Nintendo and Square Enix team up to close this year off in the best way possible.
Final Fantasy has turned into somewhat of an incomprehensible beast. The series is now an unwieldy playground for outsiders. Bravely Default, on the other hand, is an attempt at stepping away down from the overly complex mechanics, and it’s a win-win situation for newcomers and veterans alike. You give the bigger JRPG crowd something fresh and keep the door unlocked so that anyone can wander in. Bravely Default goes back to the basics, while giving the genre some tweaks of its own.
The center piece of every RPG is the story, and Bravely Default is no exception. Meet Tiz Arrior, who lives a normal life in a small town called Norende. However, fate has different plans for the 16-year-old, as a mysterious hole engulfs Norende in darkness. As the only living survivor, he begins rebuilding the town. While doing so, he meets Agnès Oblige, a vestal of the Wind Temple . She and the other players at the temples pray to crystals every day, but only recently have all of them been imbued with a dark aura, causing some terrible side effects.
The two decide to work together to find out how to bring the world back to its original state, and in doing so, they encounter many dangers along the way. Their biggest opponents are the Eternian Forces who are pushing for an anti-crystalism agenda to the whole world of Luxendarc. Along the way they team up with two other characters, Lee and Ringabel. The interplay between the various characters is done not only through cutscenes, but also through small banter sections called Party Chat. The regular cutscenes feature voice acting, which can be set to Japanese and English. At first, I was really unsure if I would like the English voices, but after a while I got used to them. Even so, you can change it on the fly at any moment.
You explore the world of Luxendarc on foot or with an airship. The world is quite varied, as you travel to oceans, deserts, and a land filled with flowers. The world map is your main HUB, and it is here that you find your next destination. Towns and important places standout on the map, making them easy to find. In these towns, you can progress the storyline or tackle some side objectives. These side quests will get you some rewards, so it is easy to get distracted and move away from the regular course for a while. Luckily, the handy map on the touchscreen will tell you about specific points of interest. If you are still lost on what happened before, you can look back at certain events in D's journal. This gives the game a sense of freedom without forcing you to walk about aimlessly.
This sense of freedom extends to the battle mechanics, which brings elements of the old and new together. The game is a turn-based RPG, where you make decisions in various menus to find a winning strategy. The real twist is the Brave Points, which can be used to attack multiple times during a character's turn. There are two ways you can go about this, and it really depends on how defensive your strategy is. You can activate the Brave command directly four times, which allows you to give four blows to your opponents. While this can be useful with smaller enemies, your BP points will drop below zero, meaning that you will have to wait a number of turns to strike further. Sometimes it is wiser to use the default first, as it gives you a way to defend yourself, but it also adds an additional Brave Point. Juggling between these options and finding out which risks are worth taking, makes Bravely Default truly worth playing.
There are also SP, which allows you to attack outside the regular course of action. With SP, pressing the Start button will stop any enemy's movement in its tracks, allowing you a full frontal assault. While this sounds awesome, SP is mostly earned by putting your Nintendo 3DS in sleep mode for eight hours. Another option is to purchase a SP Drink from the eShop. I personally find this to be an extremely cheap idea. I say this because the game already allows you to customize your preferences in difficulty to a large degree. You can turn the destination marker off, decide if you want to gain experience, change your difficulty at any time, and change up the encounter rate in some major ways. It makes the SP Points and Drink quite worthless and a cheap way to include microtransactions.
Another unique element is the Summon Friend command, which allows you to use your registered Nintendo 3DS friends and StreetPasses to benefit combat. By selecting the option, you make room for a friend or guest to attack the opponent and to use a move they have pre-selected for you. There is actual benefit to using Summon Friend as much as possible, as it will raise your affinity and make your friends more effective for you in the long run. You must not forget, however, to update your information every so often at any of the save points in the game. It is also a good at showing how your friends are progressing throughout the adventure.
The final element in the battle trifecta is the job system, which adds another layer of depth to it all. In Bravely Default, you are able to change your abilities and possibilities on the fly with various jobs. To acquire new jobs, you will need to collect Asterisks. These can be given to any character, however many times you want. Each of the 24 jobs has its own perks behind it, and experimenting with them is the true way of pushing yourself forward. You have your traditional ones like the Knight or Black Mage, but there are also some less conventional ones like Ninjas and Pirates. Jobs have their own leveling system, separate from the character’s level, that caps at fourteen. Through this manner, you can unlock brand new actions that require Battle Points. Another point is to check what kind of weapons prove effective for jobs and have them on standby for the surprising challenges ahead.
Next to all the regular content, you can also take on the task of rebuilding Norende Village. By using the same course of action as the Friend Summon, you can receive workers for the restoration cause. If you put them to work and they prove successful with their endeavors, shops and other buildings will open that reward your adventures with some sweet bonuses. You can even decide to upgrade stores to change up the things that are offered to you. It is a hefty piece of content that takes hours to complete, but the rewards can prove helpful in the long run. Nintendo and other players can also unleash special bosses in Norende called Nemeses. You can get special items by defeating them, but they won't respawn after you’ve beat them.
One thing that must be said about the title, is that the game looks and sounds great. The environments and characters have this uniquely drawn look to them, which makes them adorable to look at. There are moments when it all looks like a painting in motion. The 3D effect helps bring all of this to life, as it gives the dynamic camera angles and details more legs to stand upon. The music adds even more to the experience.
Bravely Default is a reminder of why the Nintendo 3DS was so strong this year. Various gameplay elements have never been this balanced before, and the story will keep you interested for many hours to come. The same goes for the presentation, which shows how lush and endearing games can truly be on the system. As a farewell to 2013, Nintendo of Europe couldn't have picked a better title. Not only because of quality, but also because it will last you for the remainder of December.