Two weeks ago today, the dream of Operation Brave was finally realised – after having been previously announced back in April, Nintendo Europe released Square Enix’s JRPG Bravely Default. Since then, my Nintendo 3DS has been constantly plunged into the world of Luxendarc, only taking a small break to update to the latest 3DS firmware and receive Miiverse. In fact, I think last night was the first time I actually turned my console off since receiving the game, as I had finally completed the Norende Village side-quest. Now though, it is time to take off my Operation Brave hat and replace it with my critical WiiUAndMii cap as I take a closer look at the game and strip it down to the point where even Ringabel will be left feeling self-conscious.
I would like to begin by talking about the name of the game, Bravely Default. To many people, this name sounds like another weird Square Enix game title (Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance anyone?). However, it is one with a meaning that runs through to the game’s very core: to “have courage and renounce the promises and responsibilities that are expected of you“. This message can be found in the game itself, looking and feeling like a classic Japanese role-playing game but having more modern gameplay features, in the game’s central characters (with Agnés journeying to fulfil her mission as the Wind Vestal, while Edea goes against her father and State in the name of justice) and in the progression of Bravely Default‘s story which (without spoiling anything), contains so many twists and turns that it might actually be a roller-coaster (it was definitely written by Naotaka Hayashi!). It is a name that may seem bizarre at first, but once you have experienced the world of Luxendarc, it becomes quite a chord-striking, beautiful statement.
One could say that Bravely Default as a whole is quite a beautiful statement. The Japanese Roleplaying Game genre has been one that has been in decline as of late, with many calling the death of even the once giant Final Fantasy franchise. Many games in the genre have since tried to add new features, mechanics or gimmicks to try and stand out, but Bravely Default really shows that if you just stick to the basics, but do it right, that the genre can be great once again. This may be an odd thing to quote, but one thing that comes to mind is a line of Agent Coulson’s from Marvel’s The Avengers: “With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned”. That quote actually spells out the meaning of the name Bravely Default and how it applies itself to the game quite nicely to be honest.
As well as having a euphoric nostalgia hearkening back to the days of classic Final Fantasy days, the game has also brought along with it some of the more modern advancements of the video game industry. The 3D effects in Bravely Default are amazing, with a clear depth that serves to further amplify the already beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds. The 3D is not a requirement for gameplay at all and the game can be enjoyed perfectly with the 3D slider turned down (or on a 2DS) but frankly, this game is so beautiful and uses the effect so well that to not experience it would be a waste. While the character models are nowhere near as clean as those of Pokémon X/Y, the aesthetic of the backgrounds and opening introduction scenes really does put Kalos’ theme of beauty to shame. It’s a shame that the amazingly animated scenes are so short in number though, but admittedly, the Nintendo 3DS isn’t exactly a powerhouse of a system.
Another really cool feature is how the game utilises StreetPass -at the beginning of the game, Tiz’s hometown is destroyed by a giant chasm. By meeting other people via StreetPass, you recruit villagers to help your rebuild Norende Village – a task that on its own would take well over 300 hours, but with the help of 38 villagers, I had it cleared in 40. To clear it, you have to assign a certain number of villagers to rebuild or upgrade a certain store, then leave the game active, but in sleep mode for that number of hours – so last night was the first night since getting the game that my 3DS has actually been turned off! Also, if you’re in an area where StreetPass hits are less likely, once a day you can use the “Update Data” option by talking to an Adventurer (the “save points”), who will randomly pair you up with 4 “Net Invites” – random people from across the globe. So Silicon Studios and Square Enix have been really understanding of the circumstances various different gamers are in, which actually extends into my next point.
When most people think of RPGs, they think of extremely long games that you have to sit down for hours to play. Bravely Default certainly is long – even without doing the sidequests, the game will probably last you about 50 hours (and by doing them, it’s easily 100 hours). However, the developers have realised that in these modern times, that method of gaming might not suit everyone (particularly with the game being on a handheld console). So they have made it possible to customise so many different parts of the game to suit your play styles. The game’s difficulty rating can be changed at any point (with the standard “Easy”, “Normal” and “Hard”). Also, if you’re fed up of random encounters or you just don’t have the time for them, you can lower the encounter rate to -50% or just stop them altogether with -100% (or you can increase them to +50% or 100% if you need to grind or are just a masochist). I often find that if my characters are low on health, I’ll lower the rating to -100% and run to the nearest inn, so it can be really convenient. I am a stubborn old mule with the difficulty rating though, having kept it to normal (and I find myself feeling dirtied when I turned it to easy once because I found myself trapped right in front of a nasty boss). The overall difficulty ramp as the game progresses is nice in that it is a lot more noticeable than in other games, but it can be rather punishing – for example, I found Ringabel to be a rather over-powered character in the earlier chapters of the game, but suddenly he’s lagging in last place because his attacks are no longer as effective on enemies as they were before.
