Silicon Studios’ last game to make it to North America was the excellent 3D Dot Game Heroes. With that love letter to The Legend of Zelda, Silicon Studios knows what makes certain types of games addicting and compelling. Bravely Default is a great example of the developer understanding what is exciting about a genre’s gameplay and delivering what JRPG fans love.
Bravely Default is a role-playing game for the Nintendo 3DS. Silicon Studios and Square-Enix developed the title. Square-Enix, the original Japanese publisher, split publishing duties with Nintendo for the North American release.
Luxendarc is dying; the seas are rotten, the Earth is crumbling, volcanoes are covering the land in lava and the wind has stopped blowing. An Anti-Crystalist movement has taken hold in the Duchy of Eternia, which causes Crystalists to be hunted down and killed while the Crystal Temples around Luxendarc are destroyed.
The land of Caldisa faces tremendous sorrow when the town of Norende falls into a giant chasm. Only one person survived the swallowing of Norende, a young man named Tiz, who had to watch his brother fall into the void that Norende became. There is no time to mourn the loss of his town or his brother. Tiz meets Agnès, who is searching for survivors in Norende and running away from the Duchy and the Knights of the Eternian Sky.
Agnès is the vestal of Wind tasked with guarding the Wind Crystal, but a great darkness has consumed the crystal. This prompts her to leave the temple and head to Norende. Despite refusing help, eventually Agnès lets Tiz join her quest. Joining them is the amnesiac Ringabel and the daughter of the Grand Marshal of Eternia. Their journey to restore the crystals and save Luxendarc is fraught with peril as the Duchy of Eternia aims to hunt them down by sending the most fearsome of enemies to oppose their progress.
Bravely Default’s story serves as best of JRPGs in many ways. It features a dire end-of-the-world scenario with crystals serving as the catalyst for the apocalypse and a group of four chosen heroes, including a savior type. It also has an element that’s been missing from most modern JRPGs–a heavily dark and morbid tone. The Duchy of Eternia hunts down and murders religious groups and those who identify as Crystalists if they cannot change them.
It has echoes of the genocide that happens in Final Fantasy IX and the crazier moments in the Final Fantasy series. These sinister elements are always what added a hugely interesting and subtextual component to some of the earlier JRPGs, and it is good (in a way something that terrible can be good) to see them back. That plot point helps cover up some of the more tired tropes and cliches in the game.
The prolonged fighting between the main group goes on way too long,. It is infuriating to watch Agnès continually belabor a point that was settled a few hours into the game. The story, despite covering some well worn territory, is compelling.
Bravely Default offers a novel spin on traditional RPG turn-based combat. Make no mistake though, the combat found in the game is firmly turn-based with requisite abilities to attack, defend, use items, and abilities and run away as all traditional RPGs do. However, the Brave and Default system adds a layer of complexity to the traditional turn-based foundation.
Both you and your enemies have the ability to use Brave to gain additional turns or Default to gain defense and turns. At the start of a battle, each side starts off at zero, with neither a surplus or debt of moves. That changes quickly once the battle starts. During each side’s turn, you or your enemies can choose to perform an action, Brave or Default.
Using an action is essentially playing the game as a normal RPG–you wait one turn to perform another action. This works in some circumstances, but as you progress through the game, enemies frequently use the Brave and Default system, making playing the game normally a huge handicap.
Players can also perform a Brave, which allows for an additional action to be used in a single turn. In any given turn, you can Brave up to four times, giving you four actions. This means that you’ll earn debt and have to wait three turns before attacking again. Using Brave recklessly can leave you vulnerable to attacks if your gambit doesn’t pay off.
Players can choose to perform Default, which increases defense for a turn and allows players to bank a turn to perform multiple actions in your next turn without accruing debt. Smartly using Default can give you a huge advantage over enemies and make easy work of strong foes, but it also leaves you open to attacks. The best strategy in Bravely Default is to use a smart mixture of these systems in conjunction with the game’s robust Job system to gain the upper hand in battle.
The Job system in Bravely Default is immensely satisfying as your four characters gain experience and mastery. In addition to character’s main leveling, you can also level up various jobs several times to improve their abilities and your characters. After mastering various skills in each job, you can mix and match valuable skills and abilities with other jobs to cover up a character’s weakness (i.e. giving the Swordmaster some added strength with the Knight’s two-hand ability or giving your Red Mage some added buffs with the Time Mage’s ability). It allows players the joy of customizing character’s to their preferences.
Job leveling also gives some added incentive to grinding in the game. It adds tangible progress to the more abstract need to level up a character in a RPG. It does not make up for the grinding, but it makes it more enjoyable. What Bravely Default does best to counteract the annoyance of random battles is allow players to change encounter rates.
Graphics and Sound
Akihiko Yoshida’s character designs are fantastic, even if the Chibi style of the main characters leaves something to be desired. The look of Luxendarc’s towns and continents is distinctive and memorable. 3D models are a bit of a mixed bag though. The main characters’ Chibi style works against the art style and leaves them looking like weird babies. However, it is the flat and inexpressive faces of the main characters that is most troubling. In spite of that, the game looks great.
The score features songs that feel leftover from classic JRPGs and some that could blend right into others. While evoking the memories of some of the best JRPG soundtracks, Bravely Default’s score has a personality all its own.
Sadly, voice acting leaves much to be desired. It is not unbearable, but after a while you may find yourself turning voice acting off to groove out to the excellent music.
Bravely Default continues the 3DS’ trend of offering owners innovative and high quality games. Despite some issues with graphics and voice acting, the game looks great and the music from Revo is superb. Where the game shines is in its story and gameplay.
The story features a nice throwback to early JRPGs with a oddly dark undercurrent marking the world’s political climate, which helps cover up some of the well worn territory of the game’s plot. Bravely Default’s Brave/Default system adds a novel take on turn-based combat and the Job system is addictive. 3DS owners who enjoy RPGs should certainly pick up Bravely Default, it is one of the best on the system.