Bravery, huh? What do we define as “bravery”? Is it the initiative to start something new, or say something that, before, went unspoken, or take a leap of faith? Or is it the drive to keep going once you’ve started? Can you really be brave and smart about things at once? I like to hope so, but I obviously don’t know everything.
But let’s not get too heavy-handed right out the gate. Bravely Default is one of the most strangely-titled games of the year, thanks to those good ol’ Japanese naming schemes. (looking at you, “Revengance”) Bravery is a key factor in the game, but how brave is the project itself? Does this JRPG take leaps in new directions, or does it focus more heavily on bring back what we loved from a time long gone? Let’s follow the flying fairy to Bravely Default.
Before we go any further, let’s drop some important information. For those not in the know, Bravely Default is the brainchild of a group of people with a deep love for the early Final Fantasy games, including FFIII, FFV, and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, to which this game is said to be a spiritual successor. Therefore, this 3DS JRPG is heavily influenced by some of the most well-crafted RPGs of their time back in the 80s, improving upon the systems laid out by some of the games that started it all. This game has been called a successor, an homage, and even the future of the classic JRPG format. After playing for hours and hours, finding myself powering through until near morning on a few occasions, it isn’t hard to see why.
Bravely Default opens in a pretty strange fashion. Upon starting a new game, the player is prompted to take a look at the instruction manual packaged with the game, marking the first time any of us have had a reason to do so in over a decade. The back of this manual is printed with an AR marker, featuring the game’s iconic fairy character Airy, and you are asked to point the 3DS camera at this marker to begin the opening cutscene. Agnes, one of the game’s central heroes, appears in the middle of whatever you point your 3DS camera at, and begins an opening monologue about needing your help in saving the world. Whether this comes off as charming and original or annoying and unnecessary is debatable, but I suppose my decision to make the whole scene play out on top of my roommates head puts me in the camp of the former.
The game starts out by putting you in the shoes of your classic RPG hero; a small-town boy named Tiz, living a peaceful life, who becomes roped into something much bigger and more dangerous than he has ever known. The twist? The game begins with his village being swallowed into the earth, leaving a massive, smoking crater in its wake. Everyone he loves is lost, and he is faced with the question of what there is to do about it. This sets a precedent for what most, if not all, of the game’s characters will be like, a fact which makes the cast of characters one of the most striking parts about the game. Tiz meets Agnes, one of four Vestals charged with keeping the world in balance, Ringabel, a smooth-talking ladykiller with no memory and a book that tells the future, and Edea, daughter of the leader of a tyrannical kingdom whose methods she is forced to oppose. The game takes a group of familiar character types, give them each a somewhat more unique problem, and let them loose. Through this, we get a cast both unique and wholly familiar, all of whom are a complete joy to follow through the game. This same format can be said about the game’s overall world as well.
The world of Luxendark is big, but in a manageable way. You’ll never get too lost, as you gain access to an airship early on and essentially have full reign over the map. You can’t dock wherever you want just yet, but you’re welcome to sail across the ocean at your own disposal, just for the sake of getting a feel for the world’s scale. This lush overworld is filled with forests, mountains, and a variety of other locations, all housing their own secrets and their own importance to the plot. Each new place you visit has something unique about it, like a city in the sand with an enormous clock powered by the wind. Everything is unique in some way. No dungeon is “just a dungeon”, even the optional ones. Everything is worth exploring, and at no point does the game get too tedious. It also helps that the world is completely gorgeous, with towns and other areas flourishing with a hand-drawn style, while dungeons and the overworld are rendered in a beautiful 3D landscape. Beautiful design philosophy bleeds into the characters and enemies as well. Everyone has a unique, distinctive look, and each foe you face is a far cry from generic, from hat-and-cane carrying cats to ancient aztec-stylized golems and gryphons. An absolutely astounding soundtrack pulls you right in, in what will undoubtedly stand as one of the best game soundtracks of the year.
