Once again, I decided to brave myself through another RPG. I do apologise already for the pun there. Bravely Default is a really good classic RPG that was released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the series until very recently when Bravely Default II was released for the Nintendo Switch in late February this year. My partner already played and owned Bravely Default and after seeing him play Bravely Default II, I thought this was a game that looked right up my street. You play as four Warriors of Light and the world you play in has been set in balance by the four elemental crystals which are Wind, Water, Fire and Earth. The game is also heavily focused on use of an extensive job system. Hmm, I wonder where I have heard all these before…
The story is set in the world of Luxendarc. The four main characters in this story are Agnès Oblige who is a vestal of the Wind Crystal and is accompanied by the Cryst-Fairy Airy, Tiz Arrior who’s hometown of Norende has been destroyed, Ringabel who is a self-professed womaniser suffering from amnesia and Edea Lee, the defector of the Eternian Sky Knights and daughter of the Grand Marshal of Eternia. You meet all four early on so the characters and their dynamic are quickly established. You first see Tiz’s village being destroyed in the opening sequence which results in the loss of his brother so you feel like he is going to be the central character but the plot quickly becomes about Agnès and her duty to reawaken the four crystals. It is very much a classic RPG premise with a world map and airships but it is all with a modern twist. I also like little additions like how you go from day to night and this can also affect what enemies appear in battle. There are lots of voice acted cutscenes in this but there is also an optional Party Chat where the characters can make conversation while on their journey. The characters have plenty of personality from Edea’s ‘Mrgrgr’ to Agnès’s ‘Unacceptable’.
The game is familiar visually with the characters designs by Akihiko Yoshida who also designed the characters for the Final Fantasy III remake on the DS but these characters have a lot more dialogue and personality. Their chibi in game graphics translate well with the official artworks of them too as reference. Overall, the characterisations and voices really do enhance the story in comparison to older RPGs. Agnès in particular really comes into her own as the story continues. Despite limitations of it being a 3DS game I was impressed at the amount of emotion that came through in her voice, one notable scene is where Olivia, the water vestal and Agnès’s friend is killed by the Witch Victoria. It also has some funny parts too. One amusing bit was where Agnès needs a garment for Florem’s beauty contest. There’s one point where they are all talking about a sexy garment and I honestly never expected to hear the word sexy so many times in a game like this. The interactions between them are entertaining too, I like Ringabel’s and Edea’s constant quarrelling with his one-track mind and her calling him out on it.
The battle system is all in the name of the title. Two key mechanics are Brave and Default and for these you have Brave Points which depending on what you choose will either be plus or minus. Brave allows you to use up to four commands at a time, however you also cannot use any commands for the same amount of time so your brave points would be at a minus until a certain amount of time has passed. Default is where you defend and you also gain an extra turn, so for example if you were to default for a few turns, then you can use several attacks/commands without going into negative Brave Points. This allows for a whole new strategy, sometimes it could be wise to frontload your attacks – for example, I had a boss battle with Alternis Dim on the Grandship in Chapter 4 and towards the end he unleashes some serious attacks on your party. I was so close to beating him so I decided to risk it and used Brave to hit him up to four times rather than defaulting and being more cautious. This actually did pay off, so it is all about the risk-reward ethos.
The job system is a big part of the gameplay as well. I really like a good extensive job system where the game encourages you to try different jobs and this is done here. You can also customise your abilities so for example if you have levelled up your White Mage then you could change your job to Knight but also apply the White Mage ability so you can still use all your spells as before. Your default job is a Freelancer and you gain other jobs through defeating bosses and completing side quests that are marked in blue on the world map. For doing this you gain something called an Asterisk, a small gem in which contains a job. The side quests are worth doing too as they add a bit of extra story – for example to get the Red Mage ability you have to go to Florem at night where you see a mysterious man dressed in red with a lady, Ringabel will try to follow the man and Edea is used as bait and soon disappears to which the group has to look for the man in red to confront him. I switched jobs quite a few times throughout which kept the gameplay engaging.
Visually this game is really nice and there are a lot of aesthetically pleasing towns with lots of detail that you will come across such as Caldisla, the town where you begin your journey, Ancheim, the desert town and Florem, the floral town which is full of vain women trying to keep up with the latest beauty trends. I like how the camera is zoomed out to give you a good overall view of your surroundings and once you start moving the camera zooms in. I also really like how this game lets you play how you want. One thing that always discouraged me from exploring dungeons extensively in games is the number of random encounters, but here you can toggle how often you want to have encounters so you can either whack it right up to grind or turn it down so you don’t run into anything. Of course, this is at your own risk – by no means completely turn them off because then you won’t gain levels. I personally kept on encounters anyway but it was just for some dungeon areas where I would briefly turn the encounters off as it did make exploration and navigation easier. You can also speed up battles and have your characters auto battle if you want to do a bit of grinding which is very useful.
