling each of the bosses. This may take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on difficulty. Square did not stop there, though.
After playing through the dungeons again, Bravely Default made me do it again — then again — and one last time, again. This isn\’t any small nuisance but ten to fifteen hours of complete boredom. The only reason I was able to endure this section of the game was because I had Breaking Bad on in the background. I recommend to those overly concerned with this to play through the initial forty hours and then giving up the game. I could not give a higher recommendation to those first forty hours, but the atrocious end game nearly ruins that.
If I were judging Bravely Default on only those initial forty hours, I would give a very strong recommendation. The game is gorgeous and the soundtrack is wonderful, the gameplay is innovative and empowering for the player, and the dialogue and story is very well written. Unfortunately, someone at Square Enix had the ridiculous idea of making the last fifteen hours a complete disaster. It makes recommending Bravely Default a little more challenging.
Nevertheless, Bravely Default is still a great JRPG for any fanatic, even if the end may not be worth completing. If these positive changes are any indication of the genre’s future, I could not be more excited for what is to come.