A Crystal Hunt in a Desert Town
At first, I wasn’t sure I’d have the time to play the final demo for Bravely Default II. I manage to keep myself rather busy with coverage of a ton of games, after all. But I really wanted to make sure I set aside a little bit of time for a series I’m rather fond of. I still feel the original Bravely Default game really brought old school into the mainstream again, and managed to marry old and new school in a challenging RPG package. Having said all that, I must admit I’m a little surprised that we’re even getting a Bravely Default II. I kind of thought it was all over after End Layer, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. More than anything, I just didn’t know how much more blood could be wrung out of this stone. But I’m game to enjoy a familiar pattern, so long as it’s well made. And that’s definitely the case in this demo.
If you haven’t played the previous Bravely Default II demo, trust me when I tell you it was intensely tough. A lot of folks, myself included, felt that demo was just too difficult. I was destroyed by bands of 3 or more foes, and that’s not even talking about the boss fight against a sneaky Thief. But Square Enix and Claytechworks took the fan criticism to heart, and made things more manageable. Thankfully, this demo really toned the difficulty down to a more manageable level. Which isn’t to say it’s a cakewalk. Things start pretty easy, but my first boss battle forced me to regroup and come up with a new strategy. And yes, there’s another boss fight afterwards that makes the first one look simple.
One thing I liked about this demo was that it gives more of the context of what’s happening. This is essentially a full slice of an early chapter of the game. We learn more about the drowned desert town of Savalon, where a stolen Crystal is making the waters rise to unheard of depths. It also becomes clear there’s a conspiracy of scoundrels taking advantage of events, including the same Thief from the first demo, along with a Bard and Beastmaster. The Bard is named Orpheus, and he’s using his music to mind control the populace into obedience. Meanwhile the Beastmaster is a young girl under the thumb of the Thief, who is willing to do anything to repay her debt. If you’ve guessed the Bard and Beastmaster are the boss fights, you guessed correctly. Orpheus is an arrogant dandy with more power than sense, but the Beastmaster Anihal actually made me care for her. She’s compassionate and understanding, and will do everything she can to help wayward animals and humans alike. Which only makes it all the more tragic when she turns on you. The demo also reveals some details about the lost kingdom of Musa, where team member Gloria hails from as princess. It’s all compelling, and I’m legitimately curious where this tale will go, and how it might diverge from the first two games.
Having said all that, there’s something I need to get off my chest – I’m not sure I love the main cast in Bravely Default II. At least not yet. It’s a hard act to make characters more enjoyable than the likes of Edea and Ringabel. And though I think there’s potential in Seth, Adelle, Gloria and Elvis, I’m not sure about them. Especially Elvis. Though that could be because I imagine someone very different when I hear that name. Paired with his strong accent, it’s more than a little off-putting. But I sincerely hope I’m proven wrong once I’ve explored more of this delightful game. Cause whether or not the cast here is the most original, I do love playing this series.
The big reason I was so hyped to play this demo of Bravely Default II is cause the combat is consistently incredible in these games. It’s very fun, well organized and nuanced. Mixing and matching abilities from various Jobs is a highlight, and you can come up with some devastating combos. Though many of the Jobs in the demo are gonna be familiar to fans, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I noticed some new quirks, such as White Mages gaining MP every turn during daytime battles while Black Mages gain MP every turn during nighttime battles. I just hope that the final tally of Jobs has at least a handful that are truly original. New names are good and well, but the Bard shares a lot in common with the Performer from End Layer. The Beastmaster is more exciting, and reminds me of the Blue Mages from old Final Fantasy titles.
In the demo itself, there’s only a handful of Jobs to pick from, and most are the stuff you’re gonna be familiar with. The Freelancer, various Mages, Monk etc. I will say, pick your Jobs carefully, since this demo is timed. I was a little surprised by that, and worried at first. But turns out, the 5 hours you’re allocated are just enough to explore a bit and beat both the main bosses here. The reason is that if you keep dying after saving, that doesn’t count against the clock. So you have some leeway to try different strategies to succeed. And you’ll need to, since the bosses are quite challenging. Both ramp up when they’re low on health, and the Beastmaster can easily wipe out your entire party in one turn if you’re not careful. They also have wicked Counters. The Bard puts White Mages to sleep when they try and heal, and the Beastmaster responds to physical attacks by summoning a sandworm that hits everyone with a sand storm. But neither of them is as hard as the Rare Monster battle I encountered. I wandered in the second dungeon, and meandered outside on the world map. Luckily the game warned me what was in store, so I saved first. Which is good, since I had no chance against a den of giant snakes. I might with much more time to grind, but with the time limit that didn’t seem prudent.
Overall, I found the balance in this demo very well managed. You start at around level 10, and the cap is 20. Meanwhile the Jobs can only be leveled up to 10. I don’t think I got anywhere close to any of the level caps, but I managed to still beat the demo. Mostly cause I lucked into poisoning the Beastmaster, which saved my hide. It’s fun to wander around fulfilling side quests as well. Honestly the only thing that’s not super intuitive is the new Weight system. Basically, if your equipment is too heavy, your stats get decreased. Makes sense and all, but actually navigating the menus can be tough. There’s one for equipping things, which displays the characters and lets you auto equip them the ideal way. But that menu doesn’t show the Weight. I only found that info by going into the individual item menu, and then looking at the various stat increases or decreases. Not that this was enough to make the experience bad. Just a small blemish on an otherwise juicy apple.
Oh and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the aesthetic design real quick. In some ways, it’s very reminiscent of the first two games. But it’s just much more lush and visually stunning. There’s great texture work and awesome use of light. It’s almost like some stop motion universe, and it features some really wonderful monsters. I fought against the standard stuff like Ahriman, giant pig men and mermen, but there’s also really strange stuff. There’s hideous undead that appear to be made out of waxy flesh, and some odd geometric spirits. This is a really pretty game, easily the best in the series. And the voice acting isn’t shabby either, with great music and sound effects.
Honestly, if you’re a fan of the Bravely Default series, you should already have downloaded this demo. But even if you aren’t, I’d say it’s worth a shot. Demoes are great to discover if a game is for you, and it’s only a month or two before Bravely Default II is out. Spending 5 hours is a small ask to decide if you’re jumping on this RPG train.