Sunday, 11 March 2018

Review No. 138 Bravely Default (12+) - 3DS

Strong Points:
A mix of old and new
Great voice acting
Rebuilding Norende was a good past-time
Lots of jobs
Intuitive battle system
Great variety of weapons
Specials are cool to see
Great music
Classic story with some modern themes
Great cast of characters
Good pacing, for the first half at least

Weak Points:
SP was an unneeded cash-grab
Can't see everything on the map, especially if the menu's up
Voices and mouths don't always match
Some character costumes reduce the dramatic effect of dialogue
Sometimes requires 'cheesing' the battle or be ready for a long fight

Spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Late Game Strong Points:
Some great twists
Use of the title screen to deliver the story
Allows you to try things without the game telling you...

Late Game Weak Points:
Too long - story and you lose focus
Repetitive in both actions and dialogue
...However, the game also doesn't tell you when you've gone wrong
Still doesn't finish all plot points

Release Dates:
Japan: December 5th, 2013
Europe: December 6th, 2013
Australia: December 7th, 2013
North America: February 7th, 2014

Circle Pad: move character/menus
A: interact
B: back
Y: auto
X: interact with Crystals
L: Brave
R: Default
Tap: interact with some menus

Bravely Default is a classic RPG, there's no way else to describe it. There are four Warriors of Light, a turn-based battle system, classical music, an overworld, multiple classes, magic... Think of a gameplay element from an RPG before Final Fantasy X and it's probably in this game. You'd think that would make the game overcomplicated, especially with the addition of Brave's and Default's (which I'll get to later) but it doesn't. That was one thing I was surprised about - how accessible the game is.

The battle system of Bravely Default is all about risk and reward. Do you Brave, using up four turns at once to get the quick kill but leaving you exposed if you fail? Or do you Default and carefully monitor your BP points for when (not if) it all goes wrong? This sets up an abundance of tactics, especially with each character being able to act independently. I normally use Agnés as a healer, making sure she's stocked up on BP at all times, while Ringabel or Edea go in for the big kill and Tiz stays around the sidelines as a support. Along with Brave and Default, you can use magic, weapons, items and special moves as well as summon friends to help you or send your own attacks to friends to help them. Overall, this creates a deep and reactive battle system, allowing you to normally get out of a situation alive as long as you aren't complacent. And believe me, these situations will occur a lot.

With nine types of weapons to choose from, there's a lot of choices when it comes to Bravely Default. Sure, some jobs work better with some weapons (denoted by the S rank), but if you have a Lore ability equipped this becomes null and void. This means you can really change the game to suit your playstyle, be it offensive or defensive, healing or magic based. However, be this only works up to a point - the game has some random difficulty spikes which may make your party obsolete. If this happens it's time to cheese. Create an unbalanced party to do one thing - either stop the enemy attacking with counters or kill them before they have the chance to attack. This is what I had to do, especially in the later stages. It's actually a lot more fun than it sounds, and it's oddly cathartic to see a boss you struggled with so much go down in a turn.

Something which can help you in battles is Specials. These can be used after fulfilling certain criteria such as healing so many people or killing so many enemies. As such, some, such as Rejuvenation (which I'd suggest all teams carry) can be used multiple times in a fight, some only once. Therefore, you'll want to balance your special moves to keep the bonuses applied - as long as you perform another Special before the timer runs out, the bonuses stack. Another mechanic which can help you, especially if all seems lost, is Summoning Friends. Friends can be gathered daily online or via StreetPass and hopefully, you'll have collected some powerful buddies by the time you need them. I tried to use them sparingly as it can feel like cheating, but watching a boss fall to a 27000 damage move was great to witness. Remember to send your best move out to the world as well though!

To get upgrades for these Specials, you have to rebuild Norende. This was my favourite past time of Bravely Default, reminiscent of the minigames in the Professor Layton series, mixed with a bit of the build-em up fun of mobile. There's something strangely compelling to seeing your own village build up over time, and provided you have enough friends (who become villagers), the pace is fine. It also nets you better weapons, armour and items which is never a bad thing. Can we get this minigame in a 3D RPG next (and no, Fallout 4 doesn't count)? I'd love to be able to walk around the village.

