Developer: Silicon Studio, Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo (for USA)
Genre: turn-based RPG
Multiplayer: (only streetpass/friend summons)
ESRB: T for Teen
System: 3DS (physical copy and eshop download)
I told you I would get this review done!…eventually. Yeah, this is two months late, and odds are you probably bought the game already. In fact, I bet you’re thinking about why the hell you aren’t playing it, and instead reading this review. Well, no point in wasting time.
The narrative and characters of Bravely Default are a very mixed bag. On the whole, it definitely feels like something I could see within the Final Fantasy universe. In fact, the game feels very much like a redone Final Fantasy III, but more on that when we get to gameplay and visuals, as it applies way more in those sections. It starts off with the usual story you may be used to hearing about: world is going horribly wrong, and only be awakening the for crystals of the elements can everything be fixed…BUT then we have the issues between the Duchy vs. Crystalism. It’s easier to think in terms of the advancement of technology and harnessing the crystals to further it, versus religion and ideals of those who wish to see the crystals only used for the planet. The debate certainly sounded interesting and could have led to a very good plot. The bad news: it’s not expanded upon enough.
And to be fair, there are great points to it I enjoyed. But then there were ones that took me out of the immersion, mainly the fact that a lot of the bad guys are insane with a capital I. For some, I do get why they act this way, but all it really does is paint the Duchy/Eternian Sky Knights like pure evil beings rather than trying to argue their reasons for doing this. This is only made even more confusing later in the game, and it pisses me off that I can’t give any spoilers in this review. I will say however that I do like a few of the twists the story takes, which I obviously can’t spoil. Still, other decisions in the plot did make me tilt my head often. We’ll get back to this in the gameplay section, because there’s one part I have to mention and warn you guys about.
Just be warned that there are a lot of sexual jokes made here, in particular by one of the party members: Ringabel. While I do enjoy his character development, this is where the game’s story also became funny at times, and also infuriating. It reminds me of Endless Frontier, where the boob jokes got so annoying, I wanted the game to just stop trying and move on. Yeah, same thing here, except with voice-acting and a need to punch a certain party member.
The visuals for this game tend to get a mixed reaction from people I have seen commenting in reviews and articles. It’s another art style that many are gonna be on the fence about. Personally, while I do find the character sizes a bit disturbing when compared to one another, I find the style very good, and perfectly blending in and never once felt distracting to me. Even character expressions were done pretty well. The environments look good as well, and with the story’s pace, you’ll definitely find yourself exploring everywhere. That said, there’s not a whole lot of extra areas to go into like other RPGs offer, at least not until the very end of the game, assuming you do a side-quest. So you’ll have to get used to these sights for quite a long while.
This is made even better in combat, as enemies look really good, in particular the final boss of the game and the extra bosses. Attacks are also impressive to see with the usual spells you find in the Final Fantasy series. But the main difference is the summonings. While I never really used them too much, as I found much more effective battle strategies, they are very impressive to see and aren’t just copies found in other games. Nothing screams awesome like summoning a giant train from hell to ride towards your foes and shoot a massive fireball!
Voice-acting is a mixed bag for me though. There’s no one I really want to define as bad, considering the acting can be good at times to carry the scene out well. Agnes’ voice hasn’t been received well by many people, but I have more issue with her character than the voice, and she does carry emotion well. But then we have other stuff, such as the villains. This is where the villains of the game really got on my nerves quickly, as some voice-actors like to overact to the point of me wishing I had earplugs. Qada, one of the bosses in particular, really got on my nerves after a while.
Music on the other hand is simply amazing! The soundtrack is something I highly recommend hunting down, as each song definitely has a good place within the game. Considering it’s Square Enix, it’s no real surprise, but the combat music, as always, remains top-notch. And they even keep it varied as well, so you don’t have to hear the same song every single time. While I am biased for guitar themes, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what the game has to offer. This works even with character themes, which can come from Special Attacks. While the music lasts for maybe a minute, it does manage to affect gameplay and becomes a great addition.
Remember when I referenced Final Fantasy III earlier? Yeah, expect a lot of very similar elements used for this. In fact, the game has been called a spiritual successor of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, which I never played. For starters, the classes of jobs leveling up and giving access to new skills and attack moves, though spells must be purchased before they can be used. There are up to 24 different classes, each with their own abilities to use. You are able to use a subclass, leaving a lot of variation in how to approach combat. For example, your black mage could use the same magic as the white mage if the white mage is set as a subclass. And they can be gained by following a blue exclamation point and defeating the boss there, or they can be gained during the main story as well. And in future chapters, if you somehow missed getting the class, you can get it then.
