The original Bravely Default launched during a time where it felt like everyone had moved on past the tried and true turn-based RPG. Even the king of the formula, Square-Enix, seemed like it had given up on the genre as it had been (unfortunately) pouring its everything into the action RPG, Final Fantasy XIII, and its countless spinoffs. But then, a week before the launch of the last entry in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, Square Enix launched Bravely Default on 3DS (in North America, at least). It was a glimmer of hope in the eyes of classic fantasy RPG fans, and it absolutely delivered on all fronts.
The Bravely Default series originally started life as a sequel to the DS spinoff, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, (which is why there are so many similarities to Final Fantasy). Bravely Default revolves around a party of four characters, who set out on a quest to recover the four crystals that keep the world in order, all accompanied by a fantasy world full of magic and monsters, turn-based RPG combat, and a sweeping orchestral score.
The series creators eventually went on to develop a direct sequel by the name of Bravely Second and also helped kick off Octopath Traveler, but now Square-Enix has given the reigns to developer Claytechworks, the team that worked on the Bravely Default mobile game in Japan. So, after a few years in the oven and a couple of demos to help gain player feedback, Bravely Default II is nearly ready for release on Switch, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have spent a considerable amount of time with the game already.
For those unfamiliar, Bravely Default 2 is a full-on fantasy RPG that uses a turn-based battle system akin to an epic adventure you’d find on the SNES. You control up to four party members, giving them commands to whittle down the opposing enemies HP with swords and spells. You’ll travel from town to town progressing the story and taking on battles and bosses along the way to level up your characters and give them new abilities. It’s very much inspired by games of old, but has learned a lot from its predecessors.
What makes the Bravely Default series stand out from its inspirations, however, is its "Brave" and "Default" mechanics. Essentially, in battle, you’re able to defend by using the Default option which provides you with one Brave Point (BP for short). You can then Brave on your next turn at the cost of said BP, which allows you to perform an additional action. This simple mechanic goes a long way in offering you a wealth of options to help take on the enemy. If you’re fighting a tough opponent, you can Default before you know an enemy is going to attack to soften the blow, then swing with an attack multiple times when your opponent has its guard down. Another example, if a party member gets knocked out, you could also use a few banked up BP to use a Phoenix Down, a Cure spell and still have room to attack your enemy.
Not only can you bank up to three BP at a given time, but you can also go into the negative by spending BP you don’t have to swing hard at an enemy with multiple effective attacks. This can really come in handy when facing random enemies out in the overworld that can be defeated with a few quick swats. However, when you go into negative BP, you’ll need to wait for a few turns for your character to catch back up before you can take an action again. This simple element adds a much-reeded risk-reward system to the genre. Do you risk it all to try and take down a horde of enemies quickly, or play it safe and wait for the proper moment to strike?
On top of this, Bravely Default II brings back the job system from past entries, allowing you to change up the class of any four of your party members however you see fit. In the beginning, you’ll be limited to a few jobs like Black and White Mage, Vanguard, Monk, and so forth, but as you progress through the story you’ll unlock more. These jobs will also level up as you fight with them and will unlock new abilities as you grow. But then if you decide to go down a new career path, try out something different to keep things interesting, you can equip an old job to a subcategory that gives you access to all of the Spells of another job. Your sub-job won’t gain any experience in battle and your overall stats won’t be affected, but what’s cooler than living out your fantasy of dual-wielding dark magic and curative spells?
The story puts you in the shoes of a character named Seth, who’s found washed ashore in a land unfamiliar to him by Gloria, the princess of a destroyed nation, and within the first hour or so you’ll be buddied up with the rest of the game’s traveling companions. Quickly you’ll learn that the world is in grave danger, thanks to the impending doom of the Night’s Nexus calamity, and it’s up to you and your team to track down the four legendary crystals to bring peace and order back to the realm (remind us again how this isn’t a Final Fantasy title).
From the roughly 15 hours we’ve put into the adventure so far, the story hasn’t spilled anything to write home about, but it still managed to surprise us on a few occasions. Additional dialogue between your party can be triggered while you’re out and about exploring, but they’re completely skippable if you prefer to just get on with the action. Aside from the four main characters: Seth, Gloria, Elvis, and Adelle, new characters will occasionally join your party to help out periodically in battle and help further carry the story.
We’re grateful developers like Square Enix and even Nintendo have taken such a liking to voice acting these days, but unfortunately, we’re still unsure how to feel about the English VO direction this time around. Nearly every character has a different accent that oftentimes feels out of place. After about 5 or so hours in, we realized we had the option to switch over to the Japanese VO, which fits each character like a glove. The English VO isn’t Arc Rise Fantasia levels of bad, but if you’re the type who prefers neither, you can also turn the voice acting off completely.
Bravely Default II may not use an art style that’s as nostalgia-inducing as Octopath Traveler, but it still manages to shine in many places. The character and enemy models, in particular, are most noteworthy, giving off a Jim Henson puppet vibe. At times, the characters almost look like they’re made of Sculpey while the enemy's scales shimmer in the sun and fur flutters in the wind. The backgrounds during battle can look a little plain, but it’s likely all of the Switch’s processing power is being pumped into the character models. (It sure would be nice if we had a Switch Pro to help with the heavy lifting...)
The towns you’ll encounter throughout the adventure are a completely different story, however. Each is hand-painted, brimming with color and lively characters to chat with. They remind us of the static backgrounds you’d find in a PS1-era Final Fantasy title. Thankfully, however, these are uncompressed and paint the true picture the developers wanted you to see. It’s also worth mentioning we spent most of our time in docked mode, but when we made the occasional jump to handheld things ran without hiccups.
Maybe we’ve softened up a bit since we played the originals, but the classic grind of a good ol’ fashioned RPG got in the way of our enjoyment pretty quickly. Each dungeon or cave comes with a new set of enemies all ready to pummel you into flying fairy dust, and if you don’t beat enough of them into submission the end boss of each area is going to give you a heck of a time. There is something to be said about adjusting your strategy for each boss encounter, but nothing is more deflating than watching your party struggle to stay alive while barely laying a finger on the enemy.
Now there are actions you can take to alleviate some of the strain of grinding out battles, you can change the overall battle speed with the press of a button and can copy and paste your last set of attacks to use again, but the time it takes coming in and out of a battle, running back to an Inn or a save point to use a Tent to heal and refill your MP all adds up and can make the journey feel more like a chore. If you’re the kind of person who only has an hour or so to play each night, it could take you a while to make real progress. However, if you find the difficulty to be a little too much, or to be generally lacking in challenge, you can hop between the three settings (Casual, Normal, and Hard) at any point during your adventure.
Bravely Default II is shaping up to be quite the polished adventure, full of content to keep RPG fans content. While the early battles felt a bit samey, once we got our hands on more jobs and abilities our options started to open up. It’s a classic RPG by default, but many of you will likely feel right at home with that. We’re excited to dive back in and see what else the story and its job systems have to offer, so be sure to check back in with us soon for a full review.