Bravely Default; or, How to be Right and Wrong at the Same Time

Today’s post is going to be a bit odd. Mainly because it’s going to feel like a review, but this isn’t really a review because I haven’t played the game recently enough to review it. However, it popped into my mind and I just really want to talk about it.

First of all, I should talk about my love-hate relationship with Square Enix, the minds behind Bravely Default. You’ve probably heard of them – after all, this is the company behind such well-renowned series as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. I’ve played a ton of their games over the years, and as such I have come to have very strong opinions about the way they make games.
Square tends to do pretty well with gameplay. They always find new ways to breathe some fresh life into whatever genre they are dabbling in (generally turn-based RPGs). However, when it comes to pacing of their gameplay and story, things get sketchy. Often, Final Fantasy games have a sudden difficulty spike at the end of the game. Random encounters have the difficulty of boss fights, drastically slowing down the final dungeon and making it very difficult to progress forward. Additionally, most Square storylines are overly complicated in an attempt to make the plot “grand.” Instead of being grand, it comes out as a convoluted soap opera. You don’t know who’s related to who, which organization is evil and which one is good, and what finale the game is actually building up to. As a result of this, I tend to approach any Square game carefully.

Bravely Default lived up to my expectations. Solid gameplay, started off great, and by the end became ridiculous and convoluted. Let’s talk about the good and the bad of this wonderfully frustrating title.

The Good
Bravely Default gets its name from the primary mechanic of the battle system. The game is a turn-based RPG, but in addition to attacking and using items or spells, you have the options to “Brave” or “Default.” When you Brave, you take an extra turn immediately, and you can do this to take up to four turns in one. Of course, doing this when you don’t have extra turns built up puts you in debt, causing you not to take any actions at all until you’ve caught back up. So to build up turns to use Brave with, you can Default. When you Default, you greatly reduce the damage you take from attacks, and you get an extra turn that you can use to Brave later. This is also useful for certain high-level moves that cost turns rather than MP to use. This whole process of building up and spending turns as a currency to use during combat adds an interesting layer of strategy to the game.
The game’s job system allows for pretty solid character customization. There are 24 jobs (if I remember correctly) that you can choose from, and you can mix and match skills from different jobs to utilize the abilities you need for each situation. The more you use a specific job, the more powerful it becomes, unlocking more powerful abilities that increase your stats, give you new moves, and protect you from certain enemy attacks. With four different characters to customize using these different jobs, the potential combinations are basically limitless.
There are lots of features that make Bravely Default a very solid portable RPG. For one, you can skip cut scenes, which doesn’t seem like an important feature until you find yourself in a situation where you lose saved data. Instead of having to read through dialogue again, you can just skip through it. This seems simple enough but I’ve played a number of RPGs that do not have this helpful feature.
The game has a difficulty slider that can be adjusted at any time to make the game as challenging as you want it to be. This includes setting the encounter rates, which is a brilliant feature. When grinding for levels, you can double the encounter rate so that battles occur with almost every other step. But then when you want to explore or quickly travel between locations, you can turn encounters off completely in order to walk around uninterrupted. It’s a great system because the battle difficulty prevents you from abusing the ability to ignore encounters – if you never get XP, you’ll never get the levels needed to defeat bosses.
Battles go by quickly because of the ability to fast-forward up to two times. This is yet another feature that aids in grinding, as battles take mere seconds when sped up. Additionally, winning battles under certain conditions give you bonuses. Defeating all the enemies in one combat round gets you bonus XP, not taking any damage gets you bonus Job Points, and defeating all the enemies simultaneously in one blow gets you bonus money. The more battles you win with these conditions, the higher the bonuses become, so a successful series of short and merciless battles can level you up very quickly. A short session of grinding and then your party is ready to explore the dungeon with encounters off, allowing you to solve puzzles and hunt for treasure without having to worry about enemy encounters.
Bravely Default is a really fun game to play thanks to all of these good mechanics. Which makes it pitiful that I have to discuss the things that are very wrong…

The Bad
Okay, so remember how I said that the story pacing in Square games tends to be somewhat lousy? Bravely Default may well be the epitome of that. I should warn you now that some serious spoilers are coming. If you haven’t played this game but want to, don’t read this.
The story of Bravely Default hearkens back to the original Final Fantasy, telling the tale of four heroes trying to revive a series of four crystals that manage the balance of the elements in the world. Or at least that’s what they think before reviving the final crystal opens a portal that flings the party back to the beginning of their adventure. Of course, the characters decide that the natural solution is to do everything…again…reviving the four crystals…again. Of course, when you do that, you end up right back at the beginning again.
At this point I had become suspicious and wanted to see what I could do differently. So the next crystal I had an opportunity to revive, I shattered instead. Lo and behold, this revealed that one of my allies from the very beginning of the game was actually an evil monster. I traveled to the bottom of a huge canyon, defeated the monster, and felt satisfied that I had finished the game without having to battle every boss in the game for a third time.
Oh, except that figuring out the plot twist isn’t the game’s real ending.
Rather than rewarding the player for thinking outside of the box, Square decided that it would be better to have them repeat the main boss fights of the game (and optionally defeating all the other bosses as well) four or five times, artificially lengthening the game without adding much to the experience.
Do you know how dissatisfying it was to figure out the plot twist, defeat the monstrous “final boss,” and then to be told by the game that it wasn’t even the real ending? Pretty dissatisfying. Bravely Default punishes you for trying something different rather than just endlessly following the cycle of reviving the crystals. And for a game that’s so progressive and takes so many positive steps in the game mechanics department, that’s a pretty backward ideology for the story.

Okay, that’s enough ranting from me. Seriously, Bravely Default is a good game, and I’m very excited for the release of Bravely Second: End Layer next year. I just really hope that the last hours of the game aren’t the first hours of the game repeated over again. Hopefully Square learned from the past and has made Bravely Second truly great.

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