Head Bravely Into a New World
Let me be candid about something – I’m going into this review of Bravely Default II as a fan of the series. After all, I’m reviewing my own copy of Bravely Default II (late thanks to GameStop) after grinding like crazy for a couple of weeks to get ready. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be critical of the adventure. If anything, it means I’ll be more critical since I know what it’s capable of. I was surprised when Square Enix announced another game in the series, and wondered what (if anything) new it could bring to the table. After all, this is the third entry, and both of the first games followed a very distinct pattern. So this review will be touching upon what the latest adventure brings, as well as comparing it to what has come before. My hope is that it will provide a nuanced look at this great fantasy series from Square Enix and Clay Tech Works.
An Eclectic Cast of Heroes
One thing that I was most worried about in Bravely Default II is the cast of characters. Not because they’re horribly written, but just cause it’s hard to improve on excellence. I was incredibly fond of Edea and Ringabel in the original games. And after playing both demos of this game, I had concerns that Elvis and Adelle were just clones of those heroes. While there are definitely some similarities, I can proclaim that the cast here is actually pretty well written. Sure, they remind me of the original characters, but they aren’t mere copies. Seth is an easygoing yet determined sailor lost at sea; Gloria is a dedicated and passionate princess; Adelle is a whip-smart mercenary, and Elvis is a goofball scholar. They all charmed me in various ways, and after my time with the game, I appreciated what they brought to the story.
Crystals and Fairies and War
Speaking of story, there’s a pretty solid one here. Like the previous games, it revolves around almighty Crystals, nefarious forces, and fairies. In the beginning, all you know is someone destroyed the kingdom of Musa and has since been claiming Crystals and spreading around Asterisks, causing utter chaos. Gradually more details start to come into focus, and you realize the main antagonist is the Holograd army. Led by the arrogant and dangerously powerful Adam, their goal is to invade every other country and unite the land under one banner. It’s unclear why, but you know you have to stop them. Reason being, if the Crystals aren’t safely brought together once more, an ancient catastrophe will annihilate the land.
Though the plot’s main arc is nothing life-changing, the way it’s delivered is pretty satisfying. A big reason for that is the writing for the many characters. While I gradually grew to appreciate the main cast, the assorted villains and side characters are also a lot of fun. You’ll find yourself rooting for many of them and jeering at others. Plus, learning the events underpinning the story is very enjoyable.
Each major region you visit has been affected negatively by the Crystal’s presence and the Asterisk holders. A desert town is flooded with water, while a village of mages is strangled with trees. One favorite scenario of mine involves an icy town doing its best impression of the Salem witch trials, but with a couple of twists. I didn’t think I would be affected by the writing, but one scene late in the game actually brought me close to tears. While the developer tends to reuse features that have worked in the past, that doesn’t mean they don’t successfully throw in new twists to keep things fresh.
All that is good and well, but any Bravely Default game lives or dies by the combat. Thankfully, I can confirm the combat found in Bravely Default II is fantastic. Though it doesn’t really offer any new features, what’s there is so solid it’s hard to find fault. As usual, you can Default to guard and gather energy. When you’re ready, you can Brave and do multiple things in a single turn, hopefully changing the outcome of any conflict.
I really appreciate how well organized the UI and systems found here are. I noticed that the cursor would automatically select the right target for a given item or spell most of the time. A good example is me casting Basuna a couple of times, and the cursor automatically moves from the first person to the next. Eventually, you’ll also be able to use Special Abilities for each party member. These are Job-specific, and all have different requirements to use. Simply put, they can really save your bacon. Probably my favorite is the Spiritmaster’s Holy Mist, which not only casts Reraise on your entire team, but heals them all first.
Jobs Make the Man (or Woman)
Speaking of Jobs, there’s a ton of them in Bravely Default II. Some are returning classics like White Mage, Freelancer, and Monk. Others are exciting mashups of previous Jobs, such as the Bard and Hellblade. There’s truly no bad Job in the game, though I definitely preferred some of them over others. My personal favorite magical class was the Spiritmaster. It lets you summon spirits to do a given task at set intervals, and they have a Specialty that keeps them alive and protects them from negative effects so long as they have at least 20% health before they’re attacked. It’s a ton of fun to mix and match passive abilities with active ones, and there’s a lot of options you can play around with. And since a menacing boss fight guards practically every Job, it’s really satisfying to put them into practice yourself. Just keep in mind that there are 3 optional Jobs in the game, and they are very challenging to acquire.
