|Dev: Silicon Studio/Square Enix|
|Release: February 7, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
It's been a cold, harsh winter, but Square Enix has prepared the perfect antidote for fans who remember the “Golden Age” of Japanese RPGs. Playing Bravely Default is like snuggling in front of the fire with a hot cocoa and a new book by a favorite author. It's a warm, familiar feeling that nonetheless provides a few new twists to keep the experience fresh.
As is traditional, Bravely Default sets our hero on his journey with a hometown tragedy. Young shepherd Tiz sees his entire hometown and everyone he knows swallowed up by a giant chasm that opens in the earth. He soon joins forces with Agnés, a priestess on a journey to quell the natural disasters engulfing the earth by re-awakening four sacred crystals. The amnesiac rogue Ringabel (who wins my prize for having the best amnesiac RPG character name ever) and the fiery knight Edea round out the party. It's a likeable cast that grows closer together during brief, poignant scenes and avoids pointless adolescent angst.
Along the way, our party traverses the wide world, encounters moments both lighthearted and tragic, and discovers the truth behind the crystal predicament. It's not a groundbreaking story, but it doesn't need to be. It's a classic heroic journey with a few nice twists and turns along the way. The game plays with JRPG tropes (see: Ringabel) but doesn't fall prey to many of them. There are no speeches about the power of friendship because the writers were confident in showing us the cast's evolving relationships rather than shouting at us about them.
That's not to say that the game entirely avoids narrative pitfalls. It spends quite a bit of time attempting to convince the player that its world shouldn't be seen in terms of black and white, while simultaneously having the enemy faction perform some of the most heinously evil acts possible. There's no moral gray area when it comes to genocide or abducting children and forcing them to act as mine canaries. The fact that the more upright enemy leaders chide the party for reviving the crystals while completely failing to explain why it's a bad idea really starts to grate after the third or fourth time.
More damningly, the end of the game involves a lot of repeated boss fights. There's a narrative reason for them, but all the same, they serve as a major roadblock to a story that had previously flowed quite nicely. The game's overall quality and the fact that these fights serve up intriguing pieces of the story's central mystery mitigates the annoyance, but still, this is one design flaw I hope not to see in future Bravely Default installments.
For many players the real star of Bravely Default is the combination of its class and battle systems. The game builds on classic turn-based combat with the Brave and Default system. Using Brave, a character can take up to four turns in a row, but forfeits the ability to act until the turn deficit is made up. Default allows the character to skip a turn while in a defensive stance, saving up extra turns for the future.
It may seem like a simple change, but the ability to manipulate turns in this way opens up a host of strategic possibilities for the player, along with providing interesting combat challenges when foes use the system. It meshes perfectly with the game's job system, in which the player can collect over twenty possible character classes by defeating enemy commanders over the course of the game. These jobs can be swapped freely outside of battle, and as each character levels up various jobs, they're given the ability to mix and match the skill sets and abilities that they've learned.
By mid-game, the synergy between Bravely Defaulting and the job system becomes clear. A ninja with spell fencer skills can use Brave to enchant her swords with fire, attack the enemy twice, then use a ninja evasion skill, all in a single turn. She won't be able to act for three turns afterward, but since each character Braves or Defaults separately, the party's healer can look after her while she's recovering. These kinds of assaults become important as enemies also tend to Brave or Default, requiring the player to learn their attack patterns and attack during moments of vulnerability. It's a great deal of fun to build strategies using these systems, the kind of fun that will keep hardcore RPG fans entertained for hours on end.