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The wait is nearly over. Bravely Default will be in US stores in a matter of weeks. I've made no secret of my love for it in the past, and I'll be damned if I'm going to shut up now that it's almost here. You see, even though it's not an official part of the series, it's the Final Fantasy game I've been waiting for since Final Fantasy IX. If you miss the spirit of old Final Fantasy games like I do, believe me, there's no better game to scratch that itch with than Bravely Default.
In fact, the similarities between Bravely Default and Final Fantasy are too obvious to ignore. Take the story, for example: a mysterious dark force has overtaken a legendary protective crystal, and it's up to four young heroes to save both the crystal and, ultimately, humanity. Four young heroes, crystals, and the fate of the world are common threads that have appeared in numerous Final Fantasy games, so Bravely Default doesn't win any points for its plot, but being familiar with these themes makes it an easy world to understand.
Once you're in, you're bombarded with other reminders of the Final Fantasy series' legacy. Item names that are uniquely Final Fantasy, including phoenix down and hi-potion, populate your inventory; you cast spells with familiar names such as blizzaga, shell, and meteor; airships make an early appearance, keeping with the tradition upheld by every single Final Fantasy to date, save Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest and Final Fantasy Legend II. Apart from the lack of chocobos and a character named Cid, almost every mainstay of the series appears in one form or another.
Even the job system harks back to past Final Fantasies. Every character begins his or her career as a freelancer, exactly like in Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V. There's even a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics' secondary job assignments and support abilities thrown in for good measure. If you're familiar with the function of most classes in the aforementioned games, you'll feel right at home with the selection in Bravely Default: red mages can cast both black and white magic, summoners conjure powerful beings, and thieves are spritely robbers with a penchant for daggers, to name a few.
The presence of such iconic elements will be attractive to fans of Final Fantasy games, indeed, but if that were all there was to it, I can't imagine the appeal would last for long. Thankfully, not everything is strictly copied and pasted from one series to the other; Bravely Default's combat system forges its own path from the start. Generally speaking, it's a turn-based battle system with four characters to control, but it's designed around the acts of sacrificing and borrowing turns. If you have characters default during their turn, they sacrifice an immediate action for an extra turn in the future. Conversely, if you execute the brave command, you immediately gain an additional turn for the given character, albeit at the cost of being able to act in the future.
Considering the pros and cons of either action is critical during boss fights, but this system also has an effect on encounters with common enemies; you can issue four attacks at once, knowing that you'll kill a low-level enemy quickly, rather than waiting for everyone to take one turn at a time. It's a novel system presented under the guise of classic Final Fantasy combat, and once you've played with it, the game's cryptic title even starts to make sense.
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While 3DS owners in the US still have to wait until the first week of February to get their hands on Bravely Default, European and Australian players have had access to the game for over a month. These versions, like the US release, are based on Bravely Default: For the Sequel, a retooled version of the original Japanese release. Given the unsubtle subtitle, it was fitting when a true sequel, titled Bravely Second, was announced in an issue of Jump magazine days prior to the rerelease in Japan and Bravely Default's debut in Europe.
I'm not pointing all of this out for my health, but rather, for the health of the Bravely Default franchise in the West. We know that there will be a sequel to Bravely Default, but there's no way to guarantee that it'll be localized outside of Japan. Nintendo, not the seemingly squeamish Square Enix, footed the bill for the first game's translation and publication. If it doesn't sell well, it's unlikely that Nintendo will jump at the chance to release Bravely Second.
Even though I've played only a fraction of Bravely Default, as a fan of classic Final Fantasy games, I'm instantly sold. It's probably good that I didn't review it, because I would have had a hard time separating myself from the warm and fuzzy feelings I get every time I encounter Final Fantasy's spirit within. Final Fantasy games stopped fulfilling my expectations for the series a long time ago, and if I have to stick my neck out for the one series that does, so be it.