A Vast World to Explore
It’s a lot of fun just to explore the world of the game. There are tons of monsters around, and if you’re not strong enough, they’ll hunt you down. By contrast, when you’re over-leveled, they’ll run screaming from you, which is a nice touch. If you ever need to get a lot of grinding done, whip out some Monster Treats. These lure a certain species of monster to rush towards you and leads to consecutive battles. These give you an increased amount of JP and EXP, which can help max out Job levels much quicker than usual. Though I would recommend anybody reading this goes to the effort of maxing out Freelancer for your whole team first. That lets you further boost the amount of JP you earn in battle by 1.7 times, which can help tremendously later in the game.
If you want to take your time with the game, there’s also plenty of sidequests you can take. Just look for blue dots hovering over a NPC’s head and see what they want. They might need you to deliver something for them or to slay a group of monsters. Some will actually lead to optional Jobs you might otherwise miss out on, such as the Gambler or Salve-Maker. And if you’re feeling strong, you can search out optional super enemies just waiting for you on the world map. That said, those that only care about the main story can easily follow yellow markers to go from one scenario to the next in rapid succession.
While there are many areas where Bravely Default II stands on the shoulders of the two games that came before it, there is one area it truly shines. That area is the visual design. Though I appreciated the artistry in the first two games, it pales compared to what’s here. The whole experience has a glossy coat of paint over it, featuring wonderful textures and great use of color. I especially love how enemies explode into a cloud of particles when you defeat them. But it’s just as lovely to watch the sun set and rise or to enjoy the surf lazily splash onto a beach. This is a beautiful game, and it clearly shows a marriage of old and new school aesthetics. Likewise, the music here is quite good. Though it’s not my favorite soundtrack ever, there are many good tunes here, especially the character themes that play when they use Special Abilities. My personal favorite is Elvis’s jazzy piece. And though it took a while for me to appreciate it, there’s some phenomenal voice acting in the game.
Efficient and Well Designed
This might sound odd, but perhaps my favorite part of the Bravely Default series isn’t the combat or the characters. It’s the organization. Clay Tech Works obviously takes pride in ensuring that every system and mechanic is efficient and well organized. It’s easy to bring up hints or hide them, or to expand and shrink the world map. You never have to wonder what something does; you can just press the right button and find out yourself. And if you ever find yourself flummoxed, you can go to the Travelogue and find handy tutorials. They even made it easy to view the current weight of your character’s outfit, which is a new feature in Bravely Default II. If you go over their maximum weight, you’ll be punished with stat decreases. The point being, overall, the entire game is very well organized, which helps you spend most of your time enjoying what’s here.
Now, though I enjoyed the vast majority of what’s present in Bravely Default II, there are some areas it fell short. One is something I hate to harp about – the enemy models. Though there are many great creatures in the game, they also reuse enemy models way too much. Perhaps that’s due to what the Switch is capable of, but I’d almost have preferred fewer enemies if it meant fewer clones. Also, though the world map is very helpful, I’m at a loss as to why there are no dungeon minimaps. Sure, you can see how many treasure chests are present thanks to the Freelancer ability, but it’s easy to get lost in large dungeons. More surprising to me was the occasional slowdown that occurred. Sometimes after bringing up the main menu, the enemies moving on the map would suddenly stutter and then rush forward. Or when I selected Party Chat, there was always a delay in actually displaying it. And though this last one is a nitpick, I hate that some quests don’t have objective markers. I understand they want to make it a challenge finding things, but when 90% of the game has clearly displayed markers for everything, I got a little frustrated by their sudden absence.
A Worthy Adventure
Overall, I’m still pretty happy with Bravely Default II. I’ve been waiting for this game for a while now, and I’d say it mostly lived up to my expectations. There’s everything I love about the series here, from the characters to the challenging bosses to the well-organized systems. Sure, it’s mostly a linear experience, but there’s enough variety and sidequests to keep things fresh. And like any good Bravely Default game, there’s a handful of big twists to shock and amaze you. More than anything, I just want to see something a bit more ambitious from this team in the future. What’s here works and is fun, but they can’t just rest on their laurels. I think they’ve shown they’re talented, but that’s not enough. They need to keep improving and evolving to keep their audience satisfied. Here’s hoping that if we get another game in the series, it’s something that truly blows our socks off.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Clay Tech Works; Players: 1; Released: February 25, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
A review copy was purchased by the author