But that isn’t enough to worry about. Each class has its grade for what are the best weapons and armor types for them to use, ranging for E to S, with S being the best. It gives bonuses to the weapon or armor type selected, so while one armor may be good for one party member, it might give lower stats to another party member who has a low grade for that very armor. Classes do eventually give skills to change things around, such as being better with certain weapons and armor, leading to a lot of customization ideas. Plus the outfits range from weird and bland, to flipping awesome! Naturally, I’m biased towards the Dark Knight and Valkyrie sets.
More customization is added with the rebuilding the village of Norende. While it can take a long time, various new items can be available for sale from the adventurer, who also serves as a save point. These can range from more weapons and armor, to consumable items, and to skills that actually grant bonus abilities to your special moves. Special moves can be thought of like Limit Breaks from the Final Fantasy series, moves that can only be used after certain conditions are met depending on the weapon you use. With these tools, your special attacks can grow more powerful, add additional effects like elemental damage and status effects, and much more. Even better, these special moves can actually boost stats in a fight, such as improving attack power by 50%, while also showcasing a character’s theme song. This is where Ringabel shines since his song is quite honestly my favorite; I admit to dancing many times.
I’ll get back to Norende in the extras section. For now, let’s focus on the combat system. It plays like a standard JRPG, with commands entered for everyone and leaving everything in God’s hands. The difference here, barring special moves, are the Brave and Default options. Brave actually grants extra moves, meaning you could spam multiple attacks and spells in a single turn, provided you have enough Brave points. Default on the other hand is the equivalent of defending in other games, while also letting you gain a Brave point for future use. The idea is to combine their use in battles, particularly bosses, as they will be using this system as well, and can gain the upperhand if you aren’t careful. This can make grunt fights incredibly easy though if you are strong enough, wiping the enemy out in the first turn.
But this also depends on how you customize your adventure. Encounter rate, gaining EXP or job points, to even the actual difficulty of the game can be adjusted at any time, barring inside an actual fight of course. This I found very handy, as you can make things easier or harder on yourself whenever you feel like it. This can greatly boss fights, though it mostly seems to just give them more HP. That isn’t to say all bosses are easy. Some can be downright infuriating without a proper battle-strategy, or by spamming all your Brave points and letting the boss wail on you with no chance to recover. However, with the weapons and armor you can buy early in the game, assuming you have done massive work with the village, the weapons and armor can last almost to endgame, making the fun out of getting better items later in the game vanish.
Another great addition are the streetpass and friend summons. You can store up to twenty of these, but in battle, I found I had way more of these than I knew what to do with. Each of them can offer a variety of skills, depending on what the other player sent. These can even include the special moves as well. Unfortunately, while you do get a lot of detail, you don’t have too much with special moves, so you could probably end up healing certain enemies by mistake. I learned that the hard way. Many, many times.
The difference between streetpass and friend summons come when you get to actually attach friends to your characters, and they gain the ability to use skills that would take a lot of time to acquire on your own. For example, link a friend who is level 87 and has a level 14 red mage to your character who is stuck with level one, and you can gain all the skills, but not the power, so obviously they need to be leveled up. But the ability to use these skills earlier kills the need to grind, so it’s incredibly useful. And the best thing is that if you are unable to get villagers/friend summons through streetpass, ever 24 hours, you can connect to the internet to do just that, and get even more bonuses; will be mentioned in the Norende section. Sadly if you don’t have that, well, you can technically use a glitch the demo has to gain up to 20 villagers.
And then there’s the goddamn chapters five through eight. This is where all the enjoyment I had in the game dropped so damn hard, and shows lazy the game suddenly became. Yes, the sidequests do change with each chapter, but they all boil down to fight the same bosses you fought before, though they are now stronger, or have extra help, or now fighting more than one boss. At best, all you can hope for is maybe slightly better gear than the one the village armory provides, and of course the jobs you may have missed earlier. Though if you already spent so much time in Norende village building up shops, most of the new gear is completely pointless.
But at least all that stuff is optional. The mandatory bosses on the other hand are the real source of laziness. At least the sidequests can provide a bit more story or interactions with characters, barring the extra dungeon. You see, at each crystal, you fight a certain boss before awakening it. There are four in total. Chapters five through eight have you fighting each of those same bosses four more times as they get stronger. It seems someone failed to mention the definition of insanity to those that made Bravely Default, in that by repeating these tasks over and over, I nearly went insane. Couple this with the plot and the character development as the good guys begin to understand what goes wrong, it makes even less sense. In fact, it makes the characters look even more incompetent. And while you can take action yourself for another ending, it’s a non-canon one and doesn’t give you the completion bonuses for beating the game the normal way. Makes ya wonder what the hell was the damn point of it then.
