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Review: Bravely Default – A Better Final Fantasy Than Final Fantasy

by on February 11, 2014 2:00 PM 38

(Credit to NeoGAF’s Bravely Default thread for the great title.)

There are plenty of people that believe the turn-based JRPG to be an “ancient relic” that has become obsolete in the face of more modern, action-oriented battle systems.

However, games like Persona 4, Shin Megami Tensei IV and now Bravely Default have proven the notion to be lacking and downright deceptive.

Bravely Default is one of those rare gems that blends old and new with incredible skill and finesse. The turn-based and more strategy-oriented combat system, along with the simpler plot and charming characters and setting, harken to the golden age of JRPGs. However, this is a game that doesn’t just upgrade those classic features but instead turns them on their head.

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A great example is random encounters. Yes, Bravely Default has random encounters and no, they are neither annoying nor intrusive. The normal encounter rate is surprisingly fair and leaves the player ample time to explore without being interrupted. But what sets this game apart is the fact that you can completely control the rate–either by dialing it up for grinding purposes or turning it off completely. Of course if you prefer, leaving it alone entirely for authenticity’s sake is an option as well. This level of control is beyond even what action-JRPGs can pull off and is an excellent indicator of how old can be turned into new without sacrificing either.

Speaking of encounter rates, the title’s prized jewel–the Brave or Default system–adds even more variety and customization to battles. Basically, party members each have something called Brave Points that allow them to act. When the counter is at 0 or higher, that character can act by choosing from several commands. You can also either Default to stock up on BP or stack turns with Brave. While you can “borrow” BP to gain extra turns with Brave, you can’t act when it’s in the negatives.

The system works incredibly well and allows players to choose their preferred playstyle–going the steady and safe route by stacking turns and constantly being able to act or risking your defense and initiating an all-out attack on the enemy. Both methods are equally viable.

Another old-fashioned but still relevant feature is the standard job class system. Characters can switch between several different jobs, each with with different stats and abilities, by using an item called an Asterisk. This unique item contains the essence of that job and can be gained either through the main story or through special side quests that pop up throughout the game to supplement the main plot.

Switching between classes is fun and easy, and class skills can be mixed and matched to create many combinations (such as having a Monk with White Mage skills to be able to self-heal in battle). Learning the skills themselves has also been more streamlined; instead of having to manually use Job Points (JP) to learn skills, the character learns them automatically just by being in that class.

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A nifty little feature that can turn the tide in battle is the Special Attack. Unlike in most JRPGs, Bravely Default‘s specials are based on weapons and are not unique to the character, which adds to the customization options. You can change the name, the effect(s) of the move and even what the characters say while performing it.

What I enjoyed about combat as well are the Spotpass and Friends List features. For instance, when you register friends or Spotpass players that have Bravely Default, you can summon them into battle to perform whatever special move (be it physical attack, offensive magic, healing, support magic, etc.) they registered on their profile. In turn players can also register their own special move for the same purposes. If a player doesn’t have a friend, they need not worry as the game will provide them with a handy Friend-bot, whose data even updates everyday for the most optimum attack.

For those who need extra help in the game, there are Sleep Points (SP). When using SP during battle, it stops time and BP is no longer used–instead SP is consumed, which essentially gives the party free turns. Players can either stock SP by keeping the game on but the 3DS in sleep mode, or by purchasing SP Drinks using real money.

Yes, the dreaded micro-transaction is in this game. Fear not because believe me when I say that it has absolutely no bearing on gameplay if you choose not to use them. In fact, the entire game can be played without using SP once, which is exactly how I played. Still, just the fact that micro-transactions are even in the game in the first place is disconcerning.

Stemming from that, the dungeons in Bravely Default vary in size and design while maintaining a certain familiarity. What I enjoy the most about each one is the length–long enough to feel like a winding maze but never overstaying its welcome.

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There’s also another benefit to Spotpass–the rebuilding of Norende village. Norende village needs to be restored to its former glory and only the player can see that done. But first, villagers are needed to help repair shops and get rid of obstacles. Did you play the demo? If yes, you can transfer up to 20 villagers from the demo to form a handy workforce. If no, then you’ll have to start from scratch and gather villagers from Spotpass and/or by updating data using an internet connection.

This super mini-game makes for a great addition to the main game, as it’s both fun and beneficial to the game. That adventure who somehow appears in every town and dungeon? The items, weapons and equipment he sells are directly related to the shops you repair, and it’s a huge help to have an excellent selection of wares in dungeons for emergency healing and upgrades. Plus rebuilding village is the only way to obtain additional Special move parts.

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Moving along, the story starts off a little slow but then picks up momentum by the second chapter. It’s more character and politically-driven since many of the developers behind this game worked on the Ivalice series, which is what I prefer to see in a plot. There are also plenty of very dark undertones throughout the story, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see a JRPG balance light and dark themes so well.

