All fans of JRPGs, stick up your hands. Odds are, you lot were also fans of Final Fantasy at some point or another. Odds are, the same lot of you are a bit disillusioned with how weird the latest batch of Final Fantasy games are, yet also how samey other JRPGs are. You’ll be glad to know that a JRPG has come along to shake up all the old tropes, and yet keep things fun in the way the older Final Fantasy games did. Enter Bravely Default.
Bravely Default features four individuals going on a quest together to find out what’s amiss with the world. Agnés Oblige is a priestess, the vestal of wind, who has been sent from the temple to find out for herself why darkness is overtaking the world. Edea Lee is a sky knight who discovers that her people aren’t all as they seem. Tiz Arrior is a young lad from the village of Norende who wants to rebuild his village after it is swallowed into a huge void in the ground. And then there’s Ringabel, a young man with amnesia who follows the others around because a prophetic diary he owns tells him he must—essentially the equivalent of doing something because the crazy voices said so. The plot is nothing new if you’ve played JRPGs before, but if you’re that familiar with them, you’ll also be aware that character development is usually more important.
Once you get stuck into the game, if you’re a long-time fan of Final Fantasy, you’ll realize that the game is surprisingly familiar with items and spells: standard Final Fantasy potions, phoenix downs, echo herbs, and eyedrops, as well as fire, fira, firaga, etc. In fact, the character design is delightfully and charmingly reminiscent of the Crystal Chronicles series of Final Fantasy, and it soon becomes obvious that Bravely Default is the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light, and really is Final Fantasy in just everything but name. In fact, even the jobs that your characters can do are standard Final Fantasy Tactics jobs. Obviously, I was more than right at home with this title!
The game itself starts out looking like your standard meat-and-potatoes fare of JRPGs, complete with epic story, turn-based battles, and so on. And then the entire genre is turned on its head. The “Brave” and “Default” battle options (from where, obviously, the game gets its name) allow you to take several turns’ worth of actions in a single turn, or stop taking turns, respectively. The downside, of course, is that if you take more than your usual number of turns in a single turn, you can’t act again for that many turns. Default for several turns, though, not only raises your defence, but also allows you to take those turns that you defaulted on. It’s a strange mechanic that you get used to quickly, and you’ll wonder why this was never the case in other JRPGs. For example, you can easily complete a battle that would normally take four turns in a single turn, gambling on the idea that you’ll be done by your last attack, otherwise you’ll have to stand there and take four rounds worth of attacks from the enemy.
The other wonderful gameplay tweaking that Bravely Default allows you to do is change the difficulty and random encounter rate on the fly. Don’t feel like fighting your way through a dungeon to explore it? Turn the encounter rate to 0%. Need to grind for experience or job points? Crank it all the way up to 200% to watch the buggers come at you willy nilly. Another odd aspect of the game is that there’s no walking mass of party members that you need to switch in and out and manage. You get just the four, and that’s your party. Awesome!
Beyond the standard JRPG mechanics, early in the game you also get to rebuild Norende village. At first it feels a bit strange, but then you realise that rebuilding augments the shops with goods, gives you bonuses, and even comes with a few optional bosses to fight. And then there’s the social aspect of the game via StreetPass and SpotPass. What’s nice is that Square Enix made provision for people like me who don’t get out enough to pass other 3DS owners in the street, so you’re given a few AI friends. The point of this is that you can call on them during battle when things get a little hairy. Social gaming is really coming into its own!
From someone who cut their RPG teeth on JRPGs, and Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, and Dragon Quest in particular, Bravely Default is everything that I’d wanted in a JRPG. It’s fun, witty, and you don’t have to play through 30 hours of game before you get the airship and the ability to travel the world. The option to change the encounter rate is what really sold it for me. The mountain of options may be daunting to newcomers, but I can think of no better introduction to JRPGs than this game. One of the minor offputting aspects is the microtransactions section, which allows you—for a price, of course—to slow down or stop time. Beyond this, though, there’s very little wrong with the game, unless you don’t like JPRGs, in which case you’re probably not going to like it anyhow. If you’re planning on downloading the game from the eShop, be warned: it’s huge by 3DS standards, weighing in at almost 4GB. Make sure you have a large enough capacity SD card.
Final Score: 9 Flying Fairy Prawns out of 10
Developer: Square Enix
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa (Core)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating: 12