If you’re a JRPG fan, this game has all the features that you probably associate with the genre – cute yet serious and intriguing characters, multi-facetted plot, plenty of side missions, innovative battle system and hours of gameplay. It appears that the best JRPGs can now truly be found on handheld devices.
The game follows Agnes, the Wind-Crystal vestal, as she attempts to cleanse the world of darkness. She is accompanied by a cryst-fairy, Airy, who explains how to do this. Along the way, she teams up with Tiz, a country boy who is determined to help Agnes save the world after his town is destroyed. When they are joined by the amnesiac Ringabel and deeply moral Edea, the party is complete. Together, they will do whatever it takes to save the world, although what they discover along the way raises some interesting questions and doubts.
The battle system for Bravely Default is truly innovative. Combat is turn-based and works off of a battle point system. You gain one battle point each turn; if you “default” on that turn, you can accumulate battle points. Defaulting works as a defending, meaning that you can defend against your enemy’s attacks and then use all your points at once to release a flurry of moves. Brave lets you spend more than one battle point on a given turn – you can use this after defaulting to spend all your points, or you can go into “debt” of battle points (up to a point) in an attempt to defeat an enemy in one turn.
Added into the mix are Sleep Points (also called Bravely Second). As you might imagine, SP are earned by sleeping – close the 3DS while still in game to put the unit to sleep in order to gain these points. SP stop battle, allowing you to insert and extra move (up to three moves) – these can be particularly useful if you want to revive a party member so that they can already use a turn. This is also where the game adds in micro transactions – if you like, you can choose to purchase these SP. However, I never found the need to – I managed to play the full game without once buying SP; I just put the unit to sleep every night after playing the game.
Added to the battle system are jobs. Each player begins as a “freelancer”, a job that allows for general weapons to be equipped and basic skills. As you defeat each (mini) boss, you can learn their jobs: eg. knight, ranger, white mage. Each of these jobs offer stat changes, skills and equip options. Any player can learn any job, although skills are learned as you level up the job. This means that each character can be customized according to your play style.
At its core, Bravely Default is about a quest to save the world. However, that world changes dramatically overtime.
At the start of the game, you are going against the wishes of an evil empire, helping to restore the Crystals to their former glory. Airy instructs you in how to awaken each one, and you work your way through each temple – wind, water, fire and earth. Along the way, you encounter numerous characters intent on stopping you and the “crystal orthodoxy”; they claim that you are not helping to save the world, but rather to destroy it.
Upon awakening all four crystals, a pillar of light appears. Yet, after defeating the boss there, you awake to find yourself back at the beginning of the game. Only, it’s not quite the beginning – it’s an alternate world where your memories (and EXP) remain intact, but characters and the world have changed. This happens a few times, with each world showing great variation. Much like Nier, it will make you re-evaluate your choices, and wonder if you can really trust everyone.
A word of advice – upon completing the third world, be sure to check back the title screen for a fantastic easter egg.
The aesthetic of the game is very reminiscent of classic JRPGs. There is an open world map you can traverse and explore – you even eventually get your very own airship. The characters are cute and obviously young, with all the built-in shyness and embarrassment from romantic references. Each job changes the look of the characters – some of which are quite revealing on the ladies. In true JRPG fashion, they laugh or are embarrassed by it, but it never becomes over sexualized.
Bravely Default is a long game. There is a ton of content in this handheld experience, but sometimes the pacing feels a bit uneven. The game will go from being fairly average in difficulty, to suddenly becoming extremely difficult, forcing you to grind for several hours in order to level up sufficiently. With the inclusion of all the side missions, it would have been better if those missions leveled up the party enough so that main missions were doable. While I don’t mind some grinding, it felt contrived in its necessity.
The game even anticipates that you will need to grind, creating an auto-combat system. Use a set of commands for each party member (special attack, normal attack, heal, etc) and then press “Y” to have the same commands repeated for every turn. It certainly makes grinding less grueling, but I have to wonder why force the player to grind in the first place.
In this way, despite being an excellent game, I worry that Bravely Default will alienate anyone who isn’t a JRPG fan. Additionally, due to the inherent short-term play expected from handheld devices, some may find the game too long to play comfortably on the 3DS.