The best part about the story personally would be the Party Chats. Party Chat is a nifty feature that crops up pretty often and with the push of a button allows players to listen in on various conversations, whether they relate to the plot or not. It’s similar to the system in the Tales of series and gives the player insight into group dynamics.

I absolutely adore this feature and believe the writing to be at its pinnacle in cleverness and hilarity. If only a bit of that essence could be transferred over to the main story’s writing, then it would be almost perfect.

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Graphically, Bravely Default is gorgeous. The hand-drawn backgrounds and environments are simply stunning, blending in perfectly with the cutesy character models and giving the title that old-time feel of a bygone era. The camera even knows this and will actually pan back after a moment of idleness to give players the best view of all the scenery porn.

If the graphics are amazing, then the music is near flawless. I couldn’t write enough praises about the sheer majesty of this game’s soundtrack. Every piece of music, from town themes to battle themes to dungeon music to even menu tunes, is stunning. The composer has really outdone himself this time.

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As for the negatives, gameplay-wise there really aren’t any major issues. The battle and class systems are smooth and well-balanced, the story is intriguing and the music and graphics are on point. The developments teams really outdid themselves in creating a top-notch experience.

While it may not appeal to every RPG fan, Bravely Default proves that older mechanics aren’t obsolete–it has a place in modern times among those that prefer a little nostalgia in their gaming. “Different strokes for different folks” they say and this stroke is nothing short of grand.

rated rating-9.5
Review: Bravely Default – A Better Final Fantasy Than Final Fantasy
  • Bravely Default
  • 3DS
  • Silicon Studio/Square Enix
  • Nintendo
  • February 7, 2014
  • $39.99
  • Review copy provided by the publisher.

Join the Discussion

  • Averix

    I played the demo and started on the full game. Have to say, so far, it is one of my favorites. Definitely a great example of what a modern JRPG should be.

    • Allisa James

      I completely agree. It’s definitely one of the best JRPGs out there right now.

  • Zerosion

    I can’t stop playing… XD

    • Allisa James

      Me too, it’s so addictive haha

      • Blackmail-e

        This looks like a oldschool FF. Really digging the artstyle

        • Allisa James

          The artstyle is one of my favorite things about this game. It’s so nostalgic but still incredibly polished and detailed.

          • Blackmaile

            :’( I need games like this on my Vita or PS4! Im not nintendos friend right now i only got a Wii!

          • Allisa James

            Yeah, I wish more games like this came out on Vita as well–they would look phenomenal on that screen.

  • stealth20k

    3DS is a beast

    • Emir Gacevic

      Bahamut :)

    • Allisa James

      Seriously, too many great games on one system. It’s overwhelming XD

      • stealth20k

        The fact that I have so many disagrees, probably means silly people infest your site lol

        • Stranger On The Road

          a bot did it! The rest of us an innocent… partially :-)

    • blaackstarr

      I love the 3DS. Got it in November and there are so many games, including DS games. It’s insane how great a library it has.

  • Tony Polanco

    I loved the demo and can’t wait to get my hands on this game later this week. This may end up being the best JRPG of the year and it’s only February! Love, love, LOVE Bravely Default.

    • Allisa James

      Yeah it was love at first sight for me too when I first played the demo.

    • stealth20k

      Best JRPG of the year in the US will be a close battle.

  • AttentionDeficitKing

    I’m really kicking myself for not preordering this – I thought it would be relatively easy to find at launch, but every store in my area that sells games sold out almost immediately. On the downside, I’ll have to wait a week or so for my local stores to restock. On the upside, if my area is anything close to typical, there’s no way we aren’t getting Bravely Second.

    • Allisa James

      Sorry to hear that. That’s happened to me as well but hopefully you’ll get a copy soon :)

      • AttentionDeficitKing

        Actually managed to find a copy yesterday on my way out of work! Either Walmart was holding out on me or they got restocked ridiculously quickly. Of course, now that I have it, I need to actually finish A Link Between Worlds before I get started on it…

        • Allisa James

          Awesome! :D Glad you can still play it, even on your own time.

  • blaackstarr

    I love how you can increase and completely turn off the random battles. Being able to turn it all the way up, if you feel like grinding is just a great mechanic. Also being in a dungeon and running out of potions and mp right before a boss isn’t a problem, since you can turn off the encounter rate and go back to town and stock up on items. Kind of cheap but it is convenient as hell.

    Great game. Great review.

    • Allisa James

      That is one of my favorite features. It’s so amazing how something that simple can have such a positive impact on the game, and give you so much control.

      It is a great game and thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it! :D

  • Los Illuminados

    long live turn-based JRPG. my favorite kind of JRPGs. i don’t like that micro-transaction BS ,but other then that Great game and Great review. better Final fantasy than final fantasy? of course it is. pretty much any turn-based JRPG is better than any FF now a days.

    • Allisa James

      Thank you so much and glad you enjoyed the review. The micro-transaction seems pointless in the game because you don’t even need to buy SP Drinks. I really wish they had just omitted it.

