There's one reason and one reason only that Bravely Default doesn't get a '9' from me. The sole reason is that I feel like it doesn't quite live up to RPG's from the past in terms of story, characterisation and overall immersion. I'll get that bit out of the way now so i can spend the rest of this review listing the reasons why it is so amazing.
RPG's have lost their magic in recent years and become something of a Lady Gaga of the video game industry. Once lauded as being arguably the best in their particular field, they now only impress on rare occasions that make you do little more than wish for the 'good old days' to be back. That's where Bravely Default stands out as a 'meat dress' of its genre (aka. something that will be memorable and stands out as an example of something done right.)
Possibly the best thing that Bravely Default does as a game is that it harkens back to the bare basics of what an RPG is. The job-system, which is enriched with terrific costumes, abilities and individual stats, is probably the shining star here. There are 24 jobs to collect, each with its own defined identity. They're really fun to collect, and it allows a level of customisation within the game that really makes it feel like a personalised experience.
The battle system also shines a light on what made classic RPG games so great, but also builds on the original formula with some neat new tricks. The 'Default' ability and brave points really add a nice turn-based element that can be likened to the flawless battle system of Final Fantasy X. It makes you plan your moves much more strategically than just going for an all-out onslaught.
That being said, the game makes good use of a difficulty level and encounter rate that you can change on the fly. Perhaps this could be criticised as making the game easier for some people, but that all depends on your gameplay style. I personally enjoyed the fact that I could kick the encounter rate up to 100%, put the difficulty on easy and then farm EXP for hours whilst I watched the levels go up and up and up.
It really is a joy to play. Despite a story that kind of just meanders along and characters that are more like caricatures the game still stays strong. It's a shame really that it's the kind of game that you feel you could still follow the story if you skipped every single cut-scene in the game, but thus is the unfortunate nature of RPG games. They often can't balance whether the genre needs a gameplay overhaul or just a good look at the stories it is telling. Bravely Default gets the lesser of two evils by getting the gamplay spot-on but missing the mark a little bit in terms of story and characterisation.
The game is beautiful to look at, need I say more? The art direction is superb and it feels like they've really made use of the 3DS's abilities here. Perhaps my only (minor) gripe is that I'm not really a fan of the short, fat chibi-characters that they will often use in games of this nature. But that gripe really is tiny in comparison to the many many wonderful things I could say about this game.
Have a 3DS? Enjoy RPG's? Stop hanging about and buy it. You won't be disappointed.