It's apparent from the few hours poured onto Bravely Default that the Flying Fairy subtitle isn't fooling wary gamers. The recent JRPG with the rather silly name is the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light in tone, spirit, and gameplay mechanic. And believe us when we say that it's a sight for sore eyes, especially when creator Square Enix is bending over backward to make its mothership RPG series relevant again.
Players control four heroes who are on a quest to purify the game world's elemental crystals, while also shaking off an elite group called the Eternian Air Force Jobmasters. The heroes you control aren't blank slates in the personality department. You've got the straight man do-gooder, Tiz; the amnesiac casanova, Ringabell, the demure Wind Crystal keeper, Agnes; and tomboy, Edea. While not the most original of all typecasts, they're still endearing to listen to and watch as they play off each other during the main story quest.
Then again, BD:FF's story isn't the main draw. To get the leg up in turn-based combat, players can switch each party member's classes at any time--except during combat. These classes, or jobs as the game calls them, range from melee specializations like the Knight and Monk, to ranged and magic-using roles such as the Summoner and Time Mage. Abilities you learn from one particular class can be used on a different class as long as you fill up the required job points from the previous class.
In essence, the game takes the best portions of the job class system from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy V, and has amped it up further so that there's plenty of room for customization. For example, you can use a White Mage's self auto-healing ability (you recover from ailments after a fight) while you're using a pirate class.
The list of combinations go on: you can use a ninja's dual-wielding ability on a Dark Knight, making them even more dangerous up-close, or even take a Summoner's mana point-siphoning ability on a magic swordsman class where the majority of your attacks take up a lot of mana. To say that you'll be taking a few hours building up the perfect party of four is underselling its simple-yet-complex nature.
The other feature that sets this one apart from its predecessors is the Brave and Default modes. Players can choose to either use up Brave points to take extra turns performing actions, or go into default mode to defend and gain more Brave points. If you just start off using Brave points until your character's points drop to the negatives, you'll be inactive and vulnerable as your enemies receive extra turns in a row; they'll most likely use it to punish you or buff themselves up tenfold.
The trick to the combat here is to save up as many points as possible so that you can unleash the most damage within a single span before your opponent can react. Conversely, you can just go all-out and spend Brave points until you're in the negative zone, if you think you can take down your encounters in one fell swoop.
We had to learn this through the very first major battle against a rogue White Mage and Monk. As the former can heal both herself, and the monk pretty quick, we had no choice but to play defensively until we unleashed hell upon them with enough Brave points. The system introduces a risk/reward system for players: they can either play it safe and defensively or throw caution in the wind and hope for the best with an all-out assault. We suspect that future boss battles will require us to exploit the system if they have abilities that can wipe out a party with just two attacks.
Just like any 3DS game, BD:FF uses the Streetpass functions of the system it's on; specifically for the "friend summon" system and the Nolende village-rebuilding minigame. For the former, getting Streetpass data from friends and strangers allow you to summon their avatars for a special attack not unlike FF VII's Cloud summoning a giant fat yellow bird to kill his foes.
As for the minigame, players can use Streetpass to recruit people to help rebuild Tiz's village that was totally wrecked from the events of the game's intro. The big incentive for players to invest time in this is that they can buy items and weapons not found anywhere else in the game, provided that the village population is huge. So if you want an uber-weapon for your ninjas and hunters, or if you want to customize a party member's deathblow move (the game's limit break that's weapon-dependant), you'll want to start mingling with civilization and collecting Streetpass data.
BD:FF is not only a throwback to the old days of Final Fantasy, but it also keeps up with the times by adding in nuances from modern game design. These include the options to skip cutscenes, as well as fast-forwarding battle actions. During our playthrough, we got fair challenges, though the game showed that ample party preparation (items, job setups) is key in taking down the multitude of dungeons in the main story mode.
While there is currently no official word from Square Enix on having it localized for the Western market, we feel that it would be a missed opportunity if it wasn't on the company's mind to do so. We strongly feel that BD: FF could be the RPG to bring the company back to good graces with former fans who may be feeling betrayed by the recent changes its Final Fantasy brand has been through.