Needless to say, while there was stuff to like, it could have been cut down by a few chapters, and help prevent the game from wadding its way through a sinkhole. The pacing is just terrible here, and I’m surprised not a lot of reviewers are mentioning this! I realize yes, this is a spoiler, but it’s also a major problem with the gameplay. If something with the plot actually interferes with the gameplay, I’m going to mention it while doing my best not to completely spoil the game for you. Out of everything mentioned, this should be considered before you make your purchases. True, it is not that long to go through, but it certainly feels like it, and breaks the important thing the game should be doing: immersing the player with the story. Instead, I’m being driven to madness doing the same thing again and again.
Some may say that it’s only a few hours and doesn’t matter. I say it does, because again, that’s still a few hours of your life. I don’t like grinding for hours on end, but at least the plot usually goes somewhere good and to new places. To repeat boss fights this shamelessly, not even offering a new world to explore for more treasure and new enemies save for much later in the game, it is rage-inducingly bad.
There are no mini-games, with the exception of pressing a button repeatedly during the crystal awakening sequences. But as stated before, the game does feature side-quests, though they mostly boil down to beating the same bosses you fought before, or they attack as a team now. The bonuses for completing the game are a new game plus, and of course a rather cool and interesting trailer for the sequel. The game does allow for use of AR cards, but I downloaded the game digitally. You’d think I would have learned my lesson from the Batman game. I did not. Me taking the name The Smartest Moron sounds more and more appropriate as I keep playing games.
Norende village on the other hand gives you the option of using villagers to be able to buy new weapons, items, armor, consumables, special move customization items, and combinable materials. In this function, you gain villagers through two methods: either by Streetpassing with someone else who owns the game, or through connecting through the internet, though you can only do that once every 24 hours. Depending on how many you contribute to a certain shop, it may be completed faster. For instance, the daunting 99 hours could be reduced to less than 10 with enough villagers, maybe even less than that. Even something if something takes too long, you can leave your 3DS in sleep mode, and progress can still be made. At long last: a game I can finally make progress even in sleep!
However, another thing to notice are the Nemeses. These serve as extra bosses for you to fight, and they usually drop stat-boosting items, as well as a lot of job points and EXP at times. While levels are recommended, strategies for these guys are an absolute must. This is one of the few times where difficulty matters, because if you don’t know what you are doing, these extra bosses will give you a game over often. The good news is that they all do feature a unique style compared the main game. It’s not necessary, but if you ever want a challenge or just want to beat them, you can. Other players can choose to send out one type, but so can you. These guys won’t leave if you lock them into the village. Other than that, they provide no negative factor to Norende village.
…Well okay, villages constantly pace back and forth while shaking, but do you honestly care? Or maybe I’m just a spiteful monster after those last four chapters? You make the call!
And you also have D’s journal, which does help explain terms, characters, events, etc. I only ever referred to it once because of a term I wasn’t aware of, and to be fair the game addressed it later, but there is actually interesting information about the villains if you read some of the notes. Not necessary though, and doesn’t really add much, outside of learning more about motivations behind certain villains and their relation to one another. Thankfully you won’t have to refer to it constantly, unlike a certain Final Fantasy game I know and wish to burn. And naturally, the 3D mode is horrible. But then again, this coming from someone who loathes 3D.
At the end of the day, Bravely Default is technically not a bad game. There is a lot to enjoy with the customization options, incredible music, some good extras, that trailer for the second game, and other gameplay features. However, there are also a lot of negatives I had with the plot and characters, and other gameplay features just didn’t measure up well enough. Some may not agree with the score I am about to give, but I am left with no choice.
Bravely Default gets a 3 out of 5. It was really close to getting a 4, but unfortunately, I just cannot do that.
Yes, the gameplay can be enjoyable, but after the laziness with chapters 5 through 8, which could have been cut by two if not three chapters, it was insulting to me. Plus my overall experience left me wanting things to be better as opposed to playing the game again. And I doubt I may play again as well. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the PS2 was a game that took me over 80 hours, and I put in more than 100 just to try and beat the extra boss for another ending. And I replayed that two times more because it was that good, and it lacks a lot of the features Bravely Default does. If I have to force myself to replay it, that’s not a good sign.
I’m Final, and here’s hoping the sequel will be better than this. Considering the unlockable AR trailer after you get the ending, it looks very promising.