Graphics are incredible
Music is Beautiful
The Brave and Default systems are flawless
Job system and side quests to get extra jobs are fun and interesting
Story is pretty good once you get into it.
The game is VERY long, and it uses every trick in the book to make it longer
There are micro transactions present in the game, which can leave a sour taste in your mouth, but honestly I tried the ability that you can buy more of, and I never felt compelled or pressured to use it again or buy more.
Difficulty is unbalanced and you'll probably end up toying with it throughout the entire game.
Square Enix makes a lot of Japanese Role-Playing Games, and they’re mostly known for Final Fantasy, but just this last year they released Bravely Default and it’s better then any Final Fantasy game they’ve released in years. Bravely Default is a very traditional JRPG, it uses turn based combat, it’s heavily narrative but doesn’t sacrifice on the gameplay to do so. This game is astonishingly fun, from it’s unique Brave and Default abilities that you can use in combat, and the classic Job System, it’s just fantastic on almost every level.
Graphics and Sounds
As soon as the game opens up you get an astounding cinematic introducing the 4 primary characters, I was seriously floored when I realized I was watching this on my 3DS, I had never seen visuals of this level before. That being said, it was just a cinematic and it doesn’t really reflect the graphics of the game, which aren’t bad by any means, in fact they’re great. They’re very similar to the DS remake of Final Fantasy III, where everyone is sort of cartoony or chibi, but it’s got so much more detail then Final Fantasy III. The backgrounds of each city, dungeon, area etc. that you go to are drawn in such detail, and it zooms out to show you this whenever you idle for a few seconds. Even the backgrounds in battle are so detailed, I’ve never seen such commitment to environments.
The music is equally as wonderful, everything is so orchestral and pleasant to listen to. I find myself getting the various songs stuck in my head. That being said, there isn’t a wide variety of music in the game. I definitely found myself listening to the same battle music over and over again, except during certain boss fights where it changed. The music that’s present is great, it’s just a little light in quantity.
On the face of it, Bravely Default looks very generic in terms of story, especially coming from Square Enix. It starts off as a journey to save 4 elemental crystals, definitely nothing original, but it picks up surprisingly fast. By the halfway point in the game, it starts to take an interesting turn in terms of where the story goes, obviously I won’t spoil anything, just know that overall I really liked the story. It tries to throw in a few plot twists and only 1 really surprised me, and one I saw coming from nearly the beginning.
One of the unique features of Bravely Default is it’s Brave and Default abilities in combat, it’s the primary function that makes it stand out from other games. Using Brave lets you use an additional action that turn, and you can use this up to 4 times in a single turn, meaning you could unleash a flurry of attacks right away, or use several actions at once to set up a combo, but then you have to wait the same amount of turns you spent before that character can act again. Default replaces the “Defend” option in most games, but unlike “Defend”, I actually used Default. When you Default, it not only acts as a defense action, but it also charges Brave Points, one per turn that you default, this will let you use Braves without needing to worry about waiting a bunch of turns afterwards. This Brave and Default system is genius, there are so many combos I’ve done in this game that I’ve never even considered the possibility of before. You really start building strategies about who should Default, who should Brave, and whats really interesting, is your opponents can Brave and Default as well, so you might wait till they use up a bunch of Braves, and then unleash your own attack while they can’t move.
Also similar to Final Fantasy III, is the Job system, or Class system for those who aren’t familiar. There are 24 classes you can choose from that you gain throughout the game, and many of them are classics like the Black Mage who does damage spells, the White Mage who heals, the Red Mage who can do both but at lower levels, but there’s also a plethora of new and interesting classes, like the Spell Fencer who can imbue black magic spells onto a sword, the Performer who sings enchanted spells to boost your party’s attributes, or the Templar who has insanely high defensive capabilities, and can spend Brave Points to unleash massive attacks. What’s also really interesting about the Job system, is the majority of the jobs are obtained throughout side missions, and these little side stories add such much depth to the world you’re traveling through, not to mention the characters. The side missions were honestly more fun then the main story, and they felt like great training mechanisms as well. Another thing which I loved about the Job System, was that if you want to change a character’s job, you can still use the skills and abilities of another job that character has learned, making way more options for combinations and strategies. For example, you could train someone as a Spell Fencer, then switch to Swords Master, and now you’ve got a Swords Master with magic swords!
There is one pet peeve I have with video games, one thing that really bothers me, and that’s when a game expects you to go through a series of bosses that you’ve already fought all over again. Now this is not a new trope, many games do it from Devil Survivor, to Zelda to Megaman, but Bravely Default takes this to the next level. Not only does it want you to go through and fight each boss again, it wants you to do this at least THREE TIMES. But here’s the thing, as much as I hate it when a game does this to make their game longer…I actually didn’t mind it nearly as much with Bravely Default. The first reason is, you really only HAVE to fight 4 bosses each time around, it just offers you the option to fight all the side bosses again if you want, but the other reason is, with a few of the side bosses, if you fight them again you learn a little bit more about them as characters each time around. Now yes this is still a trick to make your game longer, and some characters had more development than others, but they did it in a way that I wanted to go and see each character again, Bravely Default makes it worth fighting all these bosses again, even more then the extra experience you get.
I only have a couple small gripes in terms of gameplay, the first of which is the world. You’ve given this very large world to “explore” but really there’s almost no exploration, if you find a location you’re not supposed to be at yet, the game actually stops you from progressing until it lets you go in there. Also the dungeons are all more or less the same, they’re designed like a maze that reveals itself as you walk down passage ways, sometimes they’ll have traps that inflict damage or a status condition, and it was just more time consuming then really satisfying to explore. There are a couple hidden things you can find in the world, and there are some items hidden in the background that are revealed when a “inspect” pops up on the screen, but that’s it.
My second issue with the gameplay, is the difficulty balancing. Like many role playing games nowadays, Bravely Default offers the player the ability to alter some of the difficulty aspects to make it easier or harder as you play, these range from rate of encounters, money, exp, and general difficulty ranging from easy, normal and hard. For the beginning of the game I had no problem playing on normal, but there was a difficulty spike really fast and I felt I had to play on easy, and I found myself staying on easy throughout the entire game, because easy is actually pretty damn challenging as it is. I did do some tricks to help make some battles easier, like turn on easy and turn the enemy encounter rate to high, making grinding easier, but by the halfway point in the game, I just straight turned the encounter rate to 0% because I was getting more then enough exp just from bosses, and having no enemy encounters makes traversing those maze like dungeons much easier.
Bravely Default is an outstanding game on nearly every level. The graphics are phenomenal, the music is fantastic, the gameplay while repetitive is very fun, the job system lets players play how they want, and it’s just an all around amazing return to traditional Japanese RPGs. I do feel like difficulty wasn’t balanced properly, either that or the developers intended the player to mess around with difficulty settings like I did, but that doesn’t feel right either. To me, normal should be the base setting, one that any player can jump in and enjoy without much effort, and that adjusting the difficulty should really only be used to either add an extra challenge or to make it much easier for players who want to enjoy the story. In any case, even with a somewhat unbalanced difficulty system, it’s a fantastic game that any lover of Japanese Role Playing Games would enjoy.