I just want to preface this review by saying that Bravely Default is the best Final Fantasy game that is not a Final Fantasy game. Okay, that’s a bold statement. But it is. By best Final Fantasy, I am speaking of course about the more recent entries of the franchise. Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels were heavily criticised by the hardcore fans of the JRPGs for not being ‘Final Fantasy’ enough. While they did have some of the elements of the previous entries, they mostly fell short and were far removed from titles of the past. Bravely Default brings all the magic back with style, substance, and some controversial sex appeal.
This game is a pure pleasure to play. There’s no better way that I can think of putting it. Bravely Default is perfect for the 3DS system, and the two screens work wonders for making easy and immersive gameplay. The 3D itself is beautifully done, even if I don’t use the feature so much.
The game begins with an awesome sequence where you must line up your 3DS with the area in front of you. I did this and pressed start, not really knowing what would happen. All at once, Agnes, the central character appears to be standing on my knee. Yes, my knee! Oh my Godzilla, what is she doing there? This is all too weird and real. The camera is taking in the details of my sitting room while the character is pleading for help on my knee. Well, I have to admit I didn’t catch much of this sequence because it was far too funny to place Agnes on my partner’s head, and on top of my glass of water. I’ve never seen this in a video game before, and I’m fairly new to the 3DS console so it was really cool and made me feel immersed right off the bat. Very clever move.
The story centres around Tiz Arrior, a young boy and the sole survivor of a town which has collapsed into a hole. He is taken away to a city and kept safe. On his way back into his destroyed hometown, he meets Agnes Oblige – the Wind Vestal. She’s basically a mystical, spiritual girl who prays to the crystal of Wind to keep balance in the world, however – dun dun duuuuun! – there is a team of colourful bad guys who are out to spread anti-crystalism and want to lock Agnes away so they can destroy the Wind crystal as well as the other three elemental crystals – Fire, Earth, and Water. It’s all very Final Fantasy, Square Enix.
Agnes is a very Final Fantasy X Yuna-esque character. She’s much more of an annoying martyr though, but as irritating as she can be, she is part of the team and does have a few cool moments. She is my least favourite character in the game, I think. Just for the whining and her stupid decisions. It should have been Edea in that talent show, goddamnit!
The characters are very typical of the genre – each of them can be very annoying at times but they aren’t without their own charms. My favourite of the bunch has to be ladies’ man Ringabell, perhaps it’s because he has a voice that I can only compare to that of Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin. Either way, the cast is pretty strong. I have a mega soft spot and a lady boner for tough military brat Edea (yes, Final Fantasy VIII reference!); with her tantrums she can often come across as a typically young and immature girl, which can get grating after a while, but she softens up considerably and is the saving grace of the cast a lot of the time. The antagonists are very interesting too – even if they are sometimes pantomime-y and camp – and they do have their charming moments. I kept wishing I could give Tiz and Agnes the boot – but then they’re very important to the story apparently. I wouldn’t know; it’s not like Agnes always talks about that or anything.
Don’t let the childish characters fool you, this game has a lot of dark and twisty moments too, including a chapter of the story where the young girls of a fashion-obsessed town are literally killing each other in horrifyingly violent ways for magical hairpins…
The job system of Bravely Default is really well done and you won’t be surprised to know that jobs like White Mage, Red Mage, Black Mage, Knight, and Thief are all part of the game. In total, there are over 20 jobs to choose from, and once you’ve unlocked one job it can be given to any character, with the option to cross over abilities from other jobs that the character has had. So you can have a Thief/White Mage/Black Mage if you so desire. It’s so versatile, and makes for interesting battle strategies; if you get the combinations right you can take down most bosses with relative ease.
The jobs are unlocked via the main story quest, and other little side quests. The outfits for each job are super cute, especially as they are completely different for each character. This attention to detail does not go unnoticed, and as someone who is obsessed with having adorable looking characters in nice outfits, I love it. My favourite job has to be Valkyrie. The Valkyrie’s closest relative is probably the Dragoon class. Valkyries use spears and jump abilities to attack multiple enemies, and yes, they are super cute to look at. Of course, the Western release of Bravely Default has edited versions of some of the racier outfits (I told you, sex appeal!). In the Japanese version of the game, the clothes are much, much skimpier.
The battle system itself is unique to Bravely Default in that the name of the game is a direct reference to battling. To ‘bravely default’ is to stack attacks for more powerful combos; by ‘defaulting’ in battle you choose not to attack, and take hits so that you can stack up a number of attacks you can unleash at once, depending on how much you stack. It makes for a really interesting battle that demands your attention and the use of strategy, but it never gets old or stagnant. Every battle is a chance to try something new. You are rewarded for your success of defaulting with extra experience. Another neat feature that you can use in Bravely Default is to ‘summon’ friends into battle that you have met via Street Pass.
Overall, it’s a colourful game from the very first chapter. Bravely Default doesn’t try too hard to break free of the conventions and restrictions of the JRPG genre, and perhaps that’s why it is so refreshing to play. There are no tricks here; it’s classic and old school and bloody fantastic. When I played this, it felt like I was a young girl again playing an RPG for the first time. Couple that with it being a 3DS title where I can curl up on the sofa with a blanket and really get invested, or play it in bed, or play it in the bath, or play it on the toilet (I definitely don’t do that…), I get all obsessed with the story and characters and just far too emotionally attached, like always…
I did have fears that this would be a very quick game to play through (as many games are these days) but so far I’ve found it utterly refreshing to find a game with such good pace, and even though some tasks are repetitive, it’s enough to keep me engaged throughout. While the story eventually does begin to fall apart (and this has been one of the biggest criticisms of Bravely Default to date) it’s not so terrible as to make you want to stop playing; the fun mechanics, music, atmosphere and yes, even the bratty characters, make you want to see it through to the end.
Despite the flaws in its plot being somewhat too big to ignore, Bravely Default is a fantastically fun JRPG that is the refreshing breath of fresh air that Square Enix needs. I loved it, and with a sequel already in development with a new team of writers, Bravely Second is set to continue this great series. While it is so easy to compare it to Final Fantasy, as I myself have even done, I firmly believe Bravely Default deserves to stand alone, and come out from under the looming shadow of the flagship franchise. With any luck, a successful sequel will help to cement its place as a standout series.