Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Game Review: Bravely Default

Day before yesterday I finally beat my first new Square-Enix RPG since...

Um. Oh geez, if you don't count remakes or replays, the last Square-Enix RPG I beat was Kingdom Hearts 2. I think I beat Star Ocean: First Departure for the first time after that, but as a remake of an SNES game I'm not going to count it. I've certainly played other Squeenix RPGs since then, but none to completion.

That said, Bravely Default was a fun new RPG that did lots of things right to pull me back in and keep me playing until the end. It also fell short in a number of ways, though. I'll try to write a spoiler-free review this time.


The world flips upside down as the crystals that bless the world with order have gone dark, causing natural disasters: without the fire crystal volcanoes are erupting; without the wind crystal, the winds have ceased to blow; without the water crystal, the oceans have putrefied; without the earth crystal, a massive chasm has opened, swallowing an entire village whole.

The sole survivor of that village must team up with a priestess who can revive the crystals and, together with an amnesiac and a fiery idealist, save the world from destruction.

However, the story is not quite as cliche as it may seem...


Bravely Default is a new sort of RPG that has taken many of the best features of classic RPGs and culled many of the weaker parts. For instance, random battles. Annoying, aren't they?  Well, if you don't feel like grinding any more, you can simply turn them off until you need them again! Or, you can simply reduce the rate they appear. Or, alternately, if you're really trying to grind you can double the rate at which random encounters appear!

Also, the classes you unlock over the course of the game are all fun to play, in one way or another. At least, none of them feel totally useless. And if you're creative, you can create some truly overpowered combinations of abilities after you've mastered a few classes!

Side quests are important since that's how you unlock additional classes as well as learning more about the story, the realm, and the people who live in it.

Finally, every class can equip any type of weapon or armor! Some classes are clearly better at using the heavier stuff, but that's okay since sometimes the lighter armors have additional benefits that make them more worthwhile anyway!

The game also integrates many of the 3DS's unique features into the game. For instance, when you Streetpass someone you'll get more villagers (and potentially a tough monster to fight) in a mini-game that unlocks tons of equipment you can buy later.

You can also summon those Streetpassed characters to fight for you, performing an attack (or support ability) they've registered.

Streetpassing registered friends also allows you to link them to your own characters, allowing that character to have access to all of the abilities your friend has unlocked! You still need to train characters in those classes to make them effective, but having access to certain attacks and support abilities is very useful.

Finally, like all 3DS games, if you shut the system while it's on, the game goes into sleep mode until you open it again. However, Bravely Default keep track of the time it spends asleep and grants you SP, which allows you to stop time and have a character perform an action, even if it's in the middle of a turn. The SP recovers 1 point every 8 hours, so technically you can beat any boss if you just wait long enough.

The game also introduces a few new mechanics I've never seen before, like the Brave system: a character has between -4 to 3 Brave points. If they have 0 Brave points or more, they can perform an action that turn. Every action costs 1 Brave point, except for certain special attacks which may cost more. You recover 1 Brave Point (BP) each round. If you Default (defend, basically) you don't spend any Brave points for that round, which allows you to accumulate up to 3 BP, in addition to decreasing damage from any attacks you suffer.

Each character may take up to 4 actions in a round. If you have 3 BP, you use up 4, leaving you with -1, then you recover a point the next turn, allowing you to take an action or defend on the next turn. However, you can even take four actions with 0 BP, which would leave you with -4 BP. If the battle doesn't end after that four-action-onslaught, the next turn that character will have -3 points and so on until they reach 0 and get to move again.

BP management is an important aspect of the game, both for yourself and for enemies--some of which are perfectly happy to spend a turn attacking multiple times, leaving themselves exposed for the next round.

In case it isn't obvious, I quite enjoyed the battle and class systems of Bravely Default.

The story was also interesting, though with decent exploration of side quests and journals I was completely unsurprised by any of the developments or plot twists, which leads me to my first complaint, which will take the form of a vague, spoilerish observation.

So, spoiler alert for the next sentence: the way to get the "good" ending (there's two endings total) is to listen to all the of advice and figure out how to stop a seemingly endless cycle... and then ignore your opportunity to stop it. Play dumb and you'll get the "good" ending. What's that supposed to mean?

Anyway, spoilers are over.

The characters are pretty fun to watch, and the game does something I've rarely ever seen but often imagined in other games: it suggests that the characters are in fact doing more than you're controlling them to do. In other words, where you direct them is merely a suggestion of their actual movements: when you travel across the landscape in the overworld, that trip is taking days for them: they're eating, camping, and talking to each other along the way. When you're in town, they're wandering around and talking to strangers, getting into trouble, and (most often) sampling the exotic cuisine of the various lands you visit. You learn this by pressing a button as certain times to listen in to an optional conversation, in which the characters talk to each other about all sorts of things--what they're doing, their doubts, their dreams, the food they like, etc.

Unfortunately, the English voice actors for this game were kind of awful. The actors for the main characters weren't too bad, but it often felt like the villains and other side characters had no idea what the context of their lines were supposed to be.

My biggest complaint, though, was the level design: it's a pet peeve of mine that buildings need to make a certain kind of sense.

A mansion should clearly be a mansion, and you can tell what the purpose of each room is. Perhaps a fire or something has strewn rubble about the place, blocking hallways and doors while knocking down walls and ceilings, turning the place into a maze. I like that. It's especially useful if you've gotten to explore the mansion before the fire, then deal with how different it's become afterward.

Bravely Default has a dungeon or two like that: buildings that obviously served a purpose once, but something happened, causing the building to become a bit of a maze. That's cool.

What's a problem is buildings that should be serving one purpose or another, but were clearly designed by a maniac who wanted the trip through that building to be as inconvenient as possible. In fact, the building seems to serve no purpose other than inconvenience, even though the building has no reason to serve that purpose! It serves only to make the building a chore to explore--something you'll likely have to do several times. Even with random battles turned off, there were many dungeons that were just incredibly tedious to go through.

Luckily, there are also a few well-crafted dungeons that are only a chore to explore the first time, then they grant easy access in the future. The path to the fire temple comes to mind.

Anyway, the game's problems were not so bad as to make me put the game aside. I enjoyed the game and beat it, even though the last few hours of the game get rather tedious and tiresome and held no surprises for me.

If you want to feel some hope for Squeenix and the future of its RPGs, I recommend picking up Bravely Default.

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