Bravely Default – Sorta Review
131 hours, 3 minutes and 42 seconds. That is my clear time for Bravely Default. Granted, I did some faffing about, grinding in places I didn’t need to (and that weren’t optimal), went for both endings, and occasionally leaving the 3DS on while going to do other things. Even so…
How do I condense everything about this game into one post? It runs the risk of either becoming too condensated, or exceptionally long. Yet I feel like I need to try.
As always, I have to rely on Google Image Search for screenshots, since it’s a 3DS title, and I don’t have a capture device for that.
Bravely Default starts with the end of the world. At least, in a way. In a rather gorgeous animated cutscene we see something dark is happening to the world before we move to two brothers who witness their entire village, and the plateau around it, get swallowed as a giant chasm opens. One brother falls, the other lives on.
As he wakes up in the capital of the kingdom days later, he is introduced as Tiz Arrior. The only survivor of Norende village, who just had his entire world end. He journeys forth to find answers, and quickly meets up with the rest of the party you’ll have for the entire run of the game.
Agnès Oblige (pronounced Añes), the vestal of the wind temple. Another recluse who has never been outside of her home until now, she is trying to make sense of what has happened to the crystals and the world, and came to witness the great chasm for herself.
Airy, the cryst-fairy who has appeared in this time of need to guide Agnès on her quest (she doesn’t help in combat).
Ringabel, the womanising amnesiac with a mysterious journal that seems to predict the future.
Edea Lee, the rebellious daughter of the grand marshal of Eternia. With her strong sense of right and wrong, she feels she can no longer support the methods of her own people, and instead joins the vestal in her quest.
Still with me? I’m kinda surprised at how clear a lot of this is to me, even though it’s a long time since I first started the game. Unlike a lot of games that start with a small thing that evolves into saving the world, this one starts off right away with a quest to save the world. The crystals of the elements have been gripped by a darkness that has made the wind go still, the seas rot, volcanoes rage unchecked and the earth unstable. As a vestal, Agnès is one of the only people who can restore the crystals and make the world function again.
Bravely Default is intentionally made to feel like SNES-era JRPGs. I believe it actually had Final Fantasy: Bravely Default as a working title for a while, but it dropped the FF bit. It’s still kept a lot of the FF terminology though. Mostly in terms of what jobs you have, the spells, and consumable items. You’ll find your White Mages, Black Mages, Fire/Fira/Firaga, Phoenix Downs and much more.
It seems especially focused on capturing FF5 and FF6, so if you liked those games, it’s a fair shot to say that you’ll like Bravely Default.
The job system especially seems to be lifted almost wholesale from FF5, though it boasts a total of 24 different jobs. And considering you can equip a secondary skillset in addition to the one that comes with the job you’re using, and mix in support abilities from any job you have unlocked, that can lead to quite a lot of combinations. Some of which are admittedly quite broken. I can’t imagine they tried to do much in the way of balancing with this amount of skills, spells and abilities on the line.
Combat is turn-based, and usually comes in the random encounter variety. I am kinda sad that initiative isn’t set, but is more semi-random based on the characters’ speed. If two characters have similar speed values, the one who is technically fastest might still act after the technically slower one. This slight RNG element can make setting up certain combos a bit of a pain. As a positive I much appreciate being able to set the random encounter rate myself. Either turning it all the way down to zero (-100) if you just want to walk around freely, or cranking it up to max (+100) if you need to do some grinding fast.
Grinding is actually almost painless, which surprised me. This owes largely to two things:
1) The Brave and Default system. To perform actions, your party members use BP, which they generate at a rate of 1 per turn. You can use Default mode to put your guard up and save up BP. Brave is used to spend more than 1 BP per round, up to a maximum of 4. This can also be pushed into the negative. So my grinding strat was often just to max out my actions on all four party members the first round, and wipe out the enemy. This meant regular battles tended to be over really quickly. However, if you failed at clearing out all enemies on the first round, you have to wait until your BP goes back to 0 before you’re allowed to act again. So it’s not a very wise strategy to pull on bosses.
