When a beloved franchise loses its way like a misguided former child celebrity, it becomes the talk of the town. So when a classic franchise such as Final Fantasy lost its way in a maelstrom of poor decisions, including the most horrendous Free-to-Play scam devised on iOS and with its best game in years being a music themed retro love-letter, you know that there are legions of fans looking for that spark that made the franchise famous. After all, the games began as turn-based affairs, before revolutionising JRPGs forever with the ATB (Active Time Battle) mechanic. Fans will debate forever as to when that series lost its way, but is Bravely Default the game that restores Square Enix – the long usurped king of JRPGs, to the throne?
This RPG with a confusing name begins with a cataclysm. Four crystals are corrupted, meaning that the sea is decaying and the winds have died. Fires rage across the globe and great chasms abruptly open to swallow villages whole. Country bumpkin Tiz’s village is one of those to be consumed, killing his brother in the process. Upon his return to the site of his village after waking from a coma, he comes across a young girl named Agnés who turns out to be the vestal of wind – one of four maidens who look after the elemental crystals – and is pursued by an empire. They also come across a perverted amnesiac who calls himself Ringabel and sassy daughter of the Grand Admiral of Eternia Edea, as they journey to restore the world’s crystals from the plague they suffer.
While the overarching narrative wears its influence on its sleeve, after all this is pretty much a Final Fantasy game in all but name, each chapter’s scenario reveals alarming parallels with our current world. Themes such as extortion of the populace in order to renounce their former ways, or how tradition clashes with modern ideology are fascinating to see played out. One of the chapters is a little uncomfortable to watch, bringing out the most sinister series of sub-plots I’ve seen in a JRPG, but at the same time, the game nods that being uncomfortable is entirely the point. Our main protagonist is a bit of a drip, while the maiden in distress is your typical naive anime damsel; but it is Edea’s backchat and put-downs are a highlight however, synergising with Ringabel’s perverted nature nicely. Some other memorable characters round off a rich and diverse world you’ll wish to explore every nook and cranny. Not perfect by any means, but far from terrible.
You’ve got to be brave!
Bravely Default is named after two key abilities both you and your foes use in battle. To default here means to defend, but you can also store up BP (Brave Points) for future turns. Using Brave reduces your total Brave points for more actions in a single turn. What makes all the difference is you can take risks by sinking your BP count into negative figures in order to wail on an opponent. Enemies also use a range of tactics when it comes to their BP, with some defending until they’ve stored a massive amount to deal huge damage. It is refreshing to see turn-based RPG combat in such an updated way, even if the rest of the battle system feels strangely familiar.
You see, Final Fantasy put the job system on the map, so for Bravely Default to also use it is perhaps a little derivative for some. There’s a good number of them mind, unlockable as you complete quests by obtaining asterisks from fallen foes. Classes range from your typical Knights, White and Black Mages, and Thieves; to nonconforming jobs including the Merchant who will annihilate foes with the power of commerce! Slightly more vague a similarity is the special move mechanic that allows for augmentation courtesy of unlocks from village rebuilding. It’s different enough from Limit Breaks, even allowing for customisation.
As you sleep, the world carries on without you.
But the most important development in the RPG genre Bravely Default brings is that it doesn’t waste your time. Don’t feel like you’re getting a big enough challenge? Try cranking up the difficulty on the fly. Find you’re fighting too many random encounters? Take the frequency down a notch! Even when the game is idle in sleep mode you have countdowns which you can initiate via StreetPass or the internet to gain villagers and Nemesis encounters (just harder enemies you can fight at will). On top of that, redeveloping Novende with the help of an ever-growing population unlocks items to buy at save points and allows for tributes to occasionally appear. StreetPass isn’t just limited to restoring Novende however. In battles, summoning friends to help in a pinch is a handy option to have, especially when they have special moves attached to their characters. Sure it is a lottery what you might get, but a powerful attack from a friend or that all important Cura in a pinch could save your skin!
Less successful is the Bravely Second mechanic, which allows you to stop time for one free move from any character during battle that ignores damage limits, which uses SP obtained from either leaving your 3DS in sleep mode for several hours at a time or grabbing a SP drink through micro-transactions. As you are probably using sleep mode to unlock more parts of your village, the pay-wall is pointless (probably for the best).
On top of all of that, the game is gorgeously familiar, spanning diverse landscapes and fixed camera angles that always make it look its best. Even 3D is a boon to this one as environments literally jump out at you like a pop-up book, giving the game a fairytale aesthetic. Music is an interesting blend of symphonic orchestral tunes and guitar wailing melodies, all of which have more layers than a particularly delicious cake. This is served with a slightly off-putting voiceover ham sandwich, sounding more forced and melodramatic as the game ventures forward, with the dialogue occasionally not helping matters. Still this is but a minor blemish on an otherwise impeccable effort.
Bravely Default is the most user-friendly JRPG to date. Its mechanics allow battles to not only provide challenge, but also tweak things like encounter rates to suit the amount of time you have. The Brave and Default mechanics give a risk/reward feel and customisable special attacks pack more punch than limit breaks ever could, while intelligent use of StreetPass allows for a vested interest in this little-used feature of the 3DS. Gorgeous to look at, incredible music, and a world full of Jobs to unlock; this is the best Final Fantasy since the PlayStation era. Come in from the cold Square Enix, all is forgiven.
- Brave and Default are the new ATB.
- The best StreetPass functionality on 3DS.
- Engrossing scenarios in each chapter.
- What happens in Florem, stays in Florem…
- Voice acting is all over the place.
- Perhaps a tiny bit too derivative of Final Fantasy.