Still considering picking up Square Enix’s latest 3DS offering, Bravely Default? If so, this spoiler free, chapter-by-chapter, informal and unfiltered review is just the thing for you!
Square Enix’s acclaimed
Final Fantasy spin-off JRPG Bravely Default opens with our four heroes, Tiz, Agnés, Edea, and Ringabel, setting out on a journey guided by the enigmatic writings of a mysterious journal belonging to “D.”
Here Dathen provides his own rendition of D’s journal, helping you to decide whether it’s worth-your-while to embark on this controversial and polarizing gaming experience, but unlike the Square Enix and Silicon Studio development team, he’ll try not to repeat everything over and over.
The game begins with an augmented-reality cutscene. If you got settled down to play, the first thing it wants to do is disturb your comfort by making you place an AR-marker on a flat surface before having you move the console every which-way to try and grasp this unnecessary usage of the 3DS’s AR feature.
With that out of the way, you then meet the characters in a beautifully animated sequence, before you get into the game. It is a very slow start, but potential looms in the background.
One of the first things the game does is try and convince you that it’s a modern take of the classic JRPG. Really, it’s just a generic JRPG trying too hard to be revolutionary. Using a turn-based system makes it dated, even with its “new spin” which is where the wacky title is derived.
To “Default” is to choose to not take an action on a turn, to accumulate Battle Points, so you can take multiple actions on a later turn. To “Brave” is to make multiple moves on one turn by spending Battle Points.
The game’s difficulty, random-encounter rate, battle speed, and many of the other RPG aspects of the game are completely customizable, so they can be tailored to your play-style to make the experience smoother overall.
It can be easy to get confused in this introductory episode, as several characters are introduced only to be promptly disposed of by your growing party, including one blonde girl who is quite similar-looking to Edea, but isn’t her at all.
By this stage the game has crammed a large number of social features down your throat, along with what are unnecessary utilizations of the 3DS console’s capabilities. You can StreetPass and gather people to help rebuild a village called Norende, and you can summon friends in battle to steal their moves.
If you’re a loner in the virtual gaming world,
Bravely Default has you covered with friends to summon from the synonym squad. There’s “Pal-bot,” “Friend-bot” and “Buddy-bot.” Plus it recruits people for slave-labor in rebuilding Norende.
While the rebuilding effort can grab you some neat equipment and items, the social summoning in battle is unnecessary. The game also has these things called Sleep Points. Basically they stop time and give you free moves anytime during a battle.
The catch is you either need to fork out actual cash to buy them, or earn one for every eight hours you have your 3DS in Sleep Mode with the game still running. A whole lot of effort for something so miniscule which you’ll barely use. It’s unnecessary, encapsulating how the game feels it must use every 3DS feature no matter what.
As for chapter one specifically, it is still a very drawn out and slow start. The game completely lacks a compelling story narrative so far and as a whole. The art direction of the chibi-characters and sketched backdrops is refreshing, it’s just a far-cry from the game’s opening sequence.
By chapter two expectations and first impressions are all gone, and it’s about accepting the game as it is: a solid JRPG, but not one that will blow you away by any means. It isn’t the “
new paradigm” the packaging will have you believe, but it’s catchy enough and this is where things actually start to kick-off.
There’s a nice big open world to explore in your sea and air ships, and by now it’s firmly established that the highlight of the game is the banter and dialogue between party members. Tiz and Agnés are droll in a charmingly cute way, but Ringabel and Edea’s sexual innuendo will have you in stitches.
Despite the lack of narrative other than “
awaken the four crystals,” you will come to fall for the four heroes and their rapport. This chapter begins to have some excellent messages and commentary as the group visits Florem, a town of shallow and appearance-obsessed females.
Chapter two leaves a strong message of being yourself and embracing inner beauty, laced with plenty of humor to keep it fresh. The game hits its stride now. If the gameplay and narrative leaves much to be desired, which it can, there is still always Edea and Ringabel’s hilarious back and forth with the naively innocent Tiz and Agnés.
We’re well and truly settled in now. We know what’s happening, or the lack of happenings. We have a feel and know what’s going on. Much like chapter two, number three has some excellent themes, this time about the devastation that war causes to the world as a whole and to individual lives. By now I’d familiarized myself with the job system. The game’s “asterisks” are much like Final Fantasy X-2’s “dress-spheres,” and so provide a range of party-combinations of jobs and tactics you can employ.
Chapter four is designed to make you think you’re approaching the finale. You’re in enemy territory and after who you think is the big-bad guy. Alike the two proceeding chapters, there’s some great thematic substance here in the contrast made between Crystal Orthodoxy and the science of the Eternian Duchy. It’s conservative religion versus modern science; let the philosophical debate begin.
As this chapter closes you awaken the final crystal, defeat who you thought is the villain, and then there’s a plot-twist in what was a largely plotless game so far.
If you thought things were generic up until now, and they were, now they take an unexpected turn into parallel worlds. Things are a little confusing, but then you’re hit with a nutshell. Chapter five is redoing chapters one to four, in that you must reawaken the four crystals again.
It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, as all you’re ultimately doing is skipping the dungeons, re-fighting the four bosses, and tending to their crystals. There are very minimal amounts of new dialogue and events though, mostly party chats. For the most-part it’s just the same-old.
