Bravely Default ought to be the default on your 3DS.
Bravely Default took its precious time coming to the West. The 3DS Japanese RPG was first released by Square Enix in Japan on October 11, 2012 as Bravely Default: Flying Fairy. However, that’s not the game we’re getting in North America. Instead, Nintendo brought over Bravely Default: For the Sequel, an enhanced version that implements several improvements. The lengthy RPG was well worth the long wait, though. If you miss the glory days of the Final Fantasy series, Bravely Default is the game for you. It’s a Final Fantasy title in every aspect but in its name, in a good way.
Bravely Default follows the Wind Vestal, Agnès Oblige, and her three companions—Tiz Arrior, Ringabel, and Edea Lee—as they set out to restore light to the four elemental crystals and bring balance back to the world. As someone who has only played bits and pieces of the mainline Final Fantasy series, even I can tell that sounds a bit too familiar. Yet despite its rote nature, the story is fairly engaging. In addition to the issues with the corrupted crystals, ongoing tensions between the game’s central faith, the Crystal Orthodoxy, and those against it flare up constantly. Surprisingly, Bravely Default’s world can be awfully bleak at times, as even character deaths can seem joyous compared to some of the themes. These moments are, however, well balanced with the more light-hearted interactions between our four heroes and the characters they meet along their journey.
These interactions are all fully voiced by an English cast whose performances vary from great to cringeworthy. For those who want them, the Japanese voices are also available. For the most part, I really enjoyed the dialog and humor, but some instances, such as the generally prudish female cast, can be a bit annoying. If you’ve ever watched anime, you’re probably familiar with the cliché that men are perverts and women are pure and naïve. It’s a recurring theme that comes off as a bit too Japanese/anime-like for my taste. Aside from that, the characters are likeable and surprisingly well developed.
As for its gameplay, Bravely Default keeps it simple with a battle system that feels relatively retro, when compared to its modern day counterparts. Battles are both mechanically and aesthetically similar to earlier Final Fantasy titles and are entirely turn-based. All of your commands and status bars are on the touch screen, freeing up the top screen to show off the gorgeous visuals.
While the battle system harkens back to simpler times, it does differentiate itself in several different ways. In addition to the traditional Magic Points, there are also Brave Points (BP). Each character has their own BP, and one is used each turn, unless a character Defaults. Defaulting allows you to stockpile as many as three BP at a time, which can then be used to perform certain actions or a Brave Attack. Brave Attacks allow you to make multiple actions in one turn. However, each action uses up one BP. Performing Brave Attacks when you don’t have BP stockpiled will cause you to sit out however many turns you took in advance. If you use it right, you’ll be able to finish most random encounters on your first turn, and it’s a must in most boss battles. Learning when to Default and when to use a Brave Attack is an integral part of the battle system, and it can also be incredibly rewarding when done right.
Also notable in Bravely Default is its job system. As you kill bosses, you’ll acquire artifacts that give you the ability to switch jobs—these include many of the usual Final Fantasy classes, including Black Mage, Monk, White Mage, etc. Characters gain job experience separate from their overall level and can switch jobs at any time while still retaining the experience. For example, a character can be a level 5 Black Mage, as well as a level 8 Monk. As you level up jobs, you acquire support abilities in addition to the usual attacks. You can also mix and match support abilities from different jobs. The system allows for an enormous amount of customization that is simple, surprisingly complex, and fun to mess with.
Of course, aside from the battle system, Bravely Default offers an entire world to explore. The overworld is reminiscent of older JRPGs, where you travel from town to town, running into random encounters as you go. However, you can adjust your encounter rate to your own preference, even if that preference is zero. While on the overworld, a map of the world appears on the touch screen, with your destinations clearly marked. Most exploration is removed and as a result, hand-holding is way too prevalent.
Once you make it to your destination, be it a town or dungeon, you’ll immediately be greeted by some of the best art I’ve seen in a handheld game. The settings look like paintings, and the 3D effect really makes them pop. Do not play this game with the 3D off; you’ll regret it. The music is, on the whole, great with a lot of standout tracks. All of this makes up for the fact that the dungeons lack any sort of puzzles. Some are built a bit like simple mazes, but for the most part, you just mow through random encounters until you get to the boss. The towns also feel a bit light. All of the shops are essentially menus, and the NPCs don’t have much to say, aside from those important to the story.
If you’re still on the fence about the game, Bravely Default also includes fairly extensive StreetPass and SpotPass features. These include the Norende Village Restoration, which allows you to rebuild a town using both people you meet through StreetPass and online, as well as features that allow friends to help you in battle. Overall, I found restoring Norende to be the most useful, as doing so opens new shops for weapons and other items. The restoration takes place in real time, so you’ll have to keep your 3DS in sleep mode when you’re not playing the game. And don’t worry if you have trouble getting StreetPasses, as the game just as easily pulls villagers for the restoration through SpotPass as well.
Bravely Default is a massive game, and one of the best examples of the genre available on the 3DS. While it harkens back to a simpler time, it still offers more than enough complexity to keep players engaged for a long time. Its story and characters are also worthwhile, despite the reuse of Final Fantasy’s crystal theme. If you’re a JRPG fan, you may want to have your money ready.