Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
North American Release Date: February 7, 2014
Developer: Silicon Studio
North American Publisher: Nintendo
Often, a video game with something special to offer botches the dismount and turns away many a would-be adventurer before they truly begin their playthrough. Other times, they do just the opposite; creating a truly gripping experience as soon as the story begins, making players want to see it through to the end, only to lose them through erroneous design decisions before it comes to a close. Unfortunately, Silicon Studio's Bravely Default suffers from a rather extreme case of the latter. But, before I get to that, let's learn a little about the game.
Inside of Bravely Default, we discover a fantasy realm ruled almost entirely by a religious institution called the Crystal Orthodoxy. The Orthodoxy worship four large elemental crystals, each of which is christened with a particular purpose. Each has been confined in the interior chamber of sacred temples, where they are maintained by a Vestal, a sort of shrine maiden in the game's universe, and several retainers who care for her.
The Journey Begins
Our story begins when the Wind crystal is swallowed by darkness, forcing it's Vestal, Agnès Oblige, to evacuate immediately. At around the same time, a young man named Tiz is tending sheep in Norende, a small farming village on the outskirts of a small kingdom known as Caldisla. Suddenly, the peaceful scene is disrupted by the opening of a large chasm, swallowing the entirety of the landscape surrounding the village. Tiz wakes up at an Inn located inside of Caldisla's capital and rushes home to confirm the fate of the villagers. When he reaches the remnants of the village, he discovers Agnès & her fairy companion Airy investigating the crater. The three are soon bombarded by an airship from the land of Eternia, a place in which the Crystal Orthodoxy has been abolished. It appears that the group is interested in taking the Vestal hostage.
Soon after they escape their would-be captors, the duo meet up with Ringabel, an amnesiac who carries a mysterious journal which foretells the future, and Edea, a member of the Eternian forces who are pursuing the Vestal. With their coronation as party members, we have the entire cast of characters that will remain with us throughout the rest of the journey to cleanse the crystal's darkness.
The game's party is its heart and soul. All four of the protagonists are young, and as such, they confront a seemingly impossible task with a lot of heart and optimism. Despite the heaviness inherent in the plot, the quartet keeps it consistently fun and interesting. Whether they're joking about Ringabel's playboy attitude or having lunch on the trail, it's always a joy to hear their exchanges. All are given plenty of time to develop, and none of them are left in the dust. Each is the main character, through and through.
Heroes, By Hook or By Crook
Tradition Meets InnovationBravely Default's gameplay adheres to traditional rules, similar to those seen in early Final Fantasy titles, but includes some noteworthy innovations of its own. The primary mechanic for battles is Brave & Default, a mechanic which adds some spice to the experience. Essentially, Defaulting provides some bonus defense stats and allows the player to bank a turn so that the specified character can make additional attacks without having to wait for the enemies next move. This is used in conjunction with the Brave mechanic, which allows the player to use up to four attacks on one character in just one turn. If you're not careful, you might use more turns than you've banked, and you'll be left open to enemy attacks.
The most prevalent of the game's twists on tradition comes in the form of the modernized job system. It allows for the player to freely customize their party at any time with twenty-four unique classes, ranging from classics like White Mage and Monk to more original creations like the Valkyrie, the Performer, and the Time Mage. What's that? Do you want to run four White Mages? No problem. With the Ability setting, each member of the party can take advantage of a second classes' skills, leading to some interesting combinations. Sadly, as we move further toward the end of the game, the rising difficulty necessitates the use of certain party combinations, making some classes virtually unusable, while others become key to victory.
While it isn't as important to the game as a whole, certainly the most useful innovation is the encounter slider. A mechanic which allows the player to control the frequency with which they enter random battles. The slider has 5 different settings, 0% being the standard setting, followed by +50% and +100%, allowing the player to grind efficiently. As you might've guessed, the other two are -50% and -100% respectively, one lowering the encounter rate, and the other eliminating it entirely. This is a brilliant move, as it allows the player to backtrack through dungeons freely gathering any leftover loot without the hassle of further encounters. Similarly, the player is given the ability to change the difficulty at any time, should they choose to do so.
