Making something “old-school” is usually a sure fire way to cash in on some nostalgia, but it’s also some water that developers must carefully tread. The video game community says they want the olden days of video games back, but would it be worth it? The years aren’t nice to many games, and what was once exciting and revolutionary may not have the same impact; this was evident with Lost Odyssey, a game that delivered the very traditional Final Fantasy-esque JRPG experience that so many have asked for, but was ultimately criticized for being exactly that. When the developers at Square-Enix attempted to somehow strike a balance with a title that feels “old-school” without feeling dated, Bravely Default emerged.
From the start, Bravely Default is full of that feeling of playing an old-school JRPG, for better or for worse. The only major difference between this title and those of the past is its combat system and StreetPass features, but the rest stays true to what made the traditional JRPG both memorable and cumbersome; it’s formulaic and predictable, but it works well, of course.
One big thing about old Final Fantasy games was the illusion of linearity. Let’s face it, the games have always been linear, but they cleverly masked that with a world map letting you journey to all the places you have no business in or are unavailable until the story calls or it. Bravely Default does exactly this, only allowing some freedom when several side quests might open up, which then lets you choose whether you’d like to tackle side quest A, B, or C before heading back to the main journey at hand. It’s nice to have options, but the options are more or less all exactly the same, and you may begin to notice the game is quite repetitive, even if it doesn’t seem that way. That’s not to say it’s unenjoyable, however, which is strangest feeling of all.
Bravely Default may be repetitive, but it plays to its strengths that way, if you’re into that sort of thing. Every part of the game consists of heading to a new location, talking to a couple of people, heading through a dungeon, fighting monsters, fighting the boss, lather, rinse, repeat. But why am I not bored? It’s just all tied together nicely with a fairly intriguing plot, interesting combat system, and wonderfully designed locales to help every dungeon seem different.
The world of Bravely Default is not really one that allows very much exploration, as NPCs have little to say, but the excellent storytelling brings it to life through dialogue scenes with various characters in a slew of scenarios. In Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII series, the characters naturally exchange banter back and forth to flesh them out a bit while simply running around; however, in Bravely Default, party conversations often appear in a separate dialogue screen that appears before whole screen. Sure, you can skip it, but you may be skipping something helpful. When you don’t want to miss anything, these feel a bit disruptive. Fortunately, they usually offer nice bits of information and/or interesting dialogue.
Combat then carries the game forward, pushing it beyond something that’s simply pandering to what once was. Bravely Default does not ditch the standard turn-based battle system completely, but rather expands upon it with the Brave and Default abilities. In battle, you have a number of Battle Points that you can allot by Defaulting and then use them however you like either attacking once or multiple times by using Brave. For example, I can Default, which also guards a bit, three times, and then Brave three times and unleash four times the attack. While it’s an interesting system, it wouldn’t be much without the sheer amount of battle customization present.
From the tons of jobs to choose from, you’re practically guaranteed to find that perfect team for you, however you’d like to play. Tons of different abilities mean switching up strategies in combat often. Although, this all shines the most in the game’s boss battles that require you to take more deliberate care with your tactics in battle. A good portion of lowly monster battles can be knocked out by just dealing a handful of attacks by maxing out the Brave in the first turn and then repeating with every monster thereafter until the dungeon is over. This does iron out the difficulty, giving you a much deserved break from the very challenging bosses, but it helps make most enemy encounters feel like a bit of a nuisance only worth the experience points you’ll be receiving. But if you’re all for the grind, you’ll be in heaven.
In coexistence with the combat, the title contains a heavy StreetPass element that allows you to rebuild a town using other players from online or from the street for occasional goodies and unlocking special moves. I love it. It’s a lot of fun to disperse my little people and assign them to build different buildings for different abilities to construct my own Special Moves to send via StreetPass. If you get me in your game, feel free to summon my character of Tiz and use my special move I have lovingly named Bong of the Dead. The StreetPass features then add a whole lot more depth and options to the entire package, which really helps further push Bravely Default away from feeling like a rehashed version of any old JRPG.
As for its presentation, Bravely Default‘s visual style is an odd marvel. While some textures look less like a painting and more muddy when you’re up close, when the screen pulls back after staying still for a moment, most areas are just breathtaking, especially with the 3D on. Also, if you play your 3DS games with the 3D effect on, you’ll find that Bravely Default can get headache-inducing by throwing in inconsistent depths when you transition from a battle to the map to the cutscene, the change of background depth can be headache inducing, which may have you either turning it off altogether or turning it up and down every eight seconds. I know many of you avoid the 3D, but I’m comparing this with the likes of Animal Crossing: New Leaf that employs a 3D effect that somehow doesn’t strain my eyes. Unless, I just have special eyes.
The music of Bravely Default, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired. It would have worked great back in the day, but the soundtrack never really breaks ground, coming across as more of what you’ve heard in any random JRPG rather than evoking that sense of, “Oh, that song is definitely from Bravely Default! I can tell because it’s especially distinct here, here, and here.” If you’re comfortable with what’s been done in the past, I’m sure you’ll feel right at home, but this all came across as playing it way too safe, in my opinion. With seldom particularly memorable or unique moments, unexpectedly, the music may be this Square-Enix title’s weakest aspect. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good; it’s just nothing you haven’t heard before.
Bravely Default had a job to become the excellent JRPG that feels like something of the past, like the games that made fans fall in love with the genre, while the developers try their hand at making it feel fresh as well. The game has a lot going for it, but maintains some of the small issues with trying to be an old-school Final Fantasy-type game; while it does everything well, it’s still evident that there is merely an illusion of linearity to mask the game’s repetitiveness. Fortunately, there are so many different jobs and abilities to create your own incredibly unique team of characters for a myriad of personal strategies, which feels so good, of course. Similarly, the StreetPass features offer a nice break from the core gameplay to improve your stats a bit and give you a chance to create your own Special Moves to be sent to other people and vice versa.
Musically, Bravely Default may not be very special, and visually, it might feel a bit inconsistent by appearing dated from up close and gorgeous from afar. As a whole though, Bravely Default goes for something in particular and achieves it very nicely. Some aspects feel like it’s trying to be something it’s not, something old, but the slew of new combat, customization, and StreetPass features help distinguish it substantially from the rest of the crowd. As a budding franchise, however, I foresee Bravely Default evolving into something phenomenal. Nevertheless, the first journey is well worth looking into for any 3DS/2DS owner and fan of the JRPG genre. Elegance pervades this polished but far from groundbreaking experience, expertly avoiding the threshold into generic territory, forming something that is just unique and memorable enough.
[+Excellent storytelling] [+Good voice acting] [+Unique and challenging twist on turn-based battle] [+Gorgeous visual design] [+Awesome StreetPass features add depth] [+Customization options by the truckloads] [-Repetitive] [-The illusion of linearity is evident] [-Unmemorable soundtrack]