Retrospective – Bravely Default (3DS)

Perfect for Classic JRPG Fans

With Bravely Default III on the horizon (and hopefully still due for a release date in 2020), some of you may be wondering: what is the original like? Is it a good game? Is it worth tracking down a 3DS in order to play it? What in the world does the title mean anyway? All excellent questions, so let’s take a few minutes to go down memory lane and try to answer these questions as we reminisce about a little title called Bravely Default.

What had initially started out as a sequel to the Nintendo DS game Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, the game that would become Bravely Default is a love letter to Final Fantasy games of old. Indeed, you could consider it a celebration of sorts of what that franchise originally stood for and the foundation it laid for JRPGs for years afterwards. What makes it unique as it stands in the steps of great role-playing games that came before it? Why should anyone consider playing it in this day-and-age, and on a portable system no less?

Announced in 2011 and released in Japan at the end of 2012, Bravely Default didn’t come to the US until February 2014. While the creators said there were originally no plans to release it in English, fan outcry was great enough to show Square-Enix that there is still a viable market for turn-based JRPGs. The version that the west got was actually an updated version that was released in Japan first, which was called Bravely Default: For the Sequel, which featured hundreds of tweaks and changes to the original game based on fan feedback. It released to immediate praise among critics, with most criticism surrounding a rather bloated and repetitive mid-to-late game. It is still heralded among fans as one of the most creative and intriguing games in the genre.

Your main characters are Tiz, Agnes, Edea, and Ringabell. Following the traditional four-character party from classic Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, you really learn a lot about your companions through the Party Chat system and cutscenes.The story is filled with intrigue and mystery right from the start as you start getting to know these characters. Enemies become allies, allies show their true colors, and you never quite know who is on the up-and-up. You think you have an idea about who the enemies are, but as you start to get to know them more and more, it turns out that maybe they weren’t so bad after all, or maybe there was even a reason as to why they were acting in the way they were. This level of characterization isn’t unheard of in this genre, but Bravely Default paces out these character revelations nicely and make sure that they play an important role in the overall story.

Gameplay-wise, Bravely Default features a traditional turn-based combat system with a twist, thanks to the Brave and Default system. Should you go all-out and demolish an enemy or play it safe and bank your turns? Dare you summon a friend for an intense attack or save them for a boss that really needs it? This type of high-risk, high-reward tradeoff allows you to customize how you want to play the game. One of the nice features the game showcases right off the bat is the option to turn off random encounters completely or even maximize the number of encounters you have, which makes it great for when you decide if or when you want to grind or when you want to play it safe.

The job system initially looks like it will be standard fare for a game following on the footsteps of Final Fantasy; yet, all 24 of the jobs are amazingly versatile and allow you to customize your party in any way that you see fit AND still allow it to be a viable option when finishing out the story. There are a few roadblocks along the way that will require you to switch jobs and rethink how you are tackling particular areas, but overall, the game gives you enough freedom to adjust your jobs and skills among characters that uniquely reflect your personality and fighting style.

I cannot praise this music highly enough. The entire soundtrack throughout this game perfectly matches the atmosphere and facilitates a better enjoyment of particular scenes throughout the game. Whether it is the grand overworld theme that fills you with an adventuring spirit, the battle and victory music that makes you feel like you are overcoming great obstacles, or even the fast-paced folk-y music of particular towns that make you want to dance, there is a track in this game for everybody.

We cannot conclude our retrospective about this game without going into the real sticking point for many: the repetitive nature of the mid-to-late game. Without going into spoilers, there are a few chapters that you experience that will certainly feel redundant, offering only minute differences between how you experience each section. This is where most people fall off the game if they aren’t completely invested, and it makes sense. My only advice for players would be to stick with it during this particular stretch and see it as an opportunity to review the storytelling. You will be surprised at what changes between chapter-to-chapter, and once you get to the end and see how it all relates together, you will be shocked at how they were able to make a section like this work in the game. It all comes together by the end, but you have to endure a bit of trial and tribulation to see it through.

Bravely Default may just be one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS. I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t think about the game in some fashion, whether by listening to the music or thinking about a particular plot point in the story or just wondering when we will finally see Bravely Default II. While I can totally understand the criticisms and concerns people raise, I cannot help but find this game charming beyond compare and a worthwhile JRPG for fans of the genre to experience. Here’s hoping that Bravely Default II will be able to live up to the legacy that the original game left…!

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