A lot of things go through my head when playing JRPGs: is this story engaging me, do I know who this character is, do I even *care* who this character is, does the artwork enhance or detract from the story, did I eat lunch, should I eat lunch?
You should always eat lunch. Also, always wear sunscreen.
You’ll notice that the most prominent thing to me in any RPG relates to the story. I want to be engaged, convinced to stay up late at night even though I know I have to work in six hours. Bravely Default delivers in that regard. A story that tugs at your heart strings and keeps you engaged, with a good ‘Huh?’ moment thrown in at the appropriate place. The story definitely had the trappings of everything good. And it was good. Until the end.
As most almost-great stories however, the writers put it on a boat and sailed it straight into the ‘Ending Graveyard’. A place from whose bourn no storyline returns – puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those plots we have, than fly to others we know not of (you’re the man, Hamlet)? Now this is speculation on my part, and wanting to not spoil anything, but I believe all writers want their stories to have an impact. They pay so much attention to the middle of the story, the meat as it were, that when deadlines are approaching they are forced to skimp on the dessert. Questions are left unanswered, or glossed over with a hand wave. To me a rushed story always has that coup de grâce moment, when the final scene rolls and the denouement is supposed to tie up everything, and instead I’m left with even more questions caused by those events in the ending! It is painful at best, but I managed to convince myself that the story up to the last couple of ‘acts’ acted as a salve to the burn of the final pieces.
Plus the ending had a very Final Fantasy IV-esque piece to it, and granting that FFIV is the best game of all time in the history of ever and all future evers forever, that gave them some bonus points. (But just a *little*!)
If you have played Final Fantasy V or any variations on the job system therein, you will feel right at home with Bravely Default’s job scheme. Add in the ability to select a second job and use all the abilities in addition to your primary job, and then being able to select certain attributes from any jobs (the number and variation of attributes you can select increases as you gain job levels and progress through the story), and you have a VERY rich combat system. I have a fair number of hours on the game clock spent just equipping different subjobs and attributes and seeing what excelled – the possibilities almost seem endless. Indeed a little daunting if that sort of customization frightens you.
Also included is the brave/default system. The classic RPG system of attack once per round is tweaked slightly with the ability to ‘save up’ rounds and then spend them all at once (well not ‘all’, up to four). Since you can also go into the negative numbers with the system, it is possible for each character to go four times in the first round. This sets up some intriguing possibilities for one round kills. It also gives you a little bit more breathing room during boss battles if your healer needs to do some emergency maintenance.
As with the story, sadly the system begins to fall apart in the end game. The vast customization leads to certain game breaking strategies (‘cheese strats’) during late game play *cough*valkyrietimemage*cough* *coughcough*ninjaredmage*coughcough*. Again, if you are the type of player where you can ignore the cheese, or better yet love the ability to use such strategies, than this might not be a big deal for you. I admittedly used one of the above for an entire dungeon because I just could not be bothered that day. I felt unclean and had to soak in a bath filled with the tears of a thousand virgins to purify myself afterwards…. Not really, I am an adult – I fell asleep right afterwards and woke up refreshed, and one dungeon closer to the end.
I think Bravely really shines in the character department. Each character has a clear personality (albeit a little one-dimensional) to the point where I had no problems understanding why they reacted the way they did, or predicting what they were going to do. Not only that, each one of the bosses you rally against also has a personality – some likable, others not so much. It made for a pleasurable experience when your favorites would appear on screen, or when you finally got to kick the crap out of that snot-nosed little gir…. ahem.
The main cast is simply a group of charismatic characters. I mean look at them! Agnès is cute as a button, and when she does her Lemongrab impersonation, you can’t help but smile warmly. Even Ringabel’s lechery grows on you after awhile.
The voice acting leaves a little to be desired. Several parts of the script has Edea going ‘Mrr grr grr’ and Cassandra Morris has Edea speak ‘Merrr gerr gerr’… It sounds a little… odd. Perhaps that is what the directors wanted. Who knows. What *is* awesome is that all of the primary and secondary character’s lines are voiced throughout the entire game, something I had not expected in a small cart. Kudos there, Silicon Studios.
- Awesome artwork, both in rendered character movement and background art.
- Engaging story line that draws in you in and makes you want to figure out what is going on.
- Very fluid job system with hours of customization possible
- Neat AR movies for the intro and outro (although I wish they would have made more use of this throughout the game)
- Great customization options, including the option to turn down, or off, random encounters.
- An auto-battle system that repeats the actions used in the last round.
- Likable characters
- The ability to register friends and have them help you out in battle with their stored attacks.
- The music, while very well orchestrated, becomes overused by endgame.
- Story line falls apart at endgame – an issue for me but not for all gamers.
- Cheese strats are available to completely break combat – may be hard for some people to ignore
- Final chapters become very repetitive. Fortunately you can skip most of the side story lines should you desire (not an option for a completionist like myself).
- Did I mention the story that leaves the player with a 7-10 split? MRR GRR GRR!
Even though I have an issue with the unkempt endgame storyline, I would highly recommend Bravely Default to any 3DS owner who enjoys RPGs, especially JRPGs. The inventive job and brave/default combat systems really make the game enjoyable. Add in good music, characters, and a really engaging story line until the last few chapters, and you have a solid winner for your time and money. Just go in knowing that they kind of tip their hat and spoil all of the secrets before their time, and you should not be surprised.