Robert’s Take: For many, the 16- and 32-bit eras represented the golden age of Japanese role-playing games. Although modern entries in the genre may exhibit cutting-edge visuals and nuanced play mechanics, there’s a large constituency of gamers who would rather (re)experience the joyful journeys offered by titles such as Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Final Fantasy VII, Valkyrie Profile, Suikoden, and Grandia. In retrospect, these early JRPGs reflected a worldview that was symbolic of the period- as teams of plucky protagonists worked cooperatively to rescue a realm from imminent annihilation.
With the release of Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS, developer Silicon Studio (3D Dot Game Heroes) permits players to revisit that halcyon age- delivering a game that’s firmly rooted in role-playing tradition while providing a number of contemporary conveniences. Although our comrades across the Pacific have been already enjoying the game for more than a year, the wait proved fruitful for stateside players. Beyond demonstrating a largely adept localization, the game we received is based on Bravely Default: For the Sequel, a follow-up which endows the ability to freeze time in the middle of a battle- perfect for boosting the beating against a nefarious beast.
Undoubtedly, Bravely Default’s narrative ambitions are rooted in Squaresoft legacy. Eschewing a convoluted plotline, the title deftly keeps things simple, as a quartet of dissimilar adventurers attempt to lift the world of Luxendarc from darkness by reigniting the four elemental crystals. While the storyline quickly gains momentum, delivering both urgency and an enjoyable cast of characters, the journey isn’t always consistently engrossing. Without venturing into spoiler territory, the second half of the game is sullied by a troubling amount of repetition, damaging Default’s preliminary impact.
That said, the game does avoid many of the pratfalls which often plague JRPGs. Dialog between party members is steadily enjoyable, and avoids the longwinded prattle which often accompanies the genre. Yet, for those who crave additional development, the title extends Tales-series style sequences through the Party Chat option. Notably, conversation between the game’s four party members is consistently lively, driven by the tensions between characters. Wind Vestal Agnès Oblige indefatigable devotion and sense of regality would become tiresome on its own, but when contrasted again the lothario leanings of the vagrant Ringabel, the uneasy alliance between characters invigorates the plotline.
Brave Default’s combat and party management systems are destined to feel familiar to JRPG veterans, giving players the customary turn-based options to arrange attacks and magic assaults as well as utilize potions and phoenix downs. Variance stems from the game’s eponymous system, which restrains actions to the number of Brave Points (or BP) each party member has. Players can take a deserve stance (a “Default”) to earn additional points or spend BP in advance- with the latter tactic proving successful against lower-level opponents. Naturally, the benefit doesn’t come without risk- reckless players can easily find themselves unable to act during a succession of devastating enemy strikes. Cleverly, Bravely Default gives both tutelage and plenty of time for players to discover the intricacies of the mechanic, before the system becomes an essential part of the boss-beating process.
The title’s job system places adventurers in common vocations, such as Black Mage or Monk, with each aptitude having a unique allotment of skills and stat boosts. Pleasingly, party members can not only change callings, but characters have the ability to retain abilities and commands learned from a previous jobs. In all there are twenty-four classes for players to discover, with many jobs accessible through the completion of side quests. The system is just example of how Bravely Default espouses modern sensibilities. From the ability to alter that battles play out to changing the frequency of random encounters (vital when heading to that next save point), the game bequeaths a number of nice amenities.
Most remarkable is the game’s integration of StreetPass/SpotPass functionality. In the opening minutes of the game, one of the character’s hometown is abruptly destroyed. By utilizing recruited workers, players can gradually rebuild the city, assigning laborers to a variety of tasks. The catch is that each project has a time requirement attached to it, but assigning multiple workers to a task can reduce the overall duration of the project. Once a part of the city is rebuilt, players each access to special items which help to ease the game’s dungeon treks. Passing other 3DS owners is one method to procure additional laborers, but for those who live and work in isolated areas, workers can be obtained (once daily) via an online connection.
An online connection can also summon friends into a battle, allowing acquaintances to execute a single special assault. Gamers may also link their friends to a party member, giving access to their range of job skills. While linking with high-level friends seems preferred, the downside is that this functionality can endow characters with a disproportionate ability, breaking the balance of the game. One other quandary is the game’s integration of SP points, which allow players to pause the battle and gain extra attack turns. While this currency can be accumulated by leaving the 3DS in sleep mode, it’s also sold via real-world money, thereby cramming micro-transactions into the game. Mercifully, the game is balanced so that supplemental SP points are rarely needed.
Aesthetically, Bravely Default is a consistent charmer. From the meticulously drawn and devotedly hued backgrounds and overworld maps to how character outfits are rendered in both battles and cutscenes, the game is dependably detailed and irrefutably charming. Revo, the artist who created Attack on Titan’s opening themes (Guren no Yumiya and Jiyū no Tsubasa) crafted a superlative soundtrack, which capably complements the on-screen events. The snare drum and penny whistle-tinged main melody is steeped in role-playing sentiment, masterfully blending feelings of sentiment, bliss, and optimism. While the game’s dual language voice-over is a nice touching, the quality of the English acting occasionally varies in quality.
Alongside Shin Megami Tensei IV and Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Bravely Default is a top-tier 3DS role-playing game. Players with a proclivity for Square’s golden era will undoubtedly love the title- as it adept recaptures the allure and charm of a ‘90s-era RPG, albeit with several worthwhile modernizations. While Lightning’s saga certainly has its appeal, this is the game that will produce a wide smile from Final Fantasy vets.
