Bravely Default, which was released back in 2012, was a surprising success. It showed that a classic, turn-based JRPG could still tell a great story, feature wonderful gameplay, and please fans. Perhaps most importantly, it gave a great example of how fast turn-based combat can actually be. Following its success, Bravely Second: End Layer, which was released last year in Japan, has finally made its way overseas. The story is bigger, the combat has been expanded, and the gameplay experience it offers is a unique one.
Bravely Second actually begins before the game is even inserted into the 3DS. There is a demo for the game, available for free on the Nintendo eShop. But rather than simply being a sample of the gameplay or a portion of the main story, the demo, titled The Ballad of the Three Cavaliers, is a prequel to the game. It serves as an introduction to a handful of important characters, and allows you to become accustomed to the combat before you get into the game proper. The demo also contains story elements that come into play in the main game, so it is highly recommended to play through The Ballad of the Three Cavaliers before moving on to Bravely Second.
End Layer brings back all four main characters from the first game, but only two of them (Edea, the hot-headed swordsman, and Tiz, the soft-spoken hero )join your party. The rest of your four-person team is comprised of new characters. The first is Yew, a nerdy and troubled young man who often leaps before he looks. He lacks confidence, but has a lot of heart. The other new character is Magnolia, a French-speaking warrior from the Moon.
In spite of all this, the characters are perhaps one of the weaker points of the game. The game occasionally falls flat due to the two-dimensional and predictable personalities of your party members. In typical JRPG fashion, they are all driven to the same goal by similarly honourable means. While the story of the game is actually very in-depth and engaging for the most part, the characters don’t to the plot justice. In a word, the characters are, simply, boring.
The voice acting for each of the characters is a far cry from being interesting as well. Though I applaud the game for having spoken dialogue for almost every character, the voice acting is usually very cheesy, and the childish and clichéd script itself doesn’t help very much. Yew has an infatuation with referring to everything as “gravy,” Edea literally pronounces ever letter when she mutters, “mggrrrmgrrmr,” and Tiz is just dull. Magnolia is the high point when it comes to voice acting, but that’s probably because a lot of her dialogue is in French, and I can’t just the finer points of her voice acting when she’s speaking French.
However, you don’t really play a JRPG for the five-star dialogue; you play it for the story as a whole. Looking past the shallow characters and cringe-worthy voice acting, the story of Bravely Second is immersive and interesting, albeit confusing at times. It takes place two and a half years after the events of Bravely Default. In the first game, your party fights for the Crystal Orthodoxy against the Eternian Army. They seek to protect the elemental Crystals that provide life and stability on the planet. This game also features a plot revolving around the Orthodoxy and Eternia, but are now allies, united in keeping peace. That peace is threatened by an evil army led by the evil Kaiser Oblivion (what a name).
On the surface, the plot looks fairly standard, but the finer details of the storyline (the ones I can’t reveal for fear of major spoilers) provide a lot of life and depth to the game. There is a stretch of the game (for me it was around the 25 hour mark) that was very tedious and stale, but pushing through it was rewarding, and there were even a few moments after that section that I sat back, shocked, at the twists the story had taken.
One of the most remarkable portions of the game uses save data and a New Game + mechanic as actual plot devices rather than extensions of the game itself. This distinctive moment of metagaming had me hooked for the rest of my playthrough, and it is one of the most clever things I’ve ever seen in a game.
Let’s talk about combat. The combat system is nearly identical to the first game. During the turn-based random encounters, you must select each of your four characters battle commands at the same time and watch the battle unfold. You can choose to attack regularly, Default (guard) and save up your turn for another time, or Brave to use up to four attacks in one fell swoop. End Layer features a new mechanic where, at the end of a battle, if you have won the fight in a single turn, you can choose to fight more and usually harder enemies to add a multiplier to the experience you gain at the end of each battle. This can be repeated as many times as your party can stand (usually up to four battles for me) and is a great way to quickly gain experience. Be warned, however, because it is very easy to over-level your party and take away any challenge that the game gives you.
Another big part of the combat is the job system. Each time you defeat a major boss, you are rewarded with an “asterisk”, an item that allows you to fight in the same job class as the boss you just defeated. Job classes let your characters fight with various strengths and weaknesses, as well as use special abilities. In addition to classic jobs like White and Black Mages, Kinghts, Monks, and so forth, there are plenty of new jobs in this game, including some very cool ones. Some of the more interesting job classes include the Exorcist which allows you to undo your opponents’ actions, and the Charioteer which lets you wield four weapons at the same time.
Bravely Second features the same gorgeous, hand-drawn art style from the first game, and is so far the only game that I actually enjoy playing in 3D because it looks so good. Unfortunately, it also shares the same world map, locations, and many of the same dungeons from the first game as well. There are new areas to explore, of course, but a lot of the areas have been recycled, and this makes many of the dungeons very monotonous since, if you’ve played the first game, you’re already familiar with them.
End Layer is at its worst during long scenes of dialogue with cringe-worthy voice acting, and when revisiting dungeons from the first game. But overall, Bravely Second: End Layer is a great sequel. Throughout its 50+ hour play time, it takes everything that made Bravely Default great, and adds to it. The story is captivating and worth experiencing, and the combat is a great twist on the retro, turn-based formula. There are those who say that the Nintendo 3DS doesn’t have many great games worth playing. Those people have clearly not played Bravely Second.
A great follow-up and a must play JRPG
Bravely Second: End Layer is a shining example of how the old-school JRPG genre can be used to tell a great story in a modern game.