2) The win-streaks. There are three kinds. 1-Turn Victory basically explains itself. This gives a 10% increase to experience points gained. After 5 in a row, you get to Ace level, which earns 20% more, and after 10 you reach Hero level which earns you 50% more. Unscathed means you won without taking damage, and this gives a 10%/20%/50% increase to your job points, which level your currently equipped job. Sweeper means you finished off all the enemies with the same attack, and gives 10%/20%/50% increase to money.
This will generally leave you free to focus on the actually interesting battles, namely boss battles. There’s a fair deal of them, and executing a good strategy is always rewarding. There’s quite a lot of ways to build your team, and as you unlock more jobs, you will likely be tempted to experiment with new combos.
Unfortunately the combat also contains my biggest gripe with the game. Namely the First Strike system. See, for every random encounter there is a chance that one side will be given First Strike (a free turn, basically), and nothing ruins your Unscathed streak faster than seeing “Enemy gets First Strike” when you go into combat. Considering Job Points are basically the most important thing to grind for, that has pissed me off consistently throughout the entire game. See, while getting a higher character level does give a general boost to everything, it’s having a well-leveled Job that is truly important to your combat performance.
While there are other annoyances too; like your avatar’s slow run-speed that makes the longer dungeons especially cumbersome, not being able to change jobs or skills in-combat, and the sometimes shoddy voice-acting; it is the First Strike stuff that I could never just ignore or forgive. It really doesn’t feel like it belongs in the game, and more like it was just thrown in for old times’ sake. Which is slightly ironic, since “old times’ sake” was the main draw of the whole game, but it was really only this bit I felt was truly out of place with the new stuff they’d come up with.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. There are microtransactions in the game. Well… one microtransaction. See, in addition to BP, you also have SP. If you absolutely, positively, have to take an action right now, regardless of what is going on, you can just hit Start while in combat. This invokes Bravely Second, which will freeze time, and let you use SP to take an action immediately. But you only get a maximum of 3 SP, that recharge at a rate of 1 per 8 hours. But for actual, real-life money, you can buy SP drinks to refill. I never actually needed to do this. I think I only used Bravely Second twice throughout my entire run, and only because I wanted to revive a character that fell just before the end of a boss fight and risked losing all exp and jp earned. Still, I find the inclusion slightly obnoxious.
There are also other things to fiddle about with. Like Tiz’s rebuilding of Norende Village, which is its own sort of minigame, I suppose. Almost in a mobile game style. Getting Street Passes from other 3DS owners running Bravely Default in sleep mode will net you more villagers to help with the construction, and so will sending out Net-Invites by updating your online data once a day. You can build shops and such that give you access to unique items and equipment, and the shopkeepers will regularly gift you helpful consumables. By just checking in regularly and slowly building my villager count, I got the village complete well in time for the end of the game. I believe I had 42 villagers at that point, and I was quite pleased with the number.
What more can I say? What started out as a fun game with a seemingly shallow story, and shallow characters, became something much more. The amount of growth I saw from beginning to end really warmed my heart. It almost felt like the entire game was growing. From chapter 5 and onwards the tone of the game starts shifting slowly. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say this: I recommend you take the time to get all the sidequests done, in every chapter. You might find some that seem a bit pointless, but I still recommend that you stick with it.
I shan’t claim that the writing is flawless. There were times I felt like/assumed my characters were in a certain spot, with a certain amount of knowledge and progress, only for them to suddenly start spouting nonsense and ignorance in a cutscene, or repeat themselves with things I thought they’d already squared away. But I was willing to forgive that because so much else just felt right.
For a game that seems so squarely aimed at a certain demographic, I’d say Bravely Default possibly has more reach than it might give itself credit. If you have a 3DS and an interest in JRPGs, this might be the best one on the platform as of now. And considering a fair deal of it is so painless and effortless once you understand the systems, it might also be a good introduction for those who are curious about the genre. It does require some patience though, so that might exclude some people. Still, I’d say it’s probably my favourite JRPG since Final Fantasy 10.
In a different post I will detail the utterly broken build I ended up with, because I am kinda proud of it.