For fans of Japanese RPGs, Bravely Default has been a sign of frustration. It released over a year ago in Japan and those who were lucky enough to import the title spoke in spades about its quality. Many believed it would be another title that would pass Western audiences by, but it's pleasing to say that we are now able to witness the tale of this rag-tag bunch of adventurers who are out to restore their land to its former glory.
Despite having quite a cute visual style and often happy demeanor, Bravely Default also has a side that's very dark. This is quite clear from the off, as the game's introduction sees you witness the destruction of a town called Norende, and one of the game's main protagonists, Tiz attempting in vain to save his younger brother.
What happens next is one of those rather fortuitous tales that you might come to expect from an RPG, but needless to say, you end up with a party of four: Tiz, Agnes, Ringabel and Edea.
Tiz, despite being a simple farmer, has the heart of a lion. As the story plays out, he often feels like the "leader" and as a compliment to this and his initial struggles, there's a focus on rebuilding his home town. However, much of the story's purpose revolves around Agnes and her quest to restore the realm's four crystals. These have been taken over by a dark force and as the Wind Vestel, it's her duty to investigate and restore them to their former glory. Towards the start of this quest, you also meet Ringabel, a man with no memory of his past who's in possession of a book that recants the future and Edea, an enemy turned friend who can no longer sit by and watch what her kin are doing to the world.
As you continue through with this quest, the four characters grow as individuals, but also as a team. This is true about most games of a similar ilk, but Bravely Default makes it more apparent due to the consistency of dialogue. Talking between the four is not just limited to cutscenes, with optional "party chat" moments appearing on a regular basis. These allow you to learn more about how the characters are feeling, but also more about their backgrounds.
This is also true when it comes to the game's additional characters. Even though some of them only feature in the game's story for a short period of time, should you want it, a concerted effort has been made to make you aware of who they are and why they are worth your time. Many of the game's different job classes are gained through these little escapades and it's pleasing to see that the story has been fleshed out so well in this area.
The game's core mechanic is a play on its name, as every turn you can either choose to "Brave" or "Default". This is governed by BP, which you can spend or accumulate depending on how you wish to play. In essence, the system allows you to be "brave" and take up to four turns in one go, or "default" on your turn, and store your BP up. Not only does this change play styles in a dramatic fashion, it also makes the entire affair much more strategic. You see, as you can only perform actions if you have BP of 0 or more, depending on the amount of BP left after you brave you may leave yourself unable to operate. Therefore, if you're on 0 BP and choose to either take four actions, or use BP sucking moves, you could end up on -4 BP. In this scenario, you have to wait for four turns until you are allowed to perform an action again and it also leaves you more susceptible to taking damage.
Many JRPGs have a defend function, but it's often seen as a pointless action - a wasted turn if you will. In Bravely Default, this defend function has been given a purpose. Not only does it allow you to take reduced damage, you are also able to store up BP so you can launch a lengthy assault without the same penalties at the end. This means that your entire party could default for three turns, then effectively take sixteen at the same time - powerful stuff, but even this could be considered a huge risk. For example, what happens if your damage dealer is charmed right before they perform their actions, or your opponent casts reflect before you line-up a huge spell chain. The game proposes these small challenges at frequent opportunities and it forces you to adapt, curtail your bold enthusiasm and take a more methodical approach.
Still, the opportunity is always there for you to throw caution to the wind and that's what gives this mechanic its charm and depth.
Outside of this, Bravely Default uses a job system that will be familiar to fans of the older Final Fantasy titles. There are 24 jobs in total, each offering their own unique traits, and they can be unlocked by beating either story-related bosses or those which are available through optional quests. As expected, due to the breadth of the selection, there are of course certain jobs that are more suited to scenarios than others, but overall it feels like it caters for the majority of interests. This means you have the classic jobs such as White Mage and Black Mage, but there are also more "unorthodox" jobs such as Spell Fencer and Slave-Maker.
Each job has fourteen different levels, and with each level you will gain either a support ability, or an active skill that can be used in battle. Once learnt, support abilities can be used with any job and this gives the whole system quite a lot of flexibility. For example, jobs have natural affinities to certain weapon types, but you can learn support abilities which give you maximum affinity with any weapon type. You will also find plenty of jobs that compliment each other through support abilities, such as Arcanist and Black Mage.
Jobs can also be equipped as sub-jobs, allowing you to use any abilities you have previously learnt with that job. This means you can create tons of different combinations of jobs and tailor them to each scenario.
It's also pleasing to see that the jobs work together to create interesting dynamics in battles and with the addition of an aggro system, it promotes the creation of parties that have jobs which harmonise with each other. However, the implementation of the job system is pretty standard and while it's done well, it should be expected given the material from which the game is based upon.It's unfortunate, but there are some gripes which arise from the game's presentation in both of these elements. Later in the game you will end up in scenarios where positive and negative status effects are flying around like nobody's business. And with the game having to cycle through every single status effect individually, it slows down the action quite a lot. This becomes especially annoying due to a lot of status effects only lasting for x amount of turns. It would have been nice to see this represented better in a visual sense. Also, as another minor gripe, it would have been great to see the levels of each character's jobs in one easy place, as opposed to having to cycle through a list every time - it's rather cumbersome.
Gripes aside, the visual presentation is par for the course for this type of game. There isn't anything that stands out that much, which is a bit of a shame - especially when thinking about cutscenes. Music is quite the different story though, with Revo providing a brilliant score. The vocal version of the main theme is something to behold and many of the dungeons have excellent audio accompaniment.
In other areas Bravely Default is a game that's very much inspired by Final Fantasy titles of yesteryear. Many of the items and abilities featured throughout the game will be very familiar and there are a few other nuggets in there too for fans.
Outside of core gameplay, there are many elements which make Bravely Default stand out, even if some of them are perhaps a little bit broken. One such element is the ablink. This allows you to connect with friends who are also playing the game and share their job levels. While it's limited in some respects, such as you having to own spells to use them, other jobs are accessible in their entirety. If you have a friend who has completed the game before you, ablinking to them has the potential to make one of your characters very strong.
Likewise, you can also summon friends and strangers to help in battle. Again, this is perfect in theory, but you could meet people who are sending you moves which do 9,999 damage. This can offer a significant advantage earlier in the game.
Even if they can be exploited, it's still nice to see elements like this in the game. They help to promote a sense of community, something which is most prevalent with the rebuilding of Norende. Once a day, you are able to seek aid from other Bravely Default players and they can then come in to help rebuild your town. It's through the use of this system that you can get access to powerful items, but it also significantly expands on the special attacks you can perform in battles.
Bravely Default hits all the right notes and after playing, you will be left wondering why it took so long for this game to be localised. There's a strong story with just the right amount of charm and darkness, there's an in-depth combat system that will challenge you in the right way and there's plenty of additional content to keep you occupied. Bravely Default is a must have game for JRPG fans.
|Despite its visual style, the story has a lot of dark moments.|
|Combat system is fulfilling.|
|Rebuilding Norende offers up an interesting distraction.|
|Some of the visual presentation is a bit awkward.|
|Dare we say, more jobs would have been nice?|
|Could have done with a greater level of variety in optional content.|