I am forty-three hours into this game, and I can see me putting another forty hours in. Bravely Default II follows quite the same path as its predecessors as a game with a rather generic concept which excels on its writing, art direction, characterisation, and extremely compelling gameplay. Both Bravely Default and Bravely Second on the 3DS were excellent RPGs and this entry in the series is no different, despite what you may have heard from the mainstream review sites.
Bravely Default II opens quite quickly with your main character Seth washing up on a shore near Halcyonia, a little kingdom. You very quickly meet the rest of your party: a princess whose kingdom was razed to the ground, a scholar in search of special stones called ‘asterisks’, and a mercenary on a quest to find her sister. The early parts of the game proceed much as you’d expect – there are dungeons to tackle and bosses to fight at the end of them. There are ‘shocking twists’ that you can spot from a mile away, and the world is set up quite well for the rest of the game, giving you a good groundwork to build from. It is an admittedly slow easing in that gives way to the rest of the admittedly quite intense game, which is what I’d consider a playground.
Getting to grips with the battle system of Bravely Default II is one of the utter joys of the game. It has a rather unique system that the Bravely series uses expertly: during battle your characters can either Brave to perform multiple attacks all at once at the expense of your future turn-economy, or Default – which is a defensive stance that grants them a Brave Point, or BP. Characters can use BP to Brave without putting themselves at a BP deficit, requiring skipped turns to be able to act again. Players have to estimate the strength of their characters and think strategically about how they will use this system to their advantage to end fights quicker – will they play defensively or use as much Brave as possible to try and end the fight before the enemy can even act? It’s a fresh take on the turn-based system and is reminiscent of Octopath Traveler’s system – a game made by much of the same team.
Add to this the incredibly flexible Job System of Bravely Default II and you have a very fun game for the theorycrafters and experimenters. As you play through the story you will quickly accrue many jobs that you can allocate to your party to build up a small army’s worth of might. It’s up to you whether you want to make dedicated tanks or amazing support healers, or a party full of Beastmasters just letting animals loose on their enemies until they fall. It reminds me of the Final Fantasy Tactics games and Final Fantasy V in the way you can build up very specific loadouts to take advantage of equipment pieces or enemy weaknesses. That flexibility rewards creativity and forethought, and I really appreciate that.
The difficulty of the game is something that has drawn some ire on the game’s various forums (I’m looking mostly as GameFAQs and /r/bravelydefault) but I find it a really balanced game. It does have a variable difficulty setting that can be changed at the player’s leisure for those who are struggling, but it’s never going to be a total breeze as the boss fights will often call for particular strategies. There are some bosses that will deeply encourage exploiting equipment pieces that come with elemental resistances, and using support jobs to buff your party to survivable levels. I really appreciate this, as we are in an age where a lot of RPGs of the moment are very susceptible to the raw power of level grinding. No amount of level grinding is going to protect you from four Bomb Arms blasted at you in a row from a certain Chapter 3 boss – I learned that the hard way (I died once and then equipped everyone with Flame Talismans, hah). I really appreciate the difficulty that this game has: it’s not artificial or unfair – you have to use the tools that you definitely already have to deal with the problems laid before you.
Something that is very evident with this game is that the more you play, the more fun the game gets. Not only does the battle system get deeper and more interesting with the multitude of jobs you accrue, but the story gets more compelling too. There are definitely weaknesses, with lop-sided character development paths that our protagonists take – Elvis and Adelle are far more interesting characters thanks to their centrality to the story during crucial times (Chapters 2 and 3 mainly). Saying that, Gloria gets a wonderful spotlight in many side quests and the late half of the game, and Seth plays a great amnesiac audience/uneducated surrogate like so many JRPG heroes before him (Vaan, Rush, Tidus, Robin, Neku, Fei etc.). Despite this, the party’s dynamic is strong and the side quests you can take really accentuate this, so I’d recommend periodically taking and completing all the quests you can.
I mentioned earlier that the story is quite generic, and I think that this is a valid criticism of the story structure of this game for the most part. But I have to say here that this is not my final verdict on the story – Bravely Default II is written very well. It’s like they took the general structure of “four heroes hunt down the four crystals” and made it their own. The story hits very dark notes and manages to develop both the main cast, the supporting cast and even the bosses you face – something that earlier entries in the series really struggled with. From Chapter 2 onwards the story gets very serious and tackled some adult themes that many games would shy away from, and it’s in a way that gives you a quick up the bum to make you really feel like you need to beat up the villains. The villains not being caricatures of evil is a big fat plus for me.
Similarly in the artistic realm: look how gosh-darn pretty this damn game can be:
Sometimes the game looks a bit jaggy when it’s on a big display, but it’s pretty perfect in handheld-mode. The towns looks beautiful, like hand-drawn picturesque pieces fully rendered for 3D traversal. Battles are fluid set pieces that are fun to watch even in 4x speed. It is a consistently pretty game. Conversely, the soundtrack is merely a serviceable feature, with standout pieces (the asterisk-holder battle theme for example) making it worth a mention.
More positives: The game has an addicting a surprisingly deep card-collecting card battle minigame. It has a convenient fast-travel system that its predecessors lacked. The job fashion-game is incredible. Fantastic difficulty curve. Amazing voice-acting for the most part. Welsh representation. Mindfucky twists and meta-ludonarrative features towards the end.
Some Negatives: No quest tracking menu. Dungeon mini-mapping would be a huge boon. The bad voice-acting really sticks out (Selene, Adam etc.)
Verdict: Absolutely worth the price of entry.