Bravely Default is, in so many ways, the way Square Enix should be making portable RPGs. While not perfect, this title is the epitome of getting-back-to-your-roots game development, and it feels like a game that I played growing up.
In fact, Bravely Default’s adherence to classic RPG design is both its greatest triumph and its biggest flaw. Fans of the genre will absolutely love the sticktoitiveness Square Enix and developer Silicon Studio applied when making this game. It’s a love letter to JRPG mechanics, like job systems and grinding, but it’s also a bit too steeped in cliche and repetition to attract newcomers.
The four main characters here absolutely stink of JRPG storytelling tropes. There’s a farm boy bound for adventure, a knight with something to prove, a woman out to right injustice and, brace yourselves, a character plighted with amnesia. It feels like the cast of a now ancient sitcom for a reason. We’ve seen these people before. We’ll probably see them again. That didn’t stop me from literally blurting “oh, of course there is” when the character with amnesia is introduced.
While the story may seem cliche as well, it’s not nearly as hard to swallow as the base characters. Sure, each of these four featured fellows has a lame backstory that we all saw coming from a mile away. At least Silicon Studio and Square use dialogue, party chats and the actual plotline to beat these characters out in interesting ways. I hated their original molds, but I wound up really enjoying the way each wrote character mixed and mingled throughout the lengthy journey.
And already, you likely understand why being a strict JRPG is a blessing and a curse for Bravely Default. Folks like me who grew up playing games from this genre are okay with cliche characters and predictable plot twists because, for better or worse, there all par for the course that is the JRPG. We love them in spite of their flaws, but that means that newcomers who aren’t as forgiving or used to these elements will likely be put off.
That extends to the combat system of this game as well. Traditional JRPGs can boast complicated combat systems. As the genre evolved, developers felt the need to add additional complexity to the system in order to separate their games from the pack. That means that the classic turn-based elements of, say, Final Fantasy V are hard to come by in today’s world of additional options.
Bravely Default falls victim to that problem, too. The combat has, perhaps, one too many layers of complication to make it easy to swallow. Of course, you have your basic attack system with spells and items. Bravely Default also makes use of the awesome Jobs mechanic that lets you assign classes to each character (freelancer, monk, knight, white mage, black mage, etc.) that brings in more abilities.
Oh, and do the sidequests as they come up. You’ll be given more Jobs, so keep playing.
Then, for good measure, is the brand new Bravely/Default system of battle. This isn’t where things get too complicated, but it is where the game might start to lose those less than willing to learn. Each character enters battle, under normal conditions, with a BP level of 0. Performing an action like normal doesn’t affect this system. However, you have the choice to either be “Brave” or “Default.” Default makes you less susceptible to damage, but you don’t get to attack in that turn. Instead, you BP goes +1. Brave is what spends BP, and you can use it four times in a single turn. If you hit Brave and attack four times, you’ll hit your opponent four times in a row and your BP will fall by four points. You won’t be able to attack again until your BP hits 0.
With me? Maybe not. Again, it’s complicated in discussion, but it’s easy to understand as it plays out. Essentially, it’s a high-risk, high-reward system. If you use Brave a lot, you might be able to down enemies quickly. If they’re a little too strong, you’ve left your character unable to move until their BP hits 0. Worth the risk? That’s the point.
Now we get to the “maybe a little too much” layer of combat. We’ve got plain attacks and item use, jobs that bring abilities and a Brave/Default system that adds in layers of gamble. How about the ability to summon folks you’ve Streetpassed into battle? Sure! They’ll come in and deal an attack relative to their level and split. It’s an easy way to absolutely ruin tough bosses.
Okay, so we have attacks and items, jobs and abilities, Brave and Default, summoning friends and…oh, there’s more? Sleep Points. This is a tricky topic for some, as Sleep Points can either be earned by leaving your 3DS on standby and asleep while not in play (that’s lid closed, system on) or, hold on to your butts, microtransactions.
Pitchforks down, folks! Sleep Points are introduced once and never talked about again. In fact, I forgot they were even a part of the game until, like, 20 hours in. The option to buy is present, but never discussed more than once. This isn’t a game-breaking use of money-grabbing. It is an extra coating of convolution, but that’s about it.
The Sleep Points and Streetpass systems are both really great examples, though, of how Square Enix and Silicon Studio moved to bring this classic JRPG into more modern mechanics. There’s a third, too. You can rebuild a town (I won’t explain why, for fear of spoilers) one item at a time in the system’s sub-menu. All it takes is assigning a Streetpassed or internet received NPC to a shop or area and they’ll rebuild it for, say, 15 hours. Those 15 hours roll as your system is on and in sleep mode or normal play, and you’ll get rewards and access to unique items.
It’s fun, and it provides an extra excuse to leave your hardware on.
While the combat may be a little complicated at times, Silicon Studio and Square Enix should be applauded for the extra gameplay tweaking options they’ve included in this title’s menus. Don’t like the difficulty? Turn it down as you play. Want more random encounters in order to grind out some levels? Turn that up. Bogged down by those enemies? Turn random encounters down.
There’s even a way to play the game with one hand whilst sipping on the beverage of your choice in another.
Yes, Bravely Default is a callback to classic RPGs. Yes, the plot and characters are cliche. Yes, the combat system has one too many layers of complication for a newcomer’s taste. However, there’s a really great, lengthy and rewarding game to be found here. If you love oldschool RPG mechanics or you have even a minor interest in the aging genre, Bravely Default demands your attention.
This game has been getting a lot of love abroad since its release. Now that it’s bound for North American shores, put it on your shortlist of must-haves. That goes double if you grew up playing games like it.
Joey Davidson is an Associate Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeyDavidson.
Review copy provided by publisher. Game is exclusive to 3DS.