Over the past few decade it’s been made abundantly clear that if you’re looking to scratch your RPG itch, you need to get a Nintendo handheld. The Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and now the 3DS have all been home to some of the best RPG’s of our times and that trend seems to still be going strong in 2014 with the release of Bravely Default. An instant hit when it released in Japan in 2012 Bravely Default takes the typical RPG archetypes and infuses them with modern technologies to create something that is truly special.
The game follows the stories of four unlikely heroes; the orphaned Tiz, the Wind Vestal Agnès, the amnesiac Ringabel and the fiery Edea, all of whom have vastly different reasons to try to save the world but somehow find a way to work together. Along the way they will explore a vast world, enter countless dungeons and meet many people who will either aid them or try to hinder them on their quest.
The basic gameplay of Bravely Default is very similar to other Square Enix RPG’s like the Nintendo DS’ Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light (actually Bravely Default started development as a sequel to that title). You will randomly encounter enemies in dungeons and on the overworld and then engage in turn based battles like you would in countless other RPG’s, what sets Bravely Default apart however is the novel battle function from where the game get’s it’s name.
Along with the traditional RPG battle elements like; Attack and Magic you will now get to choose between Brave and Default. Default essentially replaces the classic Defend except now, instead of just take less damage when attacked you also bank your turn for later use. In order to use these banked turns you select the Brave option which allows you to use up to four turns per character all at once. The trade off to this powerful move is that your character will have to wait for their turns to build up again before they are able to select another move. The Brave and Default options add a serious level of strategy to what would otherwise be a pretty traditional affair and make the game feel unique in a lot more ways than one would expect.
But the strategic gameplay doesn’t end there (oh no!) as in similar fashion to the aforementioned Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light and the classic Final Fantasy V you are also able to switch your characters jobs on the fly. On top of that you can mix job abilities, so if you want your Black Mage to also be a healer, you could set that up. Jobs level up independently of your character so there’s definitely some grinding involved in getting the perfect combination, but said combinations are practically endless.
So we’ve touched on the classic RPG elements but Bravely Default also includes healthy dose of modern gaming tropes thrown in for good mix. For starters, the game features a StreetPass mode where you help rebuild Tiz’s hometown of Norende. This is accomplished by meeting other 3DS owners who will then send a worker to help rebuild the town. Rebuilding Norende will reward you with items of increasing value and can be a big help and is a very novel way to share what is usually a very single player focused genre.
The game also features some light multiplayer options (gasp!) where you can share your warrior with friends and in turn summon your friend’s warriors during combat. This is an extremely useful option when dealing with some of the game’s merciless bosses and if you don’t have any friends nearby you can even register them via the internet which makes this helpful tool even better.
While Bravely Default’s story may seem quaint and clichéd by today’s standards the game carries on and never tries to apologize for its classic style story. Instead it embraces it and delivers a narrative that is in many ways on par or even superiors to some of the genre’s heavy hitters like Final Fantasy IV. Yes a story of a group of young heroes joining together to save the world from ruin may have been done before but few do it better than Bravely Default.
For a Nintendo 3DS game that (technically) released two years ago Bravely Default still looks incredible. The graphics are sharp and detailed and supported by an incredible art style that perfectly blends the classic RPG worlds we all love with modern nuances that gives Bravely Default a look all its own. It’s incredible that such a large and varied world got crammed into a 3DS cartridge and came out looking so good.
Speaking of the 3DS the game even puts the system’s lesser used features to good use. The 3D effect actually helps give the game a more defined look and doesn’t detract from the game too much. You will even find yourself using the system’s oft-ignored gyro sensors and AR capabilities for some interesting story elements thrown throughout.
The soundtrack is also top notch. Featuring a sweeping score that might even turn gamers who aren’t usually interested in RPG’s into believers Bravely Default is mostly audible bliss. I say mostly because the game does feature a healthy dose of voice acting which for the most part is done pretty well, but sometimes it feels like the actor’s had no idea of the character’s emotional states when delivering their dead-pan lines.
Simply getting to the end of Bravely Default alone will last you roughly 50 hours, and that’s if you play on easy and skip through everything, actually playing through the game, finding all the secrets and experiencing the full scope of the story will easily double that playtime. What this means is that the game holds an incredible amount of value if you’re at all interested in deep RPG’s. However it should be noted that the game does seem to pad some sections with needless backtracking and grinding which can sever your immersion in the world but for the most part you would be hard pressed in finding a better value for dollar on the Nintendo 3DS. And if you’re one of the lucky ones who got a chance to spend a measly $10 more on the collector’s edition then you’re looking at one of the best deals in a long time.
Square Enix has been getting a lot of flack lately over some of their newer titles but it turns out the best move the company could have made was take a trip to the past. Bravely Default isn’t perfect but it’s definitely an honest game that doesn’t try to shoehorn in useless features just seem like it’s better than it actually is. And what it is a pure, traditional RPG that fans of the genre should not look over. A must play.
This review is based on a retail version of Bravely Default provided to 3GEM by the publisher.