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Bravely Default Review – A Return to the Glory Years

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It has been a long time since Square Enix has lost their untouchable reputation. There used to be a time when a game with the Squaresoft logo on it was enough to sell you on an entire system alone. Unfortunately they lost their way a bit, but that isn’t to say they still can’t come up with something special now and again. It is one such game that we are looking at today, Bravely Default.

Back in 2010 a game by the name of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was released to generally positive reception. It was a call back to Square’s golden era, playing very much like the grand 16 bit RPG’s that Square built their reputation on. It was a good game but some questionable design choices held it back from achieving greatness.

I bring this up because, as if it wasn’t obvious enough from looking at the game, Bravely Default is very much a spiritual successor to The 4 Heroes of Light. What sets Bravely Default apart though is the polish. Unlike the previous title which kind of felt like a filler title for Square, this very much has that major release polish about it and it shows. It looks better, it sounds better, and it plays better.

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Right off the bat when you start this thing off you will be treated too a very well done CG movie with full voice acting. It’s really a sign of things to come for you in this game as the overall presentation is fantastic.

The characters themselves have the same miniature chibi look that the ones in 4 Heroes of Light had, but the detail in the overall look and the animation is much greater. You will also quickly notice the beautiful hand painted backgrounds for the towns and dungeons.

It’s all very colorful and when you let the system idle for a couple seconds the screen will zoom out giving you a grandiose view of the town you are currently in. It looks great and just like any good RPG trying to pay homage to the great 16 bit era you will see all kinds of environments. You will travel from forests, to deserts, to snowy lands, and many more.

As mentioned before when talking about the opening movie, all major dialogue in this game is fully voiced and it’s pretty darn good for the most part. However, Square Enix felt like giving you options in this game and you have the ability to access the full japanese language track if you so desire. I found it quite remarkable for a 3DS cart to have full dual language tracks and it’s really a testament to how well the presentation in this game is put together.

Anyway from watching the opening movie you are introduced to the characters and the beginnings of a grand adventure. Just like the Final Fantasy games of old you are dragged into the task of reviving the world’s crystals as they have all been consumed with darkness and the world is falling into chaos. When you finally get control of your character you will see something amazing and something that is sorely missing from a lot of modern RPG’s, an actual world map!

Yes, a world map that you can fully explore as opposed to just selecting locations and automatically going there. The game has a day/night cycle while you are on the map and just like any good game that has this feature, certain events may open up depending on what kind of day it is.

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Like I said, this game didn’t pull any punches when it came to presentation and the music is certainly no exception to that either. You are treated to wonderful orchestral tunes for the duration of your adventure. The majority of the music tends to stay in major keys and stands as a nice contrast to all the grim stuff going on in the world. You do have some moody and dissonant tracks, but they are few and far between.

Enough about the presentation though, we need to touch on the two things that really set Bravely Default apart and give it it’s deserved reputation, the job class system and the battle system.

If you ever played The 4 Heroes of Light, the job class won’t be unfamiliar to you as it takes on a very similar feel. You earn jobs when you complete major plot points and sidequests and any of your characters can switch between these jobs at any time. You have your usual collection of Final Fantasy classics such as Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, etc. along with some more unique and specialized jobs like Spell Fencer and Merchant. You earn job points after winning battles and those points go towards leveling up your job which is when you earn new skills for said job.

A great thing about this is that you can earn skills for one job and then apply those skills towards another job. For example you can level up a powerful Monk, learn the Knuckle Lore ability which gives any job the punching skill of a Monk, then you can apply that Knuckle Lore ability to a Knight and you suddenly have what is basically a Monk that can wear the heavy armor of a Knight, eliminating the major disadvantage of being a Monk. It’s a very versatile system that is a blast to play around and experiment with.

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The various jobs are the main draw of the game and you will find yourself not being able to put the game down while wanting to unlock the next job and see what powerful combinations you can come up with. Any job can also equip any piece of equipment but they have ability grades applied to said equipment. So yes, you can equip that super powerful death sword you just got on a white mage, but it’s probably not going to raise their stats as well as a mid-range staff due to the grading.

