Final Fantasy is subject to change. What started as a simple 8-bit JRPG has been developed in all directions. Each new game changed slightly in the formula. One traded the fantasy setting for steampunk or sci-fi, the other involved real-time combat or took a completely different game genre as a basis. In short, Final Fantasy is no longer Final Fantasy. That’s why Square Enix came up with Bravely Default: a series to resume the feeling of the first Final Fantasy games, but with a modern twist. That is no different with Bravely Default II – confusingly the third game in the series. While Final Fantasy develops cheerfully, Bravely Default II sells the same nostalgia as its predecessors, both in and out.
In Bravely Default II, you play, as Final Fantasy veterans will already expect, four ‘heroes of light.’ Your group of four is almost immediately complete and will never grow or change during the game. The four of you will search for an equal amount of magical crystals that can save or destroy the world, depending on who owns them. Along the way, you will traverse villages and towns that are affected or corrupted by the crystals. Whether a place like this suffers from its leaders’ endless greed or religious fanaticism, there is always a magical reason behind it. Of course, it is up to the heroes to liberate the cities piece by piece and get the crystals. If this sounds a bit superficial to you, it could be true: Bravely Default is one of the rare RPGs that you don’t play for the plot.
That’s not to say Bravely Default II isn’t doing its best to tell that simple, clichéd story effectively. Although your four main characters hardly transcend the role of avatar, the rest of the world comes to a life well. Each village’s problems are communicated, and the enemies causing the problems are given a lot of exposure. Even after you defeat them, they still appear as bit parts in the main story or get their own set of side quests. This gives you the idea that your actions affect the world around you. The voice work with all its British accents is not exactly original but surprisingly well done. Consideration has even been given to which area should have which regional British accent.
Although the story is cliché but entertaining, Bravely Default is mainly about the JRPG systems. As you would expect, Battles are in turns, with each time you can choose to attack or defend. The difference with other JRPGs is that you can use a maximum of four turns simultaneously, thanks to the ‘Brave’ mechanic. But beware: this can result in a negative, after which you cannot do anything during that number of turns. If you choose to defend (‘Default,’ hence the title!), You get an extra turn to use safely later.
When exploring dungeons and hunting weak monsters, this system gives you a satisfying way to take out the enemy quickly. Chase through 4 turns per person, make four strong attacks, and before you know it, the gold and experience points will rain. But especially in the longer, tougher fights with the huge amount of bosses, this system creates an exciting tug of war competitions, where you have to calculate the risks for each choice. Suppose a boss has 4000 HP left, and you do 1000 damage per attack but have not accumulated any turns. If you hit all four of your attacks, you’ve defeated the boss. If he dodges one, you are out of play for the next three turns, and the boss gets the chance to heal. Almost every boss is cleverly designed to take advantage of this system.
As if the Brave and Default system does not yet offer enough freedom of choice, the profound job system makes its appearance again. Like in the previous Bravely games – and older Final Fantasy titles – you can have any character switch lanes. Most of the iconic jobs we know from Final Fantasy are also available here. From the white, black, and red mage to the monk, thief, and dragoon. You must first unlock these jobs by defeating a boss with the corresponding ‘job asterisk.’ This way, you are on your toes throughout the story, looking for characters in unique clothing which may have a ‘job asterisk.’ Who knows, who knows, that remarkably stylish lady in the casino will give you access to a gambler job, to name a few.
The Bravely Default job system brings more depth than you might think. It is not the case that you choose a job and it ends there. You also choose a sub-job. For example, you can use the statistics of one job and include the spells or skills of another job. A shield master becomes a real paladin by giving him some spells from a white mage.
On the other hand, a swordmaster, who responds to every attack with a counterattack, can do considerable damage if he also takes the blows for another with a shield master spell. You unlock passive upgrades by leveling up certain jobs. The character that you want to use as an attacking mage may well benefit from some experience as a Dragoon,
All of this leads to a tremendous amount of possibilities, both within the combat and beyond. Due to its difficulty, Bravely Default II forces you to use that freedom of choice fully. Each boss is a puzzle that seems impossible until your party assembles to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses or counter his attacks. There are always several solutions, but it won’t work strategically if you don’t think strategically – not even on easy. This is tactical JRPG combat at its best.
Well, all of the above could also be said of the first Bravely Default or Bravely Second. Bravely Default II has changed very little compared to those titles. Switch’s graphics are a bit better than they were on 3DS, but that is almost everything. Even the small 25 jobs you have by the end of the game are mostly the same as those in Bravely 1, with just a few different skills or a different name.
Unfortunately, Bravely Default II has even taken over the erratic pace of the first titles. After all, there are still times when a specific job is needed. If that particular job is not high enough, you will inevitably have to grind. Even worse are the segments where you are tossed with dungeons. Dungeons in Bravely default unfortunately rarely bring interesting puzzles: usually, they are endless mazes, but nowhere is the wind taken out of your sails as hard as in the last part before the credits. The difficulty takes a big leap, and I had to grind to eventually beat four ‘mid-bosses with no engaging mechanics or reward. Fortunately, it wasn’t as cheap as the repeating chapters in the second half of Bravely 1, but it was certainly longer than it should have been.
Bravely Default II is a game for anyone who misses the classic, challenging JRPGs of the 8, 16, and 32-bit era. The story may be simple, clichéd, and is not always told at a pleasant pace, but that is more than made up for by an enormous depth in-game systems. The myriad of ways to enhance or build your characters would be dizzy if you didn’t unlock them one by one in tens of hours. And every challenge takes full advantage of that depth – even long after the credits roll by. Bravely Default II adds little compared to its predecessors. But if you’ve played the first games in the series, you know it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Bravely Default II
Just like its predecessors, Bravely Default II is very charming, somewhat superficial in the plot, but extraordinarily profound in its game systems.
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