If you develop an RPG with two interesting mechanics, the ability to build up turns and the ability to use more than one, what do you call it? You combine the two and call it Bravely Default!

Genre(s): Role-playing Game | Turn Based

Developer Silicon Studio

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: February 2014

Played Main Story (True Ending)

Platforms: 3DS

Purchase At: Amazon

Good:

  • Brave/Default mechanics.

  • Outstanding soundtrack.

  • Interesting plot.

Bad:

  • Repetitive and grindy.

  • Abominable voice acting.

  • Horrendous writing

Review

Bravely Default’s opening shows the ‘origins’ for all four characters. Tiz lives in Norende village, happy with his brother and their sheep, but then the ground shakes and collapses below them, leaving the Great Chasm in its wake. Agnés—the Wind Vestal—witnesses the darkening of the Wind Crystal she’s bound to protect and the darkness consumes everyone but her. Ringabel (he has no memory, get it? Get it?) delivers a little expository monologue about himself, same as Edea on her departure from her homeland on her mission to capture the Wind Vestal.

Agnes and Tiz meet on the edge of the Great Chasm and after fighting two of the Sky Raiders, members of Eternia’s army, they meet up with Edea and Ringabel before setting on the journey to re-awaken the four crystals and dispel the darkness. With them is the Crys-Fairy Airy, not the most imaginative of names.

Agnés is lovely until she starts talking and becomes a caricature (Image Credit: Technobuffalo)
Agnés is lovely until she starts talking and becomes a caricature (Image Credit: Technobuffalo)

To anyone who’s played a classic Final Fantasy game, Bravely Default’s plot will seem very familiar. There are crystals for the elements and you have to find them and do something about them. It’s the plot of most of the classic games, including the original. But while in those games you visit each crystal only once and either save it or see its destruction, in BD you will see them many times. If you wish to see the true ending, you will have to re-do the crystals and their bosses at least four times, leading to a repetitive experience and clumsy storytelling.

Despite its seemingly Final Fantasy-esque plot, Bravely Default’s story is in truth closer to games like Chrono Cross, where you deal with parallel universes and other worlds, but while those games handle the multiverse in a smart and fun way, Bravely Default forces you to grind the same content repeatedly. By the time you’re doing it the fifth time, you care very little about the story and just want it all to end. It’s not a bad plot just badly told, trying to hammer the point in your head through sheer repetition and weariness.

Default until the pigs go all out, then Brave them to bits!
Default until the pigs go all out, then Brave them to bits! (Image Credit: Gametrailers)

There is a particular element to the plot—about one central character—they handled beautifully. The truth about them is right in front of you, and once it’s stated outright, or at least more than heavily hinted at, the title screen changes, some letters disappear, and you can see that revelation as a hidden message.

I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters in Bravely Default, something that is of utmost importance in an RPG. The character concepts aren’t bad, but the writing is extremely weak. Characters are over the top and not in a good way, say things no sane person would ever say, even by JRPG standards, and when you combine it with the voice acting (more on that later) there is simply nothing there to care about. The villain’s motivations are simple but good, but those of the ‘apparent’ villain for most of the story are bafflingly dumb, masking the truth of the plot in pseudo-religious ramblings. When the loops start happening and you have to repeatedly go through the game, you lose any interest in the Templar’s words about the evils of the Crystal Orthodoxy, a clear reference to the Catholic Church when you hear more about its history.

Gameplay though is where Bravely Default is at its greatest, with its flaws. The Brave and Default mechanics add many strategic options, allowing you to bank turns while upping defence with Default, and then unleash up to four of them with Brave. As long as your Brave Points are positive or zero, you can take an action. I often had to default until I saw an opening while other times I braved with everyone in a kill or be killed strategy, leaving me at negative Brave Points and completely exposed.

In addition to the normal combat options, each weapon type has conditions which unlock a Special Attack. These attacks are highly customisable and either buff up your party or deal tremendous damage to enemies while setting them up with vulnerabilities and negative conditions. What makes them unique is that they each give a bonus to the party and the bonus lasts for as long as the special attack’s music is playing. This means that while the special attack’s song plays you need to make sure to react quickly or you might suddenly lose the power-up.

In terms of skills, Bravely Default uses Final Fantasy’s Job System. Each job has a set of skills the characters unlock as they gain Job Experience and level up their professions. Every job has its strengths and weaknesses and one signature skill. You can unlock passive skills that let you merge some of the classes’ benefits into others when you switch around and you can use any other signature skill along with the current one. For example, if you switch from Black Mage to White, you will still be able to equip Black Magic to go along with your new one. The downsides to the Job system are that each character has its own experience track with them, meaning they have to level them up individually and secondly, the Job Level is by far more important than the character’s level. Often I found myself changing jobs and realised my level 70 character was now completely worthless.

