My review of Bravely Default, the hotly anticipated Square Enix RPG for the 3DS!
Bravely Default is the latest RPG from Square Enix, and the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light. The version we got in the West was known in Japan as For the Sequel; similar to the original, but with some alterations and expanded content. It’s also done well enough to warrant a sequel, which I plan to play on my Japanese 3DS and hope to get a chance to play in English. So, what’s it about?
Bravely Default is set in the world of Luxendarc. The world’s four crystals have run afoul of monsters, and it falls to our four heroes to restore them to their former health. They must fight the forces of Eternia, who seek to control the crystals for reasons unknown. Vestals guard each of the crystals of wind, water, fire and earth. Being the vestal of wind, Agnès Oblige is tasked with the protection of the wind crystal. Tiz Arrior’s village of Norende was swallowed up by what was dubbed the “Great Chasm” in the game’s opening cutscene, and journeys with Agnès to both protect her and find a way to restore his village. Ringabel lost his memories a week prior to the game’s beginning. He carries only a journal which features a “D” on its cover, and tries to seduce every woman he meets. The daughter of the Grand Marshal of Eternia, Edea Lee starts the game opposing the party, but quickly turns against her commander, disgusted by his behaviour.
The party is a likeable bunch, and the plot is interesting. It can be predictable at times, but it still managed to throw out a few twists which caught me completely off guard. It’s fantastic watching the development as each of the characters grow in their own way, especially Ringabel as he regains his memories. As a side note, Bravely Default supports dual audio. I’m one who generally prefers to listen to English voices, but even I found myself swapping to the Japanese ones. The English dub is not completely terrible, but… it’s still not very good.
I mentioned earlier the destruction of Tiz’s village of Norende. If you StreetPass with someone who also has Bravely Default data on their console, you can use them to help rebuild Norende. It can be viewed at any time on the world map or in dungeons by pressing right on the D-pad, which brings up a small menu. In Norende, there are stores to be built and obstacles to be cleared using your StreetPass buddies, so the more, the merrier. Say, for example, upgrading a shop’s level takes 10 hours for one person. Add a second person, and it takes five hours. Add a third, and it takes three hours and 20 minutes. Add 10 people to the job, and it takes just one hour. The timer doesn’t run while the game is off, but it does while it’s in sleep mode. I found it quite effective to leave it on while I was sleeping or at work. Upgrading the shops in Norende gives a wider inventory to the red traders scattered across Luxendarc, commonly found right before boss fights so you can save and resupply before the battle.
If you don’t get many StreetPasses, the game’s got you covered; chat to a red trader (you can also find one in every town) and hit “Update” to receive some people through SpotPass. StreetPassing and SpotPassing will also bring monsters into the town, which you can fight for more experience and rare drops. No more than seven can be in the village at any one time. Even if you’re like me and get quite a lot of StreetPasses, the Update feature is still a handy way to get a few more people or monsters into your town.
Battle in Bravely Default is turn-based, and the enemies and bosses can be quite difficult, so be prepared for some grinding. There’s your standard attack, and there’s your abilities. Also on the menu are special attacks, which do not consume MP. There are three levels of special attacks available to each character, and they can be customised to suit you. You can change your characters’ battle cries when they use it; this is basically just some text that appears on the screen when they use the special attack, and aren’t actually voiced. You can also add and alter bonus effects to each one. These bonus effects are found in various shops in Norende, so the more you upgrade the shops, the more you can change up your special moves. Each class has their own criteria which must be met in order to reuse their special attack; these can be checked via the game’s menu. Initiating a special attack will cause the music to change, and the effects will last until the music ends.
You can also choose to “Summon Friend”, which will allow you to summon the warriors you gain via Street or SpotPass in battle to use a single move. You can choose which move you send out by selecting “Send” on the battle menu, and then choosing the move you’d like others to receive via Street and SpotPass.
In addition to all of these are the Brave and Default options from which the game draws its name. Default works just like “defend” in other RPGs, but also gives your character one BP. Brave will consume this BP in exchange for an additional attack that turn. Up to three BP can be stored up or consumed in a single turn, and, if you lack the necessary BP, you can still have an advance turn or two or three. Should your BP drop below zero, however, you’ll have to wait for it to return to zero before you can attack again. So, it can be quite risky, but well worth your time.
Bravely Default does have a microtransaction feature, and the first thing I’ll say about it is that it’s not at all necessary. Paying $0.99 will earn you one SP. Using SP will freeze time for a short period, allowing you to land a whole host of attacks with zero retaliation. You can have no more than three stored, and there is another, free way to earn them. Spending eight hours in sleep mode will earn you one SP; I found that I had three fairly early on due to my habit of leaving my 3DS on for StreetPasses while I’m at work. I never once used it in the game’s main story, just so I could assure you that it’s not needed to complete the game. Bravely Default is entirely playable without microtransactions.