Now, this is where I get into spoiler territory. My partner kept telling me the whole time that there was a twist to come and that there’s a way to end the game early or to carry on. I was intrigued the whole time as to what it could be and now, I finally understand. Between Chapters 1-4, the story in this game is fairly standard as you seek to reawaken the crystals, or so you think that’s all. The twist is that from Chapter 5 the game basically repeats itself as there are parallel worlds. The crystals need to be reawakened in these other worlds. All four. Several times up until Chapter 8. However, there is a foreshadowing where you are told to have the courage to disobey by Sage Yulyana. Basically, if you disobey, that refers to destroying the crystal when you go to awaken it again. Usually when Agnès does the ritual, she has Airy with her and you press X until it is done. When you go to do it again you can continue to press X against Airy’s wishes. This will destroy the crystal and it reveals that Airy had been deceiving the group this whole time and had them awakening the crystals for her benefit.
It turns out although you thought you were doing the right thing by awakening the crystals and you thought the people trying to stop you were bad such as Edea’s father, Braev Lee, it actually turns out that they had been right to try and stop you. You then face the final dungeon and defeat Airy. This is the alternate ending and the one I decided to take, although I did reawaken all the crystals in Chapter 5. Once you load up the game again the tag line of ‘Where the fairy flies’ fades out only to reveal ‘Airy Lies’. Love that reveal! The true ending is gained if you reawaken the crystals each time as instructed and you face an additional foe at the end, Ouroboros who is the true final boss. I think it is so interesting that you can essentially end the game if you choose to go against the path the game sets you on. It’s a little controversial making the player essentially repeat parts of the game over and over but it at least gives you a choice over it.
Bravely Default is a brilliant RPG that has the essence of a traditional RPG that many know and love but it adds in new exciting elements with the brave and default system. The characters are also a lot more memorable than what you may have seen in early RPG games. Due to the twist, it certainly means that if you were to play the game a second time you wouldn’t see the story and characters quite the same. To be honest at first, I didn’t really connect with them but surely enough they quickly grew on me a lot. I had a great time playing this over the two weeks it took and I really like how it takes the traditional RPG story of gaining the four crystals but turns it on its head as you end up questioning why this is done. It’s also not something I have mentioned so far, but the soundtrack by Revo in this game is really good. Fighting to the End as a boss battle theme is really fun to listen to but there’s so many different tracks which stick in my head, even after having finished the game. If you are an RPG fan, particularly a JRPG fan then it is definitely worth playing Bravely Default.
Bravely Default II: First Impressions
As a little bonus and after having just finished the first Bravely Default, I thought I would go into the second main numbered entry in the series. As mentioned earlier, this was only released in February 2021 so there is quite a gap between releases. Having said that, Bravely Second was released in 2016 and this was a direct sequel to the original Bravely Default. Bravely Default II however, is its own standalone game with its own world and cast of characters. I played through over 5 hours of this to get a feel for the game. This took me from the prologue up to the start of Chapter 1 and the town of Savalon where afterwards you go to the ruins to fight Orpheus.
First impressions were that the title screen music was very recognisable as it is the same tune as from the first game. Revo is also back as the composer. Our main character winds up on the shore after being involved in a shipwreck and is rescued by an old man and woman who take him to the nearby town of Halcyonia. It is clear that our main character is now in a world he doesn’t know. He is called Seth – however, you are given the option of naming him which is fairly unusual in RPGs these days though it was very common before the days of voice acting. There’s plenty of voice acting in this so I guess they must have to avoid saying his name at all costs! I stuck with Seth anyway.
We are then quickly introduced to our second key character, Princess Gloria. Her original kingdom was destroyed and she is in search of the four crystals in order to keep order and balance in the world. Interestingly she is voiced by Charlotte Ritchie who I have seen in a few shows in the UK such as Fresh Meat and Dead Pixels so as soon as I knew it was her I couldn’t unhear the fact that it was her. In a good way, mind you. During Seth’s first battle, two characters named Elvis and Adelle join you and after Gloria is kidnapped for the Wind Crystal and rescued a bit later on all four main characters are together.
In terms of battle mechanics, Brave and Default are back and work the same as before. The day and night feature is back too. Enemies are now visible rather than random encounters, most of the times enemies will try to chase you, some may run away from you and if you run into them, you can also get a head start in battle. The Party Chat between the characters is here again which is nice because it gives the characters chance to interact without it needing to necessarily progress the story. I also really like the fact that you can use Tents in this game to restore HP/MP – this was something I was sorely missing in the first Bravely Default. Graphics are naturally improved as well with the combination of time and improved hardware given that it’s on the Switch.
Seth is confronted by the Wind Crystal and goes into the light and gains the blessing of the wind crystal so now he can perform special abilities as a Hero of Light. It also seems that you may get different guest characters join your party throughout. For my 5-hour experience so far, we were mostly joined by a man named Sir Sloan and once he ahem leaves the party that is when you finally get the opening credits, the Bravely Default II logo appears and you’re now into Chapter 1.
Initial impressions are the game seems pretty solid; I didn’t want to commit to another RPG right away but curiosity got the better of me. Naturally I connect far more with the story and characters of the first Bravely Default however I have spent a lot more time with it so it’s not currently a fair comparison. My partner has played through both and prefers the first Bravely Default but then I’ve seen YouTube reviews where they prefer this one so it seems like opinions are mixed as to which is ‘the best’ one. I’ll probably carry on with it at some point (RPGs are a commitment you know?). This has been a good chance to get a feel for the game anyway, especially after having only just finishing the first one but I may move onto Bravely Second first.