Well, this is my second go around with Bravely Default. When Bravely Second came out, I wanted to jump on the bandwagon, but I quickly realized the stories were grouped together and I should probably start from the beginning. So, while my copy of Bravely Second was on pre-order, I nabbed a used (but still very expensive) copy of Bravely Default.
I really enjoyed most of what the game had to offer. I was, however, a little turned off by the one (turns out completely irrelevant) micro-transaction, and I had difficulty reconciling the ability to completely turn off random battles. But ultimately it was other things going on in my life at the time that distracted me from finishing the game. After about 25 hours in, I put it on the shelf...
Fast forward about two years, just finished Tactics Ogre (PSP). I was having tremendous trouble finding a worthy successor. After trying quite a few different things, I resigned myself to go back to Bravely Default, starting from scratch. Glad I did.
As I remembered it, the story and dialogue were pretty darned cliché. However, they’re also very well written, and what I hadn’t gotten to in my past playthrough really surprised me. There was one really cool story segment in particular toward the end of Chapter 3 I enjoyed quite a lot; it was a step out of the norm you don’t see that often anymore in contemporary RPGs.
The four characters each fit very well-known archetypes, but again, Bravely Default does such a good job with its simple ingredients that it’s all still a lot of fun and very much worth seeing to the end.
As this review is way LTTP, anyone reading this is, I’m sure, familiar with the prominent mechanics of the gameplay. I really just wanted to comment on the experience. What I didn’t really get into the first time around, yet was so much what I was longing for after playing games like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, is the Job system and how well developed it is. Like those games, it’s kind of broken, but in the most beautiful way. There are combinations of things you can do that revolve around the Job system and abilities that allow for endless creative fun. As write this, my 3DS is sitting open in the background on auto-battle racking up pg (the game’s currency) by way of my Merchant’s "Big Pharma" skill. It’s silly stuff like that that really tends to make me fall in love with certain games.
On the one hand, I still kind of feel like having the ability to turn off random encounters is a bit of a cheat, but on the other hand, the game still manages to be pretty dang challenging. The bosses are just so cleverly devised, and even the mobs can often be overwhelming. In the end, it turns out that being able to adjust the encounter rate is just a design choice they went with, not a crutch. After putting in more time with the game, my sense of challenge has been put at ease.
Graphically, it’s a wonderful game to look at, even in 3D, with plenty of variety throughout. Though there’s some very nice layering, I didn’t actually play with the 3D on too much. It’s never been a thing I’m typically willing to compromise my comfort for. I think maybe if you’re playing on an n3DS (which I’m not) with the head-tracking, it might be more enjoyable.
The English voice acting is actually quite good, though there are some lines that maybe could have been left out, most notably having the characters try to express certain grunts and noises that are acted perhaps a bit too literally. Lots of great music in the game, though.
The Brass Tax:
It’s kinda hard to see from the first hours of the game why some people hold Bravely Default in such high regard, and even after that, some folks still only care to comment on how grueling some of the latter parts of the game can be. Not everyone finds delight in tinkering with gameplay mechanics.
If you’re a big fan of the complexity of a well-designed Square Enix Job system, yeah, you’ll begin to understand how wonderfully (and deviously) addictive Bravely Default can be. Just about every option you could hope for is at your disposal, making it easy to exploit all those nuggets of broken game mechanics (and I use the term "broken" playfully).
Bravely Default is still surprisingly challenging, and yet all the tools you need to succeed are present. Like the best Shin Megami Tensei games, Bravely Default really challenges you to figure out and find the right formulas to overcome whatever obstacles you face in the game. But it’s more than that, of course. Folks have found some really creative ways of completely shutting down bosses and exploiting money making opportunities that give you a feeling of accomplishment, rather than the feeling of emptiness you get from being able to change a game’s difficulty on the fly. Bravely Default offers lots of wonderful ways to noodle around and a story and progression that make it more than palatable to do so for hours and hours.
Though I had put in at least another 35 hours with the game after having restarted, I hadn't yet gotten to the infamous latter portion of the game that so many others had complained about. Having now reached Chapter 8, I feel it necessary to come back and revise (and re-score) my review.
Initially, I gave the game 4.5 hearts (or a 9/10), and it truly did deserve it up to that point. I still stand by everything I said previously in my review. However...the ridiculous repetition of the latter portion (or you could almost say second half) of the game really can't be overstated. It takes a really good story and excellent gaming experience and, well, almost completely squanders it. I say "almost" because the story bits that you do get in each repeated sequence are quite good.
But wow...I just can't quite come up with a logical reasoning for why the developers took this game down the avenue they ultimately did. It makes no sense. Bravely Default is such a great RPG. The characters, the innovative yet somehow still classic gameplay, the visuals, the fun, endearing dialogue, the music -- to then just mostly stomp on the value of your time and investment.
I'm going to leave it with a 7/10 this time around because the story is still quite enjoyable, and though the repeated parts of the game are just truly ridiculous, it's still a fun enough battle system to (just barely) overcome this seemingly insurmountable shortcoming (I mean, god-tier in its failing).
Perhaps the worst part of it all is that -- after having experienced this part of the game -- it's now difficult to recommend the game to others. But it's also difficult to not recommend. The story is still really good, and even more compelling by the end, and it updates classic, turn-based gameplay in really fun and unique ways. The visual customization features are really cool, and there's just so much here to enjoy. I guess in the end, I'd have to say enter at your own risk.