However, I am really glad that Nintendo and Square Enix waited for the updated For the Sequel enhanced version instead of releasing the original one overseas, because the battles are very slow – I have the speed constantly set to a minimum of 2x. I also feel that Bravely Second has been really overstated prior to release – in actuality, each sleep point gives you one additional move, so it basically gives you an additional Brave Point and gives that action priority (and before anyone mentions it, no you do not have to buy SP Drinks. I have not bought a single one and have no intention of doing so, just having the 3DS on sleep mode overnight gives me enough points). One thing I do need to mention though, is when you initially exit a location and go onto the main world map, there is a notable frame-rate drop (and I’m not usually one to pay attention to things like that); with Bravely Second promising a much more expansive world, I do hope this is an issue that is addressed.
The game’s Job system also deserves heavy praise. While Fire Emblem: Awakening had a fairly solid class system, one thing that was irritating was how certain characters were only compatible with particular roles and if you ever wanted to change back to a previously used role, your level reset. In Bravely Default however, every character is compatible with every class (complete with unique designs for each of the 24 different jobs). When changing a job, you can always revert back to a previous one and keep all of your progress – them having a separate “job level” is a God-send in all honesty. The ability to mix and match abilities and job commands also adds to the level of customisation and strategy that this game possesses. Being able to have healing abilities on offensive characters, or to build a particular character with different defensive abilities and job commands is brilliant. The level of strategy that the new Brave and Default mechanic brings to the game is also very welcome – by investing your turns by using “Default”, you can unleash a long string of attacks later on with “Brave”, or if you’re using a healing character, you can store up turns until you really need it (such as waiting until you need to use both Raise and Curaga on a single ally). There is also the option to just go made with Brave, but that of course leaves you open until your Brave Points hit 0 once more and with some abilities having a BP cost instead of MP, things really can get interesting! The mechanic also feels right at home, like it’s always been there throughout JRPG history – it fits in nicely.
I do need have to give a lot of credit to Bill Black for the English voice casting of the game. Cassandra Lee Morris is the perfect casting for Edea Lee; I simply cannot imagine Edea being voiced by anybody else. Spike Spencer’s Ringabel is another stand-out performance; when I heard that Spencer was voicing Ringabel, my mind just jumped to Shinji “Get in the f—ing robot” Ikari and I was confused, but Spencer nails Ringabel’s charismatic mystery which I can actually imaging making real women squeal in excitement too. Erin Fitzgerald’s Agnés also hits emotional notes so convincingly that I imagine her having a box of tissues with her in the recording booth, as well as a stress ball to choke next to her glass of water!
One niggle I do have with the game though, is that a whole section of characters are introduced in the main story and then almost completely ignored unless you do all the side-quests, which concludes their stories (a couple of which are actually rather important to the story). So if you’re only focusing on chasing the main story and ignoring the side-quests, you will miss out. Continuing on with the topic of the story, while it seems very much like a standard RPG story, I have to praise its depths. In a lot of modern media, things like death are things that are brushed under the carpet after a brief moment to grieve, but in Bravely Default, the effect events have on characters is just as prominent 20 hours after they happened as they were when they actually did. The game also blends humorous and serious scenes perfectly, using humour to help attach us to the characters, before using that by making us feel what they feel when things get rough, then bringing humour in again to make sure we turn off our consoles with a smile. There were some moments where I would gasp at just how dark the game can get (to those who have played the game, I think all I need to say is “The Summoner Sidequest”), but then there are others where I’ve had to put my 3DS down so I can try and get my laughter back in control.
The problem with traditional RPGs as a whole though is that due to the length of their stories and lack of any real change in gameplay, they can start to feel repetitive after a few hours and unfortunately, Bravely Default can fall into that trap when played for an extensive period of time. That said though, if you play any game for a particularly long period of time, you will feel some level of fatigue. Role-playing games are like the epic novels of the gaming world and can be seen as a rather serious investment, but in some instances it really pays off and you can experience a truly wonderful, fulfilling story and Bravely Default is one of those games – if you’re patient and let all the pieces fall into place, you will definitely be rewarded with one of the best Nintendo 3DS experiences of this year.
In conclusion, Bravely Default is a solid and powerful reminder of the strengths of the JRPG genre and truly a must-have title for anyone who loves a classic RPG. The game does have its flaws, but with Bravely Second promising a much smoother experience, Square Enix have definitely found a jewel and a new franchise worth watching. This is what a modern Final Fantasy game should be.
If you would like to read previous entries in our Brave Friday series, then here are the links you need:
- Brave Friday #1: The Talent Behind Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #2: Connectivity Features in Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #3: The Battle System of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #4: The World of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #5: Operation Brave & Critical Reception of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #6: The Miiverse Love for Bravely Default