One of the many complaints leveled at traditional Japanese RPGs is that they’re grindy, the story is terrible, and the turn-based battle mechanics have been done to death. With Bravely Default, it’s like Square Enix took every single complaint anyone had about a traditional JRPG and turned it on its head, all without invoking the Final Fantasy name. In short, Bravely Default wears the Final Fantasy trappings well, but there’s much more underneath.
At its core, Bravely Default is a Final Fantasy game in everything but the name. Those familiar with classic Final Fantasy titles like FFIV will feel right at home playing the game, but Bravely Default changes enough of the stale JRPG formula to remain interesting to those who may have never experienced any of the early Final Fantasy titles. The story is pretty typical in terms of JRPG standards, but it’s the combat and StreetPass mechanics that make this game truly shine as a great entry on the Nintendo 3DS.
The game starts with the oh-so-tired trope of the “main” character having amnesia and waking up in a town that is all too generous to provide for him after an unexplained calamity befalls his village. Tiz then meets the “love interest” Agnès, who is one of a few remaining members of a dying sect that keeps watch over four crystals that preserve the balance of the world.
As I said, the story is pretty ho-hum in terms of JRPG stories, but the dialogue is actually well-written for the story that is told. Two additional party members later join up and the interactions between battles with these characters is enough to keep the story from being too terribly dull.
While the story itself is nothing to be terribly excited over, the gameplay is so far removed from traditional JRPG combat that it deserves a merit award for taking something that can be dull and terrible and making it exciting again. The brave and default system lets you borrow against your own moves in the future in order to quickly wipe out a group of enemies, or you can store your moves to use in the future at once without fear of finding yourself with no turns available.
Bosses within the game will require you to time your defaults so that you have up to three moves saved to unleash once the bosses weakness has been shown. These moves can happen in quick succession and with each character, so that when the time comes to unleash these moves by using brave, each character has four moves instead of one. Defaulting also has the benefit of reducing damage taken when hit, so squishy characters benefit from using default in these battles.
The job system itself is similar to Final Fantasy, but instead of each character having a set class, jobs are interchangeable on each of the four main characters. You can set any of them up to be the job you want and as the story progresses, the bosses you fight provide new jobs for your characters. Some of these have interesting mechanics like the the time mage, who can reset encounters to avoid lost progress, and spell fencer, which uses elemental magic applied to melee attacks for devastating effectiveness.
Overall there are 24 different jobs to choose from and switching in and out as the enemies change is just as important as equipping your characters with the right weapons based on their jobs. Each character has an inherent ability learned from their job, but based on the level of other jobs, characters can be equipped with a secondary skill. For example, a Time Mage could be equipped with Spell Fencer abilities to counter-attack each time they are hit. With 24 different jobs and two different skillsets, with 4 learned skills by the end of the game, there are endless combinations here.
The ability to skip nearly everything that irks people about JRPGs is also a bonus here. The rate of random encounters can be set higher, lower, or to none if you’re trying to quickly progress through an area and you don’t need the experience. Additionally, there is a macro feature so you can set up an entire turn worth of moves and press the auto button, so if you don’t like grinding you can use a preset turn to determine what your characters will do until you turn it off. This auto mode helps get rid of the tedium of grinding nearly completely.
Bravely Default also includes innovative new StreetPass and internet features. Within the story of the game, Tiz wants to rebuild his former village. This takes real time effort and a number of villagers, which can be gained through street passing people who are also playing the game, or through acquiring friends over the internet. You’ll eventually get villagers that can rebuild the village, which has the added benefit of adding new items to the trader and special moves you can use to tweak your special ability based on the weapon you wield.
These special moves function like the limit break in traditional Final Fantasy games, but they’re activated according to certain conditions like defaulting 10 times, or taking damage 10 times. With these upgrades from the village, you can make your special attacks deal elemental damage, restore HP/MP to the party, or even add status effects to enemies.
You can also link up with mutual friends who play the game in order to use one of their characters via the Summon Friend function. Friends who are linked up with you can also summon one of the characters you send via the Send function, so summoning and sending moves can help you in hard boss fights. Each move can only be used once though, so regularly updating your sent move can help friends who might be struggling.
The use of 3D in the game is one of the best I’ve seen to date. It’s not quite as well managed as the recent Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but there’s a significant difference between playing with the 3D enabled and the 3D disabled. For those who might be concerned about missing out on this due to having a Nintendo 2DS, while the 3D effect is well done, it’s not essential to the title.
The world is hand-drawn and painted and the characters have a unique chibi look that doesn’t quite fit into the typical anime trope. It’s a nice aesthetic that I can say reminds me of the character models in Fire Emblem: Awakening. Environments are sufficiently different and varied so that I never got bored of exploring an area, which can be common in games with an overworld map that features recycled assets.
The only downside to the aesthetic of the game is that monster models per region aren’t really varied, so once you’ve seen all the monsters that pop out during the night and day cycles, you’ve seen them all in that area.
Overall Bravely Default is a game that has given me faith in the JRPG genre. It showcases that not every turn-based game has to be a boring slogfest and while the story doesn’t deviate too far from JRPG standards, the dialogue is clever enough to be enjoyed instead of feeling annoying.
+ Art style is pretty unique
+ Brave and Default battle system adds new strategy element
+ 24 different jobs to mix and match skills
+ Special StreetPass system adds new connectivity
+ Village management is rewarding
– Very few monster designs per area
– Typical JRPG story accentuated by good dialogue