There are 24 jobs in Bravely Default, ranging from Knight to White Mage and even Vampires. While not categorised into early, mid and late game, the types of abilities you gain from them do almost self-categorise. For example, you get White Mage and Black Mage first, allowing you to level them up slightly the job becomes too powerful for the spells you have and using two job slots removes the flexibility. So then you move onto Red Mage which gives you both White and Black Mage abilities, but only the first few levels of spells. Finally, you swap back into White/Black Mage in the late game when you have unlocked all the spells, or move into an all offensive team of Vampiratic Pirates. Because why not. All the jobs are useful in some situation, and all carry nice aesthetics and backstories to collect them. I'd definitely recommend picking up all jobs, even if some of the side quests are incredibly long - you will need them in the end.

Talking of side quests, they're not really. I mean, technically they're optional, but you won't get far without them and the jobs they offer. You also will lose out on some classic dialogue and character development, especially as you start to beat the bosses for the 3rd or 4th time. Each side quest focuses on a particular job to begin with, then they all start to team up in the second half of the game. Both offer challenges as you'll either not know much about the job your fighting, or the team-ups (anyone who gives someone else BP) are overpowered. That being said, some of my favourite characters came from the side quests so give them a chance and they should surprise you. Except for the Dragons. They're just a pain.

The pacing of the first half of the game is pretty decent. Each story reveal is usually backed up with a new gameplay mechanic allowing you to get to a new area. 4 or 5 side quests per area allowed plenty of progression and all (again, besides the dragons) are pretty fun to play. Shoutouts go to the murder-mystery Ninja fight, fog-finding Pirate fight, disturbing Salve-Maker fight... Basically Chapter 3. You'll finish this section (otherwise known as the Japanese demo) at around the 40-hour mark if side quests are completed. You'll probably feel good. Good game you mutter to yourself, getting ready to eject the game card and plug in one of the 100 other neglected games you have to 'get around to playing'. Oh no, good sir. Not quite yet.

Now, I don't want to get too much into the story aspects of the second half but it basically involves repetition. And multiple worlds. This makes the pacing lose itself a bit. You can now travel everywhere but also have to do everything again. The removal of the rewards makes it a bit of a slog. Keep going though, as the general story is great, especially as a feeling of things not being quite as they seem creeps in. Again, I won't say anything, but just keep watching the title screen. It's one of my favourite twists reveals of all time. A quick note about the ending to any completionists out their: did anyone else feel like the game didn't quite finish? Especially in terms of the individual character's stories. You'd think they would be able, given the game is 100 hours long.

One thing I think the game could have easily cut is the SP points. I used them once for a tutorial mission and that's it. That's not to say they're not interesting - they can be used to stop time and allow you to reach past the 9999 damage barrier. But more, in an age before microtransactions became rife, making me have to purchase them or leave the game in sleep mode for 6 hours wasn't something I could abide. It just seemed so at ends with the RPG longevity to make me pay to speed something up.

One little nitpick with the game. Firstly, the map is slightly too small for me. A zoom in feature would be nice, especially in the first half of the game where the action is contained to one continent. Also, if you have the menu open then some of the map disappears from view which is just plain annoying. Finally, can more maps allow us to add notes directly to them? Bravely Default, Skyrim, BOTW, all of them could benefit from this.

Bravely Default's graphics are noticeably different from its inspiration. Instead of pixels or FFVII 3D graphics, it settles for a painting style. Each backdrop is like a watercolour painting, shown in all its splendour after inactivity grants a zoomed out version of the screen. From Caldisla to Eternia, everything looks great, with lots of detail in each of the cities to really scrutinise, if not interact with. This style carries over to the characters, which also look great, although two problems do arise. Firstly, the mouths are small and wavy, making the talking out of sync with the lips. Secondly, due to the addition of real-time costumes in the cut-scenes, some of the dramatic effect is lost, if, for example, Ringabel is in his hunter costume. I know you can buy costumes which keep the characters in their Freelancer or special apparel but this happens too late in the game to be ultimately worth it.

The music is classic RPG but great all the same. The Special's music especially sticks in my mind, not least due to the fact that Specials run out on a timer instead of moves, and the music change is a great indication to chain together another Special and keep it running. All the voice actors give it there all throughout the story, and while slightly exaggerated in terms of voice, all work. There's a lot of material they have to work with too - every cut-scene is voice acted which is a real achievement.

Conclusion: overall, Bravely Default is a masterclass in RPG making. Strong characters, strong gameplay and just enough differentiation from other games in the genre to make it unique. I recommend, but only if you have the time to put into it - I'm beat the story (and side quests) at just shy of 100 hours.

Rating: 92%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. This is a big ol' game, so if I've missed anything and you want my opinion on it, then let me know!


  1. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for the comment and suggestions! We are currently working on optimising the site with photos etc. for easier readability and hope to be finished in the summer.