Review: Bravely Second: End Layer - Ba'al Busting Has Never Been More Fun
Bravely Second: End Layer
Review copy provided by the publisher
After the cards fell at the end of Bravely Default, one last hidden teaser of events to come hinted at an all new journey and hope for one of the protagonists. That next adventure has finally come, and with it an alliance between newcoming protagonists Yew Genealogia and Magnolia Arch along with returning veterans Tiz Arrior and Edea Lee, as they travel the world to rescue the Agnes and liberate their kingdom from the increasingly expanding Empire.
Bravely Second: End Layer migrates the original title’s battle system, clearly under the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset as it’s completely unchanged from the first title. It’s certainly not a bad thing here. Combat is an amazing mix of the old-school, turn-based system with modern sensibilities.
For those playing the series for the first time, here’s a basic breakdown of how combat works: four characters make up a party. You have the run-of-the-mill JRPG options to Attack, use Abilities, Items, initiate a Special Attack or Run. Then there are the two very special commands that set Bravely Second apart from other modern JRPG’s: Brave and Default.
In order to act, a character needs to have their BP (Battle Points) set to at least zero. Utilizing the Brave function allows a party member to essentially borrow future turns in order to unleash a powerful assault, recover health rapidly, buff abilities, and so on. Default, on the other hand, saves up points for future use by having a party member guard instead of act on their turn. The strategy comes from deciding when to utilize each command, often on the fly. It’s a simple and unique system that works incredibly well in opening up a world of strategic depth.
Summon and Bravely Second commands also make a return. Summon lets players summon an attack or other move from data acquired from other real-life players through Street Pass. Bravely Second — the titular feature of the game — is a command that uses SP (Sleep Points) to freeze time and attack more enemies, regardless of current BP values (as SP is consumed instead).
Moreover, all attacks deal critical damage and can bypass the damage limit of 9999. SP is restored by putting your 3DS in sleep mode or by buying a SP Drink with real-world money (yes, the dreaded micro-transactions). On a bright note, SP is not necessary to complete the game.
These returning mechanics don’t mean developer Silicon Studio didn’t add in any new features. A new gameplay option makes its debut in Second: if the party manages to wipe out the enemy in a single round you have the option fight a new set of foes which adds a multiplier to your experience, currency and CP (Class Points). This is an excellent way to gain levels quickly, but also adds an inherent risk because your BP does not recover between battles, putting you at a major disadvantage.
Another debuting mechanic allows players to save both character builds and actions for auto-battle. To extrapolate, the former means that if you happen to like a certain assignment of classes, abilities and equipment for your party but need to change it briefly, you can now save that preferred party build and switch back to it instantly later on.
As for the latter, you can save a series of actions taken by the party during battle and have the party repeat said actions without needing to re-input the commands every single time.
There are also smaller (but no less important) adjustments made to gameplay, such as being able to see the recommended level for any given dungeon at the top right corner of the screen, balancing the effect of class changes on attack strength to make it easier to change said classes on the fly, being able to choose the conditions needed to access a Special rather than it being bound by the weapon-type, and further little quality-of-life touches that enhance the experience.
Job Classes, a staple in classic JRPG’s and Bravely Default, are present in Second through special items called “Asterisks.” There are quite a few new Asterisks — Fencer, Catmancer, Bishop, Charioteer, Wizard, Astrologian — making their debut, each with some interesting and incredibly useful abilities. If that wasn’t enough, you have access to some of the old classes from Default through the completion of side stories.
These side stories present protagonist Edea with a moral choice to be made, with two opposing cases made by former enemies and Asterisk holders from Default. The game doesn’t present a clear group that is in the right, so picking a side is rather difficult since you must weigh the morals of each point.
Not only can classes be changed on the fly (with a much more lenient stat penalty as mentioned before), but previous abilities can also be used in different classes with the secondary abilities mechanic. For instance, the Dart ability from Wizard can be combined with healing spells for guaranteed healing at the start of the battle. This opens up a wide range of near endless combinations suited for any situation.
The village rebuilding minigame returns, although it’s now Magnolia’s Fort-Lune being restored to its former glory. Essentially, the player must take a team of villagers — acquired through Street Pass — and assign them to various locations on the map to fix that area. Each area gains a new level when certain repairs are finished and the amount of time it takes to repair the area to the next level depends on how high the level is and how many villagers you assign.
While completely optional, this minigame nets some amazing rewards, such as items that the Adventurer can sell you while in dungeons or generally traveling, new Special to use for weapons, and new parts to enhance and customize the attributes of said Specials. You also receive free items from grateful shops as you continue to rebuild.
Another fun diversion added to the mix is the Chomper minigame. Unlike the Fort-Lune game that works best under the 3DS’s sleep mode, this one is made to run with the portable open. Players will be able to watch as your party members dutifully perform their roles by creating strangely adorable Chomp plushies.
You can sell them at any time for CP (Chomp Points), but waiting until the container they’re stored in is full nets bonus CP. CP can be used to obtain upgraded tools to make the work go faster, better snacks that greatly increase productivity, and even traded in for in-game money. As you meet and beat sales goals, players acquire more soundtracks to listen to as the characters toil.
As in the previous game, Bravely Second’s story starts off with the rather generic “evil conqueror” and “defeat the evil empire” tropes that have become nearly synonymous with the JRPG genre. Also, like the previous game, that soon is completely broken down and turned on its head as actual villains are given fleshed out and understandable motivations, while certain “heroic” lineages are shown to be not nearly as good as they pretend to be.
The story can run quite dark at times, however there’s more than enough humor to serve as nice breathers between the bleakness. It also helps that the characters are fun and pretty well written, with good chemistry between them. Also the infamous storytelling of the final chapters has been done away with, so returning fans can celebrate on that front.
In terms of music, the soundtrack this time around is nearly as excellent as the previous entry’s. It also has a slightly more unique sound as battle themes have a stronger focus on electric guitar rather than pure orchestra.
What has improved, however, is the graphics. In an interview last year, the director had stated his intention of making the already drop dead gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds of the various towns even more stunning. Thankfully, he stayed true to his word. Each town and city features layers of decadent detail in the back and foreground, creating a stunning 3D effect with the purely 2D visuals.
As for dungeons, I was initially disappointed upon confirmation that they were still rendered in 3D, assuming they would be merely average visually. That assumption was subverted after witness how creative some of the new designs were. One of my favorites is a dungeon made entirely of large fissures and cracks left in the ground after a major impact, presented in a disorienting side view. I do wish some of the dungeons from the original game had received a facelift as well but overall designs in this aspect have been improved.
As I mentioned before, the game’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach certainly isn’t a bad thing. However, the decision to keep the title so similar to Default wasn’t the most optimal choice either and even serves as the one flaw in this otherwise great game. Bravely Second had an opportunity to really shake up their already unique battle system in some significant way. Why not add another command to complement Brave and Default? Completely revamp the Bravely Second ability? Make Summon a bit more relevant to general combat? There are plenty of ways to innovate while still keeping true to core mechanics.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a fun and well polished title. But there’s a sense of a missed opportunity to have made things as fresh and exciting in the sequel as it was the first time around in Bravely Default. As such, other than the new minigames and tweaks to gameplay, there’s little sense of the wonder and newness that made Default so refreshing in the first place.
Admittedly I went into Bravely Second: End Layer expecting to be let down, especially after how much I had enjoyed the first game. Despite the issue of sameness mentioned previously, my misgivings for the sequel have mostly been proven misplaced and I’m more than happy to eat crow as I continue to enjoy experiencing the trials and tribulations of this new generation of heroes as they find their place in the world, rescuing it along the way.