I’ll be honest; keeping up with the latest Square-Enix releases is not a top priority when getting my dose of video game news, despite considering myself a hardcore fan of past releases. My interest with the company essentially waned after the release of “Final Fantasy XIII.” That’s why I was so surprised and intrigued when my friends from across the pond were positively buzzing about the release of “Bravely Default” for the Nintendo 3DS.
Released in Japan and Europe late last year, and with an impending US release date of February 7th, “Bravely Default” is being hailed as a spiritual successor to the Final Fantasy franchise. And I mean the old kind of Final Fantasy. Even the Japanese title of the game, “Bravely Default: Flying Fairy,” is something of a sly wink that hints that the game is a not-so-unofficial sequal to that once brilliant series.
Having finally purchased a Nintendo 3DS
to play “Pokemon” like the cool kids, I knew it was time to download the demo and give this game a try. I need to note, first of all, that this demo is unlike any other JRPG demo I’ve tried. Rather than being a small slice of the game, the “Bravely Default” demo creates a set of demo-exclusive quests, allowing for a good five to seven hours of gameplay depending on how much you decide to grind levels and explore. You’re given up to 30 plays of the demo, which is adequate for the amount of hours you can ultimately put into it.
My knee-jerk reaction to the demo was a bit of confusion. The demo starts with the characters Agnès, Tiz, Edea, and Ringabel in Ancheim Palace. No background story, no dialogue among the characters, or anything else. Huh? Don’t be mislead by that statement, though. I was soon appreciating this very unmired approach to a demo, allowing me to appreciate the mechanics of the game for what they were. With little more than a few lines of dialogue from the Prime Minister mentioning the destruction of Norende Village and the ‘Wind Vestal,’ I was off hitting the town.
The city outside Ancheim Palace has this enchanting 2D feel to it all, like a wonderful combination of “Final Fantasy IX,” “Professor Layton,” and “Paper Mario.” On the topic of the latter two titles, choosing the Nintendo 3DS for “Bravely Default” over a traditional console truly works to the advantage of the game’s aesthetic.
Within Ancheim there are a few basic shops, along with a variety of townspeople who request your assistance in quests. This is where the game really starts. Now, the quests are, admittedly, rather boring. The price you pay for a demo that doesn’t spoil the game in the slightest is a slew of assignments not unlike a gameplay through “World of Warcraft.” You know, the “find X amount of monster Y body part so I can make Z potion/weapon” sort of quests. You could seriously madlib these quests. However, you soon discover that this is just a mode of allowing the player to try possibly the most rewarding and exciting part of the game: the battle system.
“Bravely Default” channels the spirit of games like “Final Fantasy Tactics” and “Final Fantasy V’” in its job class system, but provides a twist via the fluidity in which you can mix and match classes. You are able to change your character’s class at any time outside of battle (no “Final Fantasy X-2” dressphere here) as well as use acquired abilities from other classes as support abilities. In essence, a properly leveled up character could be a Swordmaster while still being able to cast white magic as a supporting ability. There are 24 jobs you can unlock within the game, and the possibilities for complex gameplay strategy are endless.
That brings me to the most revolutionary point of the game’s battle system: the Brave and Default system. That explains the unusual game name, right? The game operates using a turn-based battle currency called BP, and both enemies and allies can accumulate multiple BP turns or spend BP into the negatives.
By simply attacking, you open up your chances for your enemy to receive multiple turns in a row. If you stack attacks via Brave, you can attack, use magic, or use items up to four times in a row, but consequently lose four turns. Default allows you to skip a turn and gain one BP, while maintaining a defensive stance that reduces damage taken. It’s a wonderfully complex risk and reward system that I’m still trying to puzzle out. Needless to say, it makes the game refreshingly challenging, and I’m not ashamed to say I died a few times while figuring it out. “Bravely Default” is a game that necessitates grinding, something that may be tedious to some, but is exciting to the person who may or may not have clocked dozens of hours grinding for Monster Ranch in FFX alone. And that’s not to mention the fact that the monsters within “Bravely Default’” are far more intuitive, and know where to hit your party where it hurts, whether it’s targeting your mage with silencing spells or confusing your tanks.
Although the battle system is clearly the crown jewel of the demo, the player also gets a peak at forest and dungeon settings within the game via the given quests. They have physical traps within them that can afflict status ailments, which is rather innovative and cool. This all just added to my growing sense of curiosity as I neared the end of the demo. Another aspect of the game that intrigued me was the rebuilding of Norende Village. A minigame within the demo, but likely a major aspect of the actual game, the reconstruction of Norende Village involves acquiring workers through StreetPass. The benefit of reconstruction of the town is, chiefly, to acquire greater weapons, spells, and items for difficult boss fights. I’m still somewhat in the dark about the greater application of this sidegame to the story, but considering it is the home town of main character Tiz, I feel safe to guess that it’s fairly important.
I can only provide conjecture beyond the basic mechanics of the game, as the demo is devoid of all voice acting, FMVs, and story line (and I would argue that’s a great thing,) but critical response places the game alongside “Final Fantasy IX” in both world and character design. Coupling this with a stellar battle system and game mechanics, I feel confident that this game will fit in among my childhood favorite JRPGs. Regardless of my final impressions of “Bravely Default” when I get my hands on the actual game, I can certainly respect a bold turn away from the current trend of console JRPGs, where flashy graphics and fast-paced battle systems belie disappointingly linear and unimaginative gameplay.