2020 is almost here, so we've asked GameSpot's staff to share which games they're looking forward to most in the new year. New consoles are going to dominate the headlines, but at the end of the day it's all about the games, and there are a ton of exciting ones to look forward to. When you're done reading this entry, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub and our Most Anticipated of 2020 hub.
Square Enix can be overcautious about its brands, even for a franchise as wildly varied as Final Fantasy. Though the company has loosened up in recent years with experiments like Theatrhythm and World of FF, one need look no further than the portable series Bravely Default to see what does and does not qualify for the title. Bravely Default and its sequel, Bravely Second, are Final Fantasy games in all but name. The original even sported a subtitle in Japan, "Flying Fairy," that has widely been interpreted by fans as an overt reference to the "FF" series. But Bravely Default gets downright weird with it, reveling in its freedom to subvert both gameplay and storytelling conventions, and it's all the better for it. The revelation of a third Bravely game, this one declaring itself a proper sequel with the "Bravely Default 2" moniker, has me incredibly excited.
Bravely Default borrowed liberally from classic, SNES-era Final Fantasy games, right down to character models that imitate the squat, doll-like art of Kazuko Shibuya for Final Fantasy 5. It features a foursome of heroes reminiscent of the classic "Warriors of Light." It centers on elemental crystals, and even uses a job system. It riffed on all these concepts, with smartly-engineered solutions to reduce the monotony of RPG grinding, and in many ways it felt like a modernized classic. Near the end-game, though, the wealth of job classes and abilities gave way to a refreshing second game type: the ability to invent combinations of abilities and equipment that were downright unfair.
Somewhere along the line, the team realized this was a rich vein to tap for its sequel. Bravely Second revolved much more overtly around allowing players to break game systems and tinker with the underlying mechanics. It's as if Square realized on some level that part of the fun of those old RPGs was finding creative ways to cheat, and so it built an entire system around facilitating those interactions. The second game was less novel as a retro throwback but absolutely brilliant as a funhouse mirror reflection of classic RPGs.
The stories, even while centered on light and classic tropes, have found ways to surprise and delight. By focusing on a small cast of four characters, their individual personalities shine through. The game regularly juxtaposes simple storybook tropes against more complex intersections of religion and politics. And the first game, at least, can claim one of my favorite plot twists in video games of all time, still shocking in how much it chilled me for such an adorable, endearing game. (Bravely Second tried to repeat this magical moment with an even more meta twist, but as M. Night Shyamalan will tell you, plot twists are never as good the second time around.)
It's hard to know what to make of Bravely Default 2. The odd choice of name aside, we don't know much about it based on the brief trailer shown at The Game Awards. But those first two games were some of my favorite recent RPGs and already put the series on a trajectory of wild experimentation with the tropes and mechanics of classic RPGs. The series has earned my trust to the point that I'm excited simply to know it exists and it's on its way. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.
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