The equipment grading is ranked from S (best) to E (worst) and how this works is that a weapon with S might raise your attack by 20 points, but the same weapon placed on a job that has a E ranking in that weapon will only get 5 points added to their stats. It’s interesting in that it allows you to have a party with 4 death swords, but you probably won’t get the best results compared to making a more balanced team weapon wise. The same rankings apply towards armor as well.

Back to the presentation side for a moment is that just like The 4 Heroes of Light, each job class gives your character a totally new look with a new costume which just adds to the addictive nature of unlocking new jobs. Also, when you equip new weapons and shields, they actually show up on the character in game which is a touch I always liked in RPGs.

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The meat of any good RPG is the battle system and you can have all the good plot and great presentation you want, but if the battle system is plodding and boring, the game isn’t going to be very much fun. Luckily that isn’t the case here and you get a very well crafted battle system that is full of intricacies and depth, unfortunately it’s also very exploitable, but I will touch on that a bit later.

The whole game is centered around the two commands of Brave and Default if you couldn’t gather that from the title of the game itself. In each battle you have these things called BP which basically tells you how many turns you can execute at once. If you have 3 BP you can attack four times on one turn as that will take you down to -1 and that BP will go back to 0 on the next turn allowing you to attack again.

This is where the default command comes in. This basically functions as the defend command that is pretty standard in RPGs, but here it serves the additional purpose of raising your BP by 1 on each turn the Default command is used.

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Once you have raised your BP you can then execute the Brave command which lets you execute more than one turns worth of commands in one turn. You can work this in strategically by having a character default up to three BP, then having another character lower the enemies defense, and then unleashing fury with four turns worth of attacks on the weakened character maximizing your damage output. It’s great to play around with this system and when you are in a heated boss battle you really feel like a field general with all the tinkering you are doing with the various commands.

Outside of the Default and Brave commands you have your standard JRPG battle system. You can attack, use magic, use items, use buffs/debuffs etc. Although, something I will point out and it has been a problem I’ve had with the Final Fantasy series for a while is that debuffs and status ailments are basically useless in the game. When you can use them in random battles, it’s more efficient to just let loose with your most powerful abilities and they just flat out don’t work in boss battles. I enjoy how it’s handled in Dragon Quest when you need to take advantage of status ailments and debuffs even in random battles just to survive. It just makes everything more exciting.

Above I mentioned that the game was easily exploitable and this is true for a number of reasons. You remember how I said you can go into the negatives with your BP when you use Brave? You can go all the way down to -4 BP if you use four Braves on your first turn, however you will be attacking 4 times with all 4 of your characters on the initial turn making most random battles an absolute breeze. The downside to this is that if you don’t kill the enemy on 1 turn the enemies have 4 free turns to beat you up as you can’t act again until you get back up to 0BP, but, this will rarely happen.

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This goes hand in hand with the option menu and grinding. Grinding is easier and less stressful than ever in this game which is both a good and a bad thing. Good because, lets face it, grinding is the least fun thing to do in an RPG, however, it’s also bad because it is extremely easy to over level in a short period of time sucking all the strategy out of the battle system. How does the option menu play into this you ask?

Well, the option menu really gives you all kinds of ways to play the game, you can change the difficulty and adjust things even down to if you want to gain experience, money, and JP from battle. The option that plays into what I’m talking about however is that you can adjust the random encounter rate for battles from running into a battle every other step, to not fighting battles at all.

How you can exploit this for grinding is to have everybody default 4 times on the first turn, then increase the speed of battle animations, then set the battle system to auto, then raise the encounter rate all the way up and before you know it you will be leveling up your jobs and levels in very short amounts of time. It’s a tempting mistress to exploit this and then you can proceed to drop the encounter rate to 0 and only fight boss battles, but since you are over leveled, you will still wreck them without having to employ any strategy.

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Obviously over leveling and grinding can ruin the balance of any RPG battle system but I needed to specially point it out for this game just because of how easy and not time consuming it is to do, especially considering how well the battle system is put together, but, it doesn’t stop there.

