As a longtime fan of the turn-based RPG genre, sometimes I used to wonder if the genre was reaching its limits. Once widely popular among JRPGs, particularly in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series, is now barely present in North America aside from in the once-niche supernatural Shin Megami Tensei universe. I didn’t want to admit to myself that the genre was totally down and out, but with action-RPGs becoming such a trend, things were looking grim.
Luckily, devout fans are in luck, as the genre is slowly but surely making its comeback. Square Enix’s Bravely Default is a prime example of that, and juxtaposes old and new to bring about a whole new age in JRPGs. Once scrutinized for their slow pace, are now just as technically impressive as rivaling genres thanks to stronger hardware and more customizable features than you could even imagine. Combine that with a deeply rooted story of fantasy, Bravely Default proves itself to be one of the most important games to come out of the genre. Accessible in nature and purely nostalgic in approach, this game cannot be missed.
BravelyDefault follows the story of Tiz, a humble shepard and lone survivor of a cataclysmic event in his hometown Norende, Agnes, the vestal and protector of the Wind Crystal, Edea, daughter of the head of the ruling council of Eternia, who has recently turned traitor, and Ringebel, an amnesiac man of mystery. Together these four are on a mission to save the world after an ominous evil seeks to overcome the four great crystals, the heart of the world.
Bravely Default is a traditional turn-based JRPG infused with an immersive job system similar to FF V. To change things up, this JRPG introduces an amazing new system called Brave/Default, which in my opinion is one of the most fun and in-depth battle systems since the ATB system in FF VI.
In Brave/Default you used stocked points called BP which you can use to gain extra turns each round. When using Default, a turn is skipped in order to stock BP (and is a more defensive state), while Brave uses that BP in order to take two actions that turn but may leave you open and defenseless next turn.
This battle system, as you can imagine, offers lots of strategic options depending on your play style. It’s inviting and challenging without being too complex, which in my opinion is the perfect marriage. You even have the option to speed up battle animations in case it ever gets too grating, which we all know is infamous of the genre.
In addition you also have access to another interesting pick-me-up when you’re in a jam: Bravely Second. This feature allows you to pause time and deal more damage to enemies, even if you don’t have the BP to do so. Bravely Second consumes SP which can be replenished by putting your 3DS to sleep. 1/3 SP replenishes in 8 hours, or you can spend money to buy them. It’s not a feature I use often, but if I just spent 30 minutes in a boss battle (which you will be, even early on) and you’re hurting, it just might be your saving grace.
As though the experience wasn’t already customizable enough, you can also change the encounter rate and difficulty on the fly, or even summon friends’ characters during battle. While Bravely Default very much harkens back to traditional turned based JRPGs, it also welcomes newcomers while taking the genre to new heights. Will Bravely Default bring about a new age in traditional JRPGs? I think so.
In addition to all of this, there’s also a village building system within, which you can do at your leisure, but proves to be a huge asset the more time you put into it. Here you can build and level up shops which allows you to access different items, armor, weapons etc in the game. The more people you have in your village, which you can add using StreetPass, the more people you can put towards a shop and the less time it will take to level up that shop. Just like the Brave/Default system, village building is a time-oriented feat where you must manage that time accordingly to get the most benefits.
In terms of story, it’s very much on the traditional side of things. That’s not to say it’s bad, as it’s a fantasy game through and through, but it features conventions we’ve already seen time and time again (keep in mind I still have hours and hours to go in my playthrough so take what I say with a grain of salt). Even so, the characters themselves are compelling and getting to know them and watching them banter is something I’ve grown to really love about this game.
Agnes very much reminded me of two characters I love, Princess Garnet from FF IX and Yuna from FF X. Not only are they each of some form of nobility, they also carry a great deal of guilt over events out of their control, and are deadset on making them right. Despite their sheltered upbringings, Garnet, Yuna and Agnes are determined, kind-hearted and strive to see the best in others. While Agnes has already undergone a great deal of change and confidence in herself and her people, I’ve yet to see how much more she will transform during the course of the game. Seeing how much of an inspiration both Garnet and Yuna were, however, I’m sure Agnes will follow suite.
Audio is a little bit hit or miss depending on what we’re talking about. If we’re talking voice acting… it can be pretty shaky. Sometimes it makes the game, but for the most part it doesn’t. I often found myself conflicted, unsure as to whether I should mute the voices until I experienced the Japanese audio, and switched to that for the remainder of the game. The English voice acting isn’t bad, but it can be overdone. The background music, on the otherhand, is something to behold. Revo has done an amazing job on this soundtrack, leaving me feeling enchanted every single time. It might sound crazy saying this, but the music alone is part of what makes the game so compelling, you can’t miss it!
The artwork is another feature I absolutely adored, whether we’re talking the cute, yet classic character design or beautifully handdrawn cities and towns. Each locale has a life of its own and keeps things interesting and colourful. I found myself excited each and everytime I came across something new.
Overall, I love Bravely Default, it’s the turn-based JRPG I’ve been dreaming of for years. The sheer amount of things you can see and do in this game is insane and the way it defies gameplay conventions is something I’m hoping other game developers will consider incorporating more of in their games. I can’t wait to see where this journey will take me and I hope you’ll join me on this adventure.
If you’d prefer to see my video review of the game, you can do so below, and don’t forget to check out my YouTube Channel while you’re at it!
- Engaging, customizable gameplay
- Immersive musical score
- Vast, colourful worlds
- Inconsistent English voiceacting
- Sub-par story, but suits the classic fantasy theme
- Rough difficulty spikes