Co-developed by Silicon Studio and Square Enix, Bravely Default was originally released in Japan in 2012. The game later received an updated version in 2013 titled For the Sequel, which included several improvements such as an additional two save slots. Though there were initially no plans to localize the game outside of its native country, the second version was eventually released worldwide in late 2013 and early 2014, one region at a time. Bravely Default was created by many of the same people who developed the DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV as well as Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, even featuring a similar art style. Indeed, it was originally conceived as a sequel to 4 Heroes of Light. Even though it eventually became its own IP, many reoccurring elements from the Final Fantasy series appear in Bravely Default, thus making it a spiritual successor.
Playing the Game
Bravely Default is a JRPG. It was created to appeal to hardcore fans in Japan and it shows. Although the game was released long after the introduction of Square’s ATB battle system in Final Fantasy IV, the combat in Bravely Default returns to a style reminiscent of the series’ first three installments. It’s entirely turn-based and functions round-by-round. Damage dealt with normal physical attacks is measured in both the strength of the character and the number of hits landed, the latter of which is determined by agility and accuracy. Unlike the first and third Final Fantasy games, Bravely Default has a more streamlined mana system. That is, magical techniques and certain special physical attacks cost different amounts of MP, typically depending on power.
On a superficial level, it would appear that Bravely Default is a run-of-the-mill JRPG with nothing special to make it stand out from those that came before it. This is entirely false because this game features a very inventive twist on the genre’s formula. In fact, the title of the game cleverly alludes to this battle mechanic. During combat, you can opt to “Brave,” which allows your characters to perform up to four actions in one turn. However, every time a character uses Brave, they lose one Brave Point (BP). You can only input actions for any given character if their BP is zero or higher. If they have negative BP, their turn is skipped.
Conscious party members automatically gain one BP every round, but there’s a way to get more, thereby allowing characters to act again immediately after Braving. This is where the second part of the game’s title comes into play. The counterpart to the “Brave” option is “Default.” In exchange for not taking an action, this option reduces the damage a character takes for that turn. Because this is the only option that doesn’t cost BP, it also allows that character to stockpile points for a maximum of three. This means it’s often a viable strategy in boss battles to Default until your characters reach the three BP limit, thus reducing the overall damage they take while allowing them to act four times in a row to make up for the expended turns.
I found myself really enjoying this game’s combat system, for these developments added a whole new layer of depth and strategy. What makes this even more interesting is that enemies have this ability as well. Certain bosses become very chaotic as a result, for some of them have abilities that can raise their BP without using “Default.” Speaking of which, one of the best things about Bravely Default would be the boss fights. You’ll discover rather quickly that the bosses in this game are quite challenging. For the most part, you can’t brute-force your way past them; you have to take the time to strategize, sometimes even having to adopt new tactics in the middle of combat.
Challenge is not the only thing notable about the bosses. Right away, you’ll notice something familiar about them. When you look closely at the titles that precede their names, you’ll see terms such as “monk,” “white mage,” “black mage,” “knight,” and so forth. That’s right – your main opposition is composed of the classic Final Fantasy jobs. If you think this means that the job system first introduced in Final Fantasy III is making a triumphant return, you would be entirely correct. However, the method for acquiring these jobs is much different than it was in Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy V in which you were granted a new set upon visiting each of the four elemental crystals. Instead, a majority of the human bosses you fight bear a mysterious stone known as an asterisk. Upon defeating these asterisk bearers, you are granted their profession, allowing any character to use their abilities. It is because of this that I like to think of Bravely Default as Final Fantasy combined with Mega Man.
The job system itself takes a lot of cues from Final Fantasy V, which is my favorite installment from a gameplay perspective. Upon winning a battle, in addition to gaining experience points (EXP) and money (pg), you also gain job points (JP). Every time you level a job up, that character is granted a new ability of which there are two varieties: Command Abilities and Support Abilities. The former works how you would expect – the higher your job level is, the more class-specific actions you have at your disposal during combat. Support Abilities, on the other hand, grant passive bonuses such as increased attack power or immunity to status conditions. There is a limit to how many support abilities you can have equipped at once. The general idea is that the stronger bonuses cost more points to use. Progressing in the game will grant you more points to use these abilities for a maximum of five.