Everyday EssentialsAs expected from a modern role-playing game, Bravely Default includes some side-quests, called sub-scenarios here. Unlike the vast majority of its contemporaries, this game puts an emphasis on quality over quantity, featuring a new character whose story is wrapped up nicely by the end, but may be revisited later in the game should you choose to do so. These sub-scenarios also present the opportunity to obtain new classes for your party.
There is another side-quest of sorts, but it functions as more of a mini-game than anything else. It is based on Tiz's restoration of Norende and works as a method for progressing some of the in-game store's items. This is done by allocating villagers to a particular store, with the number of people assigned to a job reducing the time it takes. The player is rewarded with extra villagers by utilizing the console's StreetPass feature. Another feature of Norende comes in the form of sending monsters to friendly players, giving them the opportunity to grind some powerful creatures. Unfortunately, in my experience, the vast majority of received enemies these days were at the game's maximum level, meaning I wasn't able to utilize the feature effectively before I had finished the entirety of the game.
The art style is simple, in a refreshing manner mind you, but simple nonetheless. Despite that, the environments are rich with style and personality. From the island Kingdom of Caldisla to the desert city of Ancheim, the land of Luxendarc never ceases to impress visually
Bravely Default's plot is unlikely to win any awards for its originality, but the writing is just right. As alluded to when I discussed the characters, the cast has a good time during their massive undertaking, and a great deal of that is with their collective sense of humor. Granted, it's incredibly subjective, but I found the frequency with which the jokes landed to be rather impressive.
I've largely glossed over the music till this point, and that's doing it a massive disservice. It was composed by Revo, the leader of the symphonic rock group Sound Horizon, and I found it incredibly impressive. It relies mainly on orchestral instruments, and occasionally works wonders with added vocals. Let me tell you, ''Serpent Eating the Ground'' is one of the best songs ever to grace a video game soundtrack.
You may have noticed that, despite my opening lines, the majority of the review has been overwhelmingly positive, and you'd be correct. To put it simply, it's difficult to address Bravely Default's problems, because they all center around a major event in the game's story. When you think the game is coming to a close, it swerves you for the sake of it and forces you to repeat things that you've already done several times over. It takes things that started out as great fun, like the sub-scenarios, and makes them feel like doing chores that exist only for the purpose of forcing the player to grind.
It was a horrendous choice on the part of the development team and brings the game to a screeching halt. Something similar was done in a popular anime series years before the game's release, and I had assumed everyone had learned to avoid the trope, but it appears I was incorrect. It takes what would've been a phenomenal twenty-six-hour game and drags it out into a rather annoying, albeit ultimately satisfying, one.
In ClosingWith Square Enix's continuous move toward action-based combat systems with two of role-playing's most prominent franchises, Bravely Default emerged as a return to form for the genre. Whether intentional or not, it serves as something of a love-letter to the stables that helped to make role-playing a prominent part of gaming all those years ago. It evokes memories of many past experiences, and while it isn't bravely original, Bravely Default does provide some very noteworthy twists on the classic formula. Above all else, the game comes off as very genuine, even if some things don't land as intended. Despite its shortcomings, I can't help but recommend Bravely Default anyway, as, at the end of the day, it is still a nourishing role-playing game, and one of the best games on the Nintendo 3DS.
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (Nintendo DS)
Time to Finish: 43 hours, 15 minutes.
Further Playing - Role-Playing On The Go
Bravely Default is effectively the spiritual successor to this role-playing game on the Nintendo DS. It began development as the sequel in fact. It features a similar job system and a comparable storyline. A recognizable character from this game even made it into Bravely Default as a nice reference.
Fire Emblem Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
Another Nintendo 3DS role-playing game, albeit a tactical one, and for me personally, the best on the console. Both games feature an amnesiac as one of the primary characters and focus heavily on developing their stories and characters. It has a similar sense of humor and is ultimately just another great title for the handheld.
Bravely Second: End Layer (Nintendo 3DS)
If you like the first game, it stands to reason that you'll enjoy the second. I have yet to finish it personally, but a few hours with it have convinced me to recommend it to folks who enjoyed the first. Bravely Second's gameplay remains largely unchanged, and many members of the previous title's cast make much-appreciated returns.
Novaire offers his thoughts on the critically acclaimed Silicon Studio role-playing game: Bravely Default, released exclusively for the Nintendo...
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