The art-design for locations is magnificent! (Image Credit: )
The art-design for locations is magnificent! (Image Credit: GameLoft)

Bravely Default is perhaps the grindiest JRPG I’ve ever play. With the constant repetition of the plot and the world reboots, you’ll have to catch up every time to at least match the creatures’ level. And with Side-quests giving only Job Experience, you’ll be fighting a large number of enemies to level up. What makes the grinding frustrating is that the rewards don’t match the monsters’ difficulty. You’ll fight enemies with amazing powers and high damage and get a very low amount of experience. Unless you find that amazing grind spot in the map, leveling up will be quite painful. By the next to last reboot I had enough of barely getting by and grinded my way past underpowered into overpowered. It’s only the second RPG—aside from Pokemon—where I’ve finished the game over level 90, and still the final boss was difficult.

Boss battles are a joy, especially the crystal monsters. They each have a unique mechanic that separates it from our typical battle. For example, Rusalka will seep through the cracks on the ground and then pop back up for tons of damage and clones. You need to keep an eye on the enemy list to see the Rusalka with negative Brave Points and know which one’s the real monster.

In addition to the general RPG mechanics, you have the ‘social’ aspect of the game with Norende village. Part of Tiz’ character arc is rebuilding his village and you fill it with villagers picked up on street-pass. I was fortunate to play the Bravely Default demo, a side-story that gives you twenty villagers to use in the main game along with a few items. The Norende Restoration takes ages, particularly because the construction of new buildings takes real-time hours and days, and once you’ve finished everything, there is very little reason to visit it again. Your town will get invasions from monsters sent by other players but there is no consequence to not fighting them and they’re of such a high level, it’s simply not worth it.

Conversations don't just toe the line of corniness, they gleefully jump over it! (Image Credit: Eurogamer)
Conversations don’t just toe the line of corniness, they gleefully jump over it! (Image Credit: Eurogamer)

Related to this “real-time mechanic” is Bravely Second, a special ability that holds up to three charges. You can use these charges to freeze time and get free turns, but it recovers its charges at a rate of one for every eight hours you don’t play the game, which is rather pointless. You could also buy potions to restore the charges through micro-transactions but no one will do that.

Voice acting is terrible, there’s no other way to say it. No one delivers a single convincing line. Agnés is particularly bad. Her speech is already pompous, antiquated compared to the rest of the cast and generally corny and that’s without factoring the voice actor. I have never wanted to strangle a voice actor before, but the thought crossed my mind repeatedly when listening to Airy’s squealing voice. It doesn’t help that you have to listen to her shrieks every time you’re awakening a crystal. On the upside, almost every cutscene in the game is skippable and the optional team conversations don’t have any voices.

When they all dress alike, it's the little details that make them unique! (Image Credit: CraveOnline)
When they all dress alike, it’s the little details that make them unique! (Image Credit: Crave)

The soundtrack is fantastic, with a memorable and sweet overworld music you’ll be listening to for most of the game, as well as the exciting battle songs which feature both electric guitar and violin in a fast paced piece. It does overuse the “evil lair” theme too often as well as the one I like to call “revelation,” the theme song that plays during every villain monologue. But that doesn’t detract from it. Sadly, the voice acting made me mute the game more often than not. The special attack songs are so good you’ll wish they ran much longer (so you can make use of their power-ups!)

Visual design is superb. The locations are gorgeous to look at, especially the main towns. Character design is highly detailed, not only on how they look but their mannerisms as well. It helps make each character feel unique even when they all wear the predefined Job garments. Monsters are gorgeous-looking, especially the crystal bosses and the main antagonists. Dungeons on the other hand are samey in look, feel and layout, to the point when it becomes rather unpleasant. Labyrinthine towers and endless caves with dull details bring the overall strong artistic direction down.

Bravely Default central mechanics make it one of the best turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played and I liked the story and world enough that I will buy the sequel when it comes out, but the weak writing, unconvincing voice acting and the tedious repetition and grinding keep it from being a truly amazing game.

Conclusion

Bravely Default central mechanics make it one of the best turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played and I liked the story and world enough that I will buy the sequel when it comes out, but the weak writing, unconvincing voice acting and the tedious repetition and grinding keep it from being a truly amazing game.

TMA SCORE:

4/5 – Exceptional

6 Comments »

    • While the writing, voice acting and the repetitiveness get on my nerves, it is a bloody good game. The mechanics are solid, so it deserves the score. As I said, it’s a good game but those flaws keep it from being something truly special.

      Liked by 1 person

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