Eric’s Take: The name Bravely Default might have the dubious honor of being the worst name for a Square-Enix game since Infinite Undiscovery. Beyond the nonsensical meaning of the phrase, I just can’t pronounce it correctly and when I do, I immediately start second-guessing myself. “Wait, is it Bravery Default…? Nope.” Fortunately, a name is only a name. And once you get past the quirky title and start peeling back the layers, one thing will become crystal clear; this game is magical.
As most would expect given the publisher, this is a Japanese role-playing game. Specifically, of the turn-based variety. The core basics are JRPG 101 material. Pick an action, select a friend or foe to perform it on, and go. Where Bravely Default shakes things up a bit is with the two skills the game is named after; “Brave” and “Default”. By choosing to brave, you can take several turns for that character all at once. The downside being that you have to wait several turns before going on offense with that character again. Default, on the other hand, is guarding, but with the added benefit of increasing the number of turns the character can perform without the turn counter dipping into negative territory. Default for one turn, take two turns (one normal, one brave) the next time without losing the next turn. Often, the difference between a win and a game over will be how you use these two techniques.
Bravely Default dusts off a classic RPG mechanic; the Job System. As the story progresses and certain enemies are defeated, you’ll acquire asterisks. Not to be confused with those found in the MLB Hall of Fame, these asterisks are desirable since each one contains a different job class. Once a new job class has been secured, every member of the party can use it, as well as its skills and magic. Furthermore, each class has a character-specific level that increases after gaining enough job points (JP) in battle. Whenever a class is leveled up, that character will receive a new skill. Each class has its own costume for each party member, too. For the U.S. release, a few of the more revealing attires were scaled back to be a bit more conservative.
Supplying Default‘s heart and soul are five colorful personalities; Tiz Arrior, Agnès (pronounced “Onyez”) Oblige, Ringabel, Edea Lee, and Airy. Tiz, a shepherd by trade, is the main male character of the group. Tragically, a massive sinkhole dubbed the “Great Chasm” swallows his village and everyone in it whole, leaving him as the lone survivor tasked with rebuilding. Agnès is the Vestal for the troubled Crystal of Wind, a giant gem that controls the currents. Pure-of-heart, if a bit naive, she seeks to end the stillness in the air and undo the Great Chasm. Serving as her guide (and yours via the bottom screen) is a cheery, upbeat cryst-fairy named Airy. With a keen eye for the opposite sex comes the ironically-named Ringabel. The irony being that he’s an amnesiac with no recollection of his life before a week prior. Even stranger is that the only thing in his possession is a strange diary with knowledge of the group’s future actions. Last, but certainly not least, is Edea, the youngest of the group. A hot-tempered female soldier sent to capture Agnès. After certain events cause her to square off with an ally-turned-enemy black mage, she finds herself fighting side-by-side with the Wind Vestal. Fleshing out the characters further are mini-cutscenes called party chats. Hitting the Y button when the party chat logo is on the top screen triggers these spirited bonus exchanges.
One trait that I absolutely adore is the flexibility of the difficulty. In the beginning, you can select from three difficulties, each with a different target audience. Easy is mainly for those who primarily want to enjoy the story, whereas hard is geared towards the RPG elite. Where Bravely Default differs from most is that it offers you the option to increase or decrease the difficulty mid-game to suit your mood. Unlike many other RPGs, you aren’t stuck with whatever you chose at the very beginning. Now, here’s the real reason why I brought up the difficulty; random encounters. For decades, the random encounter has been a thorn in the sides of many gamers. Walk five steps, battle, walk three more steps, another battle, etcetera. This is not the case with Bravely Default. Within the options is a slider that can raise or lower the number of random encounters. Whether you fancy grinding or story progression, Bravely Default‘s got you covered.
On the presentation side of things, it’s a grand slam home run. No doubt, to the delight of many, the Japanese language audio and text has been retained. That is, of course, in addition to the default English audio and text. The quality of the voice acting itself varies. Secondary characters are hit-or-miss, but the main party is well-cast. Rounding out the audio is an eclectic set-list of excellent music that fits both, the game, and the JRPG genre, like a glove. It’s a very good thing that the special edition comes with a soundtrack CD, because I expect many to fall head-over-heals in love with the music. Visually, the game mixes gorgeous paintings with a stylishly-deformed character model look reminiscent of the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. This gives Bravely Default an undeniable charm. The proof of this being that when I first saw the character models in a screenshot several months back, I wasn’t impressed with the designs. However, once I sat down with the game for this review, they won over entirely.
If there’s one place where a misstep was made, it’s with Sleep Points (SP). Sleep Points enable another variation of brave attacks. By pressing the Start button during a battle, time will freeze, allowing you to deal extra damage or heal an ally without wasting a turn. After the SP turn is over or all SP has been consumed, the battle picks right up where it left off. The problem isn’t with the mechanic itself, but how you gain sleep points. The lesser of two evils is by putting the 3DS in sleep mode with the game on. In doing so, you’re given one sleep point for every eight hours the system spends in sleep mode. The second, far more irritating, method is to buy SP Drinks with real-world money, not the in-game currency. SP drinks are, essentially, “pay-to-win” in-app purchases. Thankfully, they are completely optional. Still, the yellow “S” symbol that houses the SP drink menu is on the bottom screen almost constantly, reminding you that whatever you paid for Bravely Default, even if full price, wasn’t quite enough in Square-Enix’s eyes.
As with Chrono Trigger before it, Bravely Default is a classic Final Fantasy game that isn’t technically a Final Fantasy game. The avoidable micro-transactions are a blemish, but not enough of one to push this outside of “must-buy” territory. Its enchanting world, imaginative visuals and audio, and technically-sound gameplay make for a love letter to RPG fans old and new alike.
Bravely Default was played on the Nintendo 3DS with review code supplied by the publisher.