Towards the beginning of the game you will be introduced to the sub game of rebuilding Tiz’s lost town of Norende. You do this by opening shops, stocking those shops with new items, and clearing the land so you can build new shops. This is accomplished by gaining new inhabitants for your town and putting them to work. So, lets say that it would take 4 hours to open the armor shop, well, instead of just one, put a number of people to work on that shot and that 4 hours gets reduced to 30 minutes.

How do you get new people though? Streetpass! Yes, if you have streetpass activated when you pass by somebody, they will be added to your town. I think they have to have Bravely Default as well since I have had days where I’ve gotten 10 streetpasses, but only 2 people added to my town. You can also add people from the internet once a day via the wandering adventurer that allows you to save your game.

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Another feature streetpass has is that those people that get added to your town can also be called upon in battle. During battle you can send or call for attacks which picks upon the people who have been added to your game via streetpass. You can then have them use any number of attacks they have set to be sent to your game, which can include the very powerful special attacks that you can use yourself, but only after meeting certain conditions. This goes down as another way to easily exploit the game but I personally never really used this feature as it just seemed too unfair.

Back to the Norende rebuilding though. Once you have a decent amount of people you can level up those shops in no time. The leveling up is made even easier in that it counts down even when the 3DS is in sleep mode. So you can set your 3DS down before you go to bed or while you are at work or something to that effect. How this benefits you is that as the shops level up it makes increasingly more powerful items available to you.

Everything from weapons, armor, special moves, special move modifiers, compounding materials and the like. Basically how this all fits into the exploitable nature of the battle system is that with just a couple days of dedicated Norende building, you can make available to yourself equipment that is more powerful than pretty much anything you can buy in a normal shop and you can have it very early in the game.

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Some of those other shops you can upgrade, besides weapons, armor, and items, are very interesting and really add to the depth of the battle system while the rest of the game seems to be wanting you to exploit that battle system, really an interesting paradox isn’t it. Anyway, you can upgrade the special move modifier shops and add bonuses to your special moves.

When you execute a special move the effect lasts for a couple turns, and you can apply what bonuses you want to stack onto the effect. You can also apply status ailments, elemental properties, and monster type properties so you can deal more damage to certain types of monsters. What is more interesting though is the compounding materials.

You will eventually get access to the Salve-Maker class which is kind of like say the Chemist class in Final Fantasy Tactics. They deal in item use but, with the various compounding materials, you can do things beyond what the normal items can do. For example, if you combine a Dragon Fang and a Beast Liver you can raise your physical attack by 50% for 6 turns. You can even make an enemy vulnerable to what element you want them to be vulnerable against and even flat out attack by combining compounds.

Outside of that you can combine your regular items as well, like say you combine 2 Phoenix Downs then your revived character will revive with more HP than if you just used one. Salve-Maker is one of the best classes in the game and the fact that they made the compounds available via shop means you will never run out of materials to experiment with.

As you rebuild Norende, getting all these powerful items you will no doubt run into a Nemeses. You don’t have to do anything with these, but they basically act as powerful optional bosses that give you nice rewards when you defeat them. You can also send them to your friends via street pass for them to fight.

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So what we have here is a beautiful game that will draw you into it’s world with wonderful settings and great characters. It isn’t a short game but obviously your mileage will vary depending on how much you want to exploit the battle system. I recommend playing it like a normal RPG as the experience is truly grand and then maybe exploiting it to max on a second play through to see just how powerful you can become.

With that said it should be noted that all the exploits I pointed out ARE completely optional. You don’t have to abuse the Brave command and you don’t have to buy the crazy powerful weapons available by rebuilding Norende, and you certainly don’t have to grind for levels to a level as extreme as what I mentioned.

I easily recommend this to any RPG fan with a 3DS. It’s a call back to the glory days when Square was on top of the industry and the job system is one of the best ever seen in a Final Fantasy type game. Simply put, this game is a Final Fantasy title in basically everything but name, and it’s one of the best Final Fantasy titles in years.

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