There are 24 different jobs from which to choose in Bravely Default. Four are found early in the game via plot events, four more in the late game via plot events, while the remaining 16 are unlocked via sidequests. Progression for both sidequests and the story is made easy by exclamation points found on the map screen. Orange ones mark your next destination for the story, while blue ones mark the next sidequest location. Sidequests are few in number, but are quite involved, and the reward is always a new job. They culminate in a battle with an opponent who belongs to the class that you will unlock, so you can see what they’re like in battle before you get them. At one point in the game, all of the final bosses for sidequests will be able to be challenged again, so if you missed a job, you can go back and get it. It makes for good training, as well, as they reward a lot of level and job experience.
Job levels cap at 14, and each level up earns you new skills. Skills fall into two types; those which can be used in battle, and support skills. Subclasses can be set, so you can use in-battle skills from one other job. The number of skills you have available from your subclass depends on how much you have leveled up that class; a subclass which you have previously maxed out will give you access to all of their in-battle skills, whereas putting your subclass as one you have never used will only give you access to their most basic skill.
Support skills are passive skills which can be equipped via the menu. You start with one slot and gain another each time you awaken a crystal, so by the end of the game, you will have five slots. Some skills take up just one slot, while others will take up two or even three. The cool thing about these is that you can equip passive skills from a different class, provided your character has already leveled up enough in that class to learn the skill. It’s a very nice, very fiddly system that, for people like me who love to customise characters, is very satisfying to play around with. One of the more notable jobs is the Salve Maker, as its level one ability is compounding. Compounding items can increase their restorative abilities, and there are also ways to reduce your opponents’ defensive capabilities or bolster your own defences by compounding.
On magic, there are a few different types, including your standard white and black magic. We see some summoning magic; these ones must be earned by fighting with the wizards scattered across Luxendarc, as opposed to buying it like the other magics. Time magic contains abilities such as haste, slow and regen, as well as earth-aligned attacks. What I found the most interesting (and, frankly, pretty cool) was the addition of sword magic. This takes black and white magic and applies it to the equipped weapon for 10 turns, allowing you to dish out elemental or maybe status inflicting damage for ten turns when you use physical attacks. I didn’t play around with this till the postgame, and found myself wishing I’d discovered it much earlier.
The handy side menu I mentioned earlier doesn’t just give access to Norende. There’s an option to save which is only available in the overworld; as there’s an autosave that records your data on every floor, this did not feel limiting. On the side menu there’s also an option to update friend data for when you StreetPass, access D’s journal and, later, an option to call your airship. D’s journal belongs to Ringabel; it’s the only thing he had with him when he woke up without his memories. It contains entries which forecast the future and also acts as an item compendium, bestiary and glossary of terms, people and locations. It’s a very handy tool.
Bravely Default both looks and sounds amazing. I dabbled in the Japanese version of the game when it was released, and was struck by how pretty it looked. That feeling never left even as I reached the end; I was still admiring the beautiful artwork even as I trekked towards my final battle. The soundtrack is great to listen to, as well, especially the themes for the special attacks; Tiz’s and Ringabel’s were my favourites.
Without going into any detail, I would like to express my distaste for the build up to the end of the game. For reasons relevant to the plot, the party is forced to fight the same four bosses some four to five times. Save for an addition of 10,000 HP each fight, the fights are exactly the same. The final couple of rounds felt completely unncessary; there wasn’t even any new information or dialogue in between as there was the first couple of times. Just back-to-back boss battles. It was a sour end to what was an amazing experience in every other way.
Upon completing the main story, the game will prompt you to save clear data, and you will enter the postgame. There isn’t a whole lot here aside from boss battle rematches, but it’s still fun to mess around in. They’re also quite difficult, so those looking for a real challenge will relish these battles. The difficulty can be adjusted at will via the menu, so you can change to an easier or a harder experience any time you like. In all, the game’s story took me 50 hours to complete, which was far more than I was expecting.
Bravely Default is a solid return to form by Square Enix. The game completely nailed the battle system, the ability customisation, the job system – I had so much fun messing around in the menus and optimising my party. The artwork is totally unique, and it works wonderfully. The soundtrack is a great one to listen to, and the story is compelling. I had minor issues with the English voice acting, but the characters were a lot of fun to play as. Bravely Default is an RPG player’s dream, and an absolute must for all fans of the genre.