I hate any game that exploits a gimmick, and when I began playing Bravely Default, I thought its titular Brave/Default combat system would be just that. However, it turns out add a lot of depth to what is, otherwise, very run-of-the-mill RPG combat. The system works like this: In battle, you can use the “Brave” option to add to the number of things a character can do per turn. This can be done up to three times at once per character, and includes attacks, items, magic, and anything else. The downside is that the more additional turns you take at once, the more turns after that the character can’t do anything. On the flipside, using “Default” puts the character on the defensive for a turn, saving up that turn for later use. You can Default as many times in a row as you like, but as with Brave, you can only stack up to four turns in this way before reaching the cap. Even enemies can use Brave and Default, and will show more and more strategy with these functions as you progress, getting more cunning as you do. This creates a level of strategy in itself, but Bravely Default isn’t done yet. It’s far from being a one-trick pony.
The other most significant point in Bravely Default is the job system. Each character is a basic freelancer when you first get them, but the first few job classes are introduced in a very smart fashion shortly thereafter. Each job type creates a particular class of character, the first four being Monk, White Mage, Black Mage and Knight. Each of these have their own unique abilities and specialties, as do the 20 other jobs to acquire throughout the game. Each job you collect is obtained by fighting and defeating an enemy with that job, gaining their “job asterisk”. This system teaches you how each job works by forcing you to learn how to best defeat an enemy with that job. Each such enemy is treated as a boss, giving you enough challenge that you’ll have to learn exactly how the class works by fighting them, in order to claim their asterisk for yourself. The game does a fantastic job of not only making you work for these asterisks, but teaching you how they work by showing first and telling later.
The overarching theme of Bravely Default‘s design is putting a few sparks of new into something old, tried and true, and seeing what happens. The story is very simple, and as discussed, reminiscent of the early Final Fantasy games. However, the simplest and most derivative story can be improved tenfold by populating it with good characters, and Bravely Default does exactly that. A couple characters might be somewhat more archetypal, but even these archetypes become fleshed-out and multidimensional if you’re willing to hang on long enough. Your cast of four heroes is assembled very early on in the game, giving you a core group of characters who operate off of each other, colliding and growing and becoming more and more whole as the game goes on. The same theme of new-on-old can be seen in the gameplay. Stripping away the Brave and Default mechanic leaves you with an RPG gameplay structure that works very well, but isn’t very original. It does exactly what the best turn-based RPGs have always done, but that’s okay. The variety of potential strategies given by the combination of the job system and Brave/Default mechanic puts enough of a new spin on classic mechanics to make them feel completely new.
Bravely Default represents its title perfectly. It defaults to a classic story structure and gameplay concept, but adds a couple brave new ideas into the mix that work excellently well. It’s not a marvel of innovation, but nobody asked for that. It delivers as one of the best turn-based RPGs in the last decade, taking the best of the classic and mixing it with new ideas that create a faster, more energetic game than its inspirations of old could have ever hoped to be. It teaches you as you go, giving you new classes by forcing you to best them in combat and learn their tricks. The story has simple roots, but comes into its own and blooms with character. For the JRPG fanatic, or the retro-centric Final Fantasy fan, Bravely Default is an absolutely essential experience that you will not tire of quickly. Bravely Default gets four and a half brave, job-swapping heroes out of five.
Available on: 3DS; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Silicon Studio; Players: 1; Released: February 7th, 2014; ESRB: T; MSRP: $39.99
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.heypoorplayer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/011.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]If danger had a face…oh, if danger had a face. Jay started writing at HeyPoorPlayer in the summer of 2012, but has always been a writer, be it in the form of articles and reviews here at HPP or in that of fiction and articles written over at PkMnCast.com. Jay has been a gamer from a young age, first finding his legs on a GBA and a copy of Pokemon Sapphire. He enjoys a game with a strong narrative and art design, but also appreciates the retro stuff from before his time. Jay also has a passion for comics, movies and anime. He likes to yell a lot on his Twitter @extremesalsaing, which is only the coolest twitter in town. Favorite games: Okami, Bioshock, Shadow of the Colossus, Xenoblade Chronicles, The World Ends With You, Pokemon Emerald[/author_info] [/author]