Did you see this coming? Chapter six is awakening the four crystals in another parallel world. The same thing over again, and you’ve got to do it two more times. This lazy repetitious design is, as Agnés would say, “
Chapters five to eight are like doing Ganon’s Tower from
The Wind Waker, where you recap four of the game’s bosses. Just in Bravely Default you must do it four times before you can face Ganon, and the bosses get harder each time.
If you’re annoyed by how much the characters just go along with all this, even once they know they’re being used by the antagonist, then it is a relief to know there’s a way out. You can actually destroy a crystal if you so choose, anytime from chapter five, leading to a chapter called the Finale.
It is satisfying to rebel and the ending you receive is just as, if not even more, fulfilling than the full ending. If you can’t endure the repetition of these later chapters, this gets you closure and the credits rolling; all you miss is the ultimate final boss and some sequel-setting scenes.
If you want the intended ending; however, then you must plough on. I recommend attempting both endings, as this alternative returns to where you saved previously, having given you some nice bonuses in the meantime, and then allows for you to continue on to the true finale.
By now the characters themselves are making digs at how many times they’ve had to awaken the crystals, but once again we go through the motions with the bosses difficulty increasing each time. By now I’m starting to hate this, but the end is nearing in sight.
I don’t know how to describe the feeling of having to grind to defeat a boss I already have three times for no actual narrative gain, but fulfilling is not a word for it. Although with some careful forethought and a loose eye (and hand) on the game you can set battling to “auto” for grinding.
By now you’ve well and truly realized that those unexplored regions of the map that you’re yet to traverse will not be the setting for the later chapters, so if you want a look at them, now is a good time to do so. Then onwards through the motions we continue to go once again.
By now I’ve accepted just how poor and lazy this is for game-design, but I still have two pressing questions on my mind.
Firstly, how does such repetitiveness ever even get considered in development; how does it get written into a professional script; how does it then pass quality assurance and testing and actually get released unto the world in a final product?
Secondly, how is this a critically acclaimed game? It reveals a corruption in our reviewers; either literally just doing what they’re paid to or only playing the first few hours.
The first half is worthy of strong reviews (not acclaim), but the flaw that is the second half taints the game far too much for it to be as highly praised as it is. To be so flawed and yet so critically acclaimed is, well, what’s that Agnés? “Unacceptable!” Yes, quite.
Once you’ve performed the awakening ritual 20 times, awakening four crystals five times each, the game’s conclusion doesn’t hesitate to mock you for going along with it all like a puppet. It is, nevertheless, nice to have some original content again, although this meaty chapter could have adequately followed chapter four.
Sure, it would have made the game shorter, but it would have been short and sweet. A nice little JRPG like Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, if we’re actually really considering 40 hours to be a short game.
There is an optional dungeon here that actually just copy-pastes some of its floor design from earlier in the game, but that aside the game’s final dungeon is a strong finish. The battle mechanic remains playable enough (or at least the auto-battle feature makes it easy enough) that I leveled-out my characters without it being a bore.
The final round of fights can be a challenge at any level if you don’t go in with a strategy. You may actually use some Sleep Points to wrap this up. If you’re anything like me, you’ll take pleasure in finally taking down the second-to-last boss who you will have been wanting to slap around for a while.
The wrap-up is a tad emotional, complete with an untranslated Japanese ending-theme. Following the credits, it sells the upcoming sequel very well, other than by including a forced gyroscope moment. If you saw the X-Men film “
The Wolverine” last year, then the ending is a bit like that. If you found the movie bland, the after-credit teaser for Days of Future Past gets you excited enough to forget what you’ve just been through. The set up for Bravely Second is similarly hooking.
All in all,
Bravely Default ends strong enough that its flaws can be forgiven. “Even the harshest journeys have a way of becoming fond memories,” so says a man known as The Adventurer and, looking back, I can’t help but feel that way about Bravely Default.
While the game no doubt does a great job at reminding you just how alone you are if you’re not linking your game up with friends, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The overworld hearkened me back to playing Ni No Kuni, and the game was overall reminiscent of Dragon Quest IX; two top-notch JRPGs from Level-5 which Bravely Default evokes without achieving quite the same standard.
That a game so well designed and put together overall has such a glaring fallacy in its forced and lazy repetition is the emotion I believe Edea tries to convey with the grunt “
mrgrgr!” There are nevertheless 60 hours or so of gameplay without the extras. Depending on when you level-up your characters, the repeating chapters can take only several hours or up to a third of your game.
Though lacking in narrative and story,
Bravely Default has some welcome twists with its antagonists and asks players the ultimate question: do you do as you’re told or do you have the courage to disobey?
Bravely Default has a solid RPG-battle-system (albeit far from game-changing) with some great personalities who find themselves in a rather drab set of events. Like its soundtrack, the game is catchy and can get you into a groove, but it suffers from unnecessary repetition.
With it all said and done, I welcome
Bravely Default as another addition to my beloved (3)DS collection of JRPGs. You will get frustrated, but other times you will get lost in the beauty of the classic-style RPG. Bravely Default is a profound reminder that flawed can still be fun.