      I love turn-based JRPGs as well–they simply require far more strategic thinking and planning than action oriented ones (and I do love me some Tales of series).

      Hmm for me I won’t say that FF games are horrible but that they just don’t suit my tastes anymore. That and barely a new main series ever comes out now so what’s the point?

  • Martin Hinson

    I must admit I find this game overrated. It IS good and better than recent Final Fantasy games but it’s badly paced and quite dull at times.

    Despite a great battle system, wonderful music and superb characters, so little has actually happened in the 28 hours I have put into it so far. Also the dungeons are all exactly the same and lack the personality of something like Final Fantasy IX. I don’t understand why the devs didn’t go with the 2D style hand drawn art for the dungeons rather than simple block 3D style design.
    I do like it though and it is very polished. I just feel like it isn’t close to the quality of the best of the genre, mainly titles from the 90′s such as the Final Fantasy games, Chrono games, Suikoden and Grandia.
    Feels more like an 8 to me. Lots of good points but just lacking quality design.
    :)

    • Allisa James

      You make some really valid points and I definitely understand where you’re coming from. My title was meant to poke fun at how recent Final Fantasy games have lost quite a bit of the old style in favor of modernization but I would never say it’s better than the classic FFs. That’s absolutely not true.

      I do wish more of the gorgeous hand-drawn graphics were intergrated into dungeons so I was dissapointed in that.

      That would be a very fair score for the game as well :)

      • Martin Hinson

        Thanks for the reply.
        Yeah I want to adore this game but I merely think it’s good. With just a few tweaks it could have been an all time classic. Most of the ingredients are there and some lovely modern ideas such as variable random battles and on the fly difficulty. I love that they have kept it traditional and modern at the same time, I think that is the games biggest innovation and it’s a very important one for the genre.
        The characters are also adorable and all suit each other nicely. Like I said though, I wish the plot advanced a bit faster as it’s crazy slow. After 28 hours I am just at the end of chapter 3 and I ended up just putting the difficulty down to easy just so I can make some progress. For me, a perfect JRPG weight in around 30-40 hours of story gameplay and gives you plenty of extras to keep you playing such as the Weapons in Final Fantasy VII or collection all 108 stars in Suikoden.

        • http://www.facebook.com/lawrence.bonk.9 Lawrence Bonk

          i see this as final fantasy 1, four characters, simple element-based gameplay. fantastic, yes, but i can see where you are coming from. lets hope bravely default 2 brings the extra epic.

          • shinitaru

            To me it seems most similar to FF3 with the 4 characters and the job system. Not saying that BD is as good as FF3 but there are many similarities, the story is even a bit similar with the world falling apart for some unknown reason and 4 “Warriors of Light” set out to put it right

  • PrinceHeir

    shame you didn’t mentioned the altered dialogue in the 2nd half of the game as well as the censored outfits.

    game is great, but i cant deny the story was butchered by NOA/NOE.

    i still bought it since i really like the Collector’s Edition and with only $10 higher than the normal edition, it’s not a bad deal.

    i might just import the sequel if NOA/NOE pulls another stupid move like this again.

    • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

      I heard about the clothing, but heard nothing of story alterations. Care to elaborate or point me to a place that does?

    • Allisa James

      I honestly forgot about the censored outfits. It really didn’t bother me haha

      Hmm the dialogue thing was a bit strange but it didn’t really affect my playthrough. Next time I’ll make sure to mention things like this though.

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    I actually found the demo to be aggressively bad and almost kept me from picking up the title. The demo hammers it into you that this will be a long trog if you don’t get frequent StreetPasses which is not a thing possible for most living in the US outside of perhaps New York City and San Francisco.

    They also did little to no explaining of the job system making it incredibly obtuse and confusing.

    Thankfully the game proper corrects all of this and I agree with you fully on it’s quality.

    Glad a friend convinced me to pick it up regardless of how dreadful I found the demo.

    • Allisa James

      Yeah the demo doesn’t explain anything at all so unless you already know in advance how to play, it’s very difficult at first.

      Once I got past that hurdle, it was pretty good for me (I maxed out everything). Oh and I cheated with the villagers in Norende village–I used a trick to get infinite villagers XD

      Glad you enjoyed the game though and thanks! :D

      • shinitaru

        Once I got past that hurdle, it was pretty good for me (I maxed out everything). Oh and I cheated with the villagers in Norende village–I used a trick to get infinite villagers XD

        I did the same thing, got my 20 to transfer over to the full version of the game. I had to go online to find out how to play, didn’t understand the brave system, kept getting killed. Almost discouraged me from playing the game

        • Allisa James

          That was the biggest weakness of the demo for me too. Everything should have been explained properly because I was very confused until I referenced an online guide as well.

  • Ian Clue

    For those that don’t mind “cheating a bit”, just google “3DS home pass”

    I didn’t do this personally, I actually beat the game with the wireless switch off. But if you want tons of villagers in like 15 minutes, google the above.

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