Also like Final Fantasy V, the job system allows for many creative combinations – especially later on when you acquire more abilities. It’s a game whose development team has a lot of faith in the player, as you are left to discover which abilities meld together the best on your own. Furthermore, managing the passive bonuses in Bravely Default reminds me a lot of the badge system from Paper Mario wherein you switch your pool of abilities to better fit your playing style or current situation.
Finally, Bravely Default has random encounters. I’ve always preferred games that feature no random encounters to ones that do, but this title has an excellent compromise. While encounters are random, you can manually adjust their frequency, meaning that you could turn them off entirely if you so desire. This became handy countless times either when things weren’t going so well or when I wanted to fight the boss at full health after having cleared the rest of the dungeon. Conversely, doubling the encounter rate was perfect for when I needed to grind levels. In this regard, Bravely Default is a lot like The World Ends With You in that the player has complete control over whether they wish to engage enemies or not. The best part is that it’s not an ability that you get when nearing the endgame as one would expect; the option is available to you from the very beginning. Bravely Default may be a traditional JRPG at heart, but this feature makes it markedly more forward-thinking than the games it takes inspiration from.
Analyzing the Story
The earth has crumbled in the Caldis Region, destroying the farming village of Norende. Tiz Arrior is the sole survivor of this disaster, as he was tragically unable to save his brother from falling into the chasm. While looking for survivors, he meets a young woman named Agnès Oblige and her fairy companion, Airy. Agnès is the vestal of wind and member of the Crystal Orthodoxy. She tells Tiz that a great disaster is about to happen.
The four elemental crystals worshiped by the Orthodoxy have been corrupted. The oceans have become rotten. The air is stagnant. The earth is losing its arability. A volcano has been erupting uncontrollably. Only by purifying these four crystals can order be restored to the world of Luxendarc. Unfortunately, Agnès’s mission does not go unopposed. Eternia, the Land of Immortality, is home to world’s strongest military force. They seek to eliminate all four of the vestals to prevent them from awakening the crystals. Their driving philosophy is known as Anticrystalism, the belief that humankind should actively utilize the crystals, in lieu of making them objects of worship. After defeating two members of the Eternian Sky Knights, Tiz and Agnès meet a mysterious vagrant named Ringabel and a young woman named Edea Lee. The four of them then join forces, determined to awaken the four crystals and save the world from destruction.
Despite being a new IP, the story of Bravely Default is right out of a Final Fantasy game. In addition to the job system including famous Final Fantasy classes, the overarching goal involves visiting four crystals, a concept that has dated back to the series’ first installment. On the surface, you would think that Bravely Default has a by-the-book JRPG plot – you have to save the world and the empire is out to stop you because they’re evil. Honestly, I found I didn’t mind this so much. Starting sometime in the PlayStation era, Square had a horrible propensity of beginning the development process with a lot of energy only to ultimately get crushed by their own ambition, resulting in their works suffering from disappointing resolutions. If there was any gaming company that desperately needed to scale back on their big ideas, it would be Square Enix.
Instead, we’re presented with a simple story where you know who the true villains are. There is no moral ambiguity amongst the main characters either. They’re unequivocally good people at heart. Cynics out there would probably think that this just means the protagonists have no depth, but when have those kinds of people ever been right about anything? I found myself really liking the main cast of Bravely Default. Individually they each have interesting character arcs, but I especially enjoy their interactions with each other. It’s interesting watching their camaraderie slowly build up as the story progresses.
The story itself is also presented extremely well. Cutscenes are presented in a style reminiscent of visual novels, with characters interacting in front of a large, static backdrop, leaving it up to the player to use their imagination based on dialogue to fill in the blanks. In a way, this style reminds me of Ace Attorney Investigations and its sequel. However, unlike those titles, these moments are entirely voice acted. I think this demonstrates just how far the medium has come; ten years prior to this game’s release, the idea of a handheld game having professional voice acting was a foreign concept. We’re now to the point where not only is this plausible, it happens all the time.
The only real complaint I have about the plot is twofold. First of all, the dialogue gets a little strange at times. It’s difficult to describe unless you’ve played the game for yourself, but I did wonder aloud, “Who talks like this?” more than once. Secondly, the main characters occasionally do blatantly stupid things in order to advance the plot. |There was one egregiously bad case where their inability to think things through indirectly results in the death of a protagonist’s childhood friend.| In spite of these faults, I don’t think they were enough to adversely affect the story’s quality in the long run. The dialogue became less odd over time, though I’m not sure whether it’s because the writing quality actually improved or I simply got used to it. As for the characters not making smart decisions, they’re in their late teens and early twenties, so I can buy them being shortsighted at times even if it’s frustrating from a gameplay perspective.
Anyone familiar with this game is probably surprised that I didn’t mention a more commonly-cited problem with the game’s story in the preceding paragraph. There’s a reason for that and I am going to explain why. If you wish to go into the game as blind as possible, feel free to skip to the conclusion. |To start with, it’s revealed in the fourth chapter that the conflict between the Crystal Orthodoxy and Eternia is far less black-and-white than you were led to believe. Shortly after Agnès and her companions purify the Earth Crystal, they end up back in Caldisla, where the story began. A look at the polluted ocean leads them to believe that they’ve gone back in time. In reality, they’ve been transported to an alternate dimension where they must purify all four crystals once again. The saving grace is that the protagonists received an airship in the previous chapter, making the task much more expedient this time around.|
|Understandably, this aspect is a point of contention amongst people who have finished this game. I myself found it a little disappointing; an otherwise spectacular game was starting to overstay its welcome. What’s worse is that you have to repeat this process three more times. However, in the sixth chapter, a very illuminating piece of information makes itself known to the player. Even in this spoiler tag I will not reveal what it is, but I think it’s the best twist in a Square game since the one from a certain other game nearly twenty years prior. Why is that? Because this revelation along with learning about the Crystal Orthodoxy’s backstory and the repetitive nature the game takes on from the fifth chapter onwards is enough to make you seriously question whether you’re doing the right thing by purifying the crystals, the very goal that has been driving the story up until this point. Moreover, in this chapter, the player is presented with an alternate option that can end the cycle right there if they so choose. This is what makes the story of Bravely Default transcend from being an ordinary JRPG experience to something that’s truly brilliant; it’s a mature and modern approach to writing a plot that wouldn’t feel out of place in an SNES game.|
Drawing a Conclusion
After a long string of disappointing console releases from Square Enix, Bravely Default is the true return to form fans have been waiting for, with many calling it the best Final Fantasy game in years. It’s almost as if the developers at Square Enix and Silicon Studio compiled a list of the most common criticisms lodged towards Final Fantasy XIII, the former’s first notable console release of the 2010s, and systematically addressed every single one of them when creating this game. The storytelling is comprehensible, the gameplay is engaging, and the protagonists are equal parts memorable and likable. It evokes the feel of old-school JRPGs, yet has enough of its own identity to be a strong, standalone title. Although the game does get somewhat repetitive around the halfway point, a lot of what makes the game tedious is optional, meaning that the problem is, for the most part, only as bad as you want to make it.
In the 2010s, JRPGs were thought of as irrelevant – the golden age of the genre having ended long before then. However, I never agreed with that sentiment in the slightest. JRPGs are a lot like rock music; sure, they may not have the same presence they had in their heyday, but if you know where to look, you’re bound to discover amazing works. With its adjustable difficulty setting, this game is highly recommended for newcomers and veterans alike because it is easily one of the better games of the 2010s. I even recommend Bravely Default to people who aren’t fans, as the creators succeeded in alleviating the most criticized aspects of the genre by giving players complete control over both the animation speed in combat and the random encounter rate.
See, Square? You are still capable of making good games. You just need to take lessons from Silicon Studios and remember what got you here in the first place. Now